MOROCCO’S BLUE CITY
The citizens of Chefchaouen wake up every day feeling blue, and it’s no bad thing. This 500-year-old ‘blue city’ in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco has a look that’s almost unique in the world, with walls, doors, shutters and even the cobblestones painted the colour of a dazzling sky. The medina (old town) is intricate enough to get pleasantly lost in (the blue adds to the hallucinatory effect), but is more manageable sized and less crowded than those of Marrakesh and Fez. ‘Chaouen’ – as it’s often abbreviated – is short on stand-alone sights, but has many cafes and artisan shops to stumble upon; woven rugs and blankets are the highlights of local handicrafts. The town is also a base for hikes in the mountains. The forests and villages of Talassemtane and Bouhachem National Parks are close at hand, and local guides can help walkers to enjoy the best in rural hospitality.
BLACK FOREST, GERMANY
In the southwestern comer of Germany is a region of darkly wooded hills with clusters of timber-framed houses neatly ensconced in the valleys between them. The Schwarzwald (Black Forest) is almost 100 miles from end to end, so for a weekend trip it’s best to pick a part to bite into like a slice of its famous chocolate-and-cherry torte. The Kinzig Valley runs through the Black Forest, past Alpirsbach, Schiltach and Gengenbach, each town a living illustration of a German fairytale. Walking trails head into the hills to gorges and waterfalls, while driving routes include the Deutsche Uhrenstrasse (German Clock Road) in this, the true home of the ‘Swiss’ cuckoo clock. Head to Vogtsbauemhof open-air museum to see the kind of hulking farmhouses with steeply pitched roofs in which the people of the Black Forest once sat out the winter – the dark wood brightened in spring by boxes of red geraniums.
PUEBLOS BLANCOS, ANDALUCIA, SPAIN
The Pueblos Blancos (White Towns) of Andalucia are as aptly named as the Costa del Sol; around two dozen of them stand resplendent in the hills of southern Spain, between Cadiz and Malaga. Arcos de la Frontera is the western gateway to the region – a clifftop town whose name hints at its past, on the frontier of Christian and Moorish Spain. Explore Arcos, then head into the hills.
There isn’t a set route, so the number of Pueblos Blancos to tick off is a personal choice. Part of the appeal lies in finding the specialities of each town-olive oil in Olvera, leather in Ubrique. To the east, Setenil de las Bodegas is the most unusual of the lot, not perched atop a hill but with cave houses, still white, built into rocky overhangs.