Morocco’s Hidden Gem: Cave houses of Bhalil
Located about 40 minutes southeast of Fez, Bhalil village is not on the beaten track of tourism. Nestled in the Middle Atlas mountains at 1,000m a.s.l., the village is distinguished for its unique still inhabited cave houses and colored homes. It reminds me of Chefchaouen, but much more calm, peaceful, and not touristy.
I discovered Bhalil by accident, exploring what to see close to Fez. The cave houses, playfully colored streets and funky objects hanged on the walls looked like worth a day visit. When I asked my friends from Fez to visit Bhalil, they asked: “Why? What is there to see?” Even the local guide in Bhalil told me that Moroccans rarely visit Bhalil, they prefer the nearby Sefrou or the European looking Ifrane.
A unique village
The 4th-century village not for a long will stay a unique place. The village is slowly modernizing, and locals are changing their cave homes to the modern ones. Meaning, soon these cave houses will be only an attraction for tourists, not for living.
How to visit these cave houses? You can’t just knock the door of the cave house and come inside; you will need a local guide. After entering Bhalil, you will probably see them standing at the roundabout and offering to visit their cave houses and have a tour of the village. That’s how we met our guide Karim who still lives in one of the cave dwellings. His primary incomes come from guiding travelers in Bhalil. Karim speaks good English and knows a lot about Bhalil and its surroundings.
Karim brought us to his cave house, introduced with the living conditions. According to Karim, his family lives in this cave-house for 12 generations, around 500 years. After, we continued our visit to the village, walk around and exploring the local life. As Karim explained, in the village, there are 4 mosques and 5 Koranic schools, 3 primary schools and 1 high school.
Bhalil is famous for its production of woven Djellaba buttons. Djellaba is a long traditional hooded cape with around 100 waved buttons. While walking in the village, I saw everywhere local women sitting in the streets, alleyways, terraces and making these buttons. They were not very keen on being in pictures, so ask before taking one.
How to get to Bhalil?
The easiest way to reach Bhalil is to rent a car or hire a private driver. There’s no bus from Fez to Bhalil, but you could get a local bus to Sefrou and then take the shared taxi (around 4 Dh one way). Alternatively, in Fez you can take a shared taxi to Sefrou, departing near Menzeh ZALAGH boutique hôtel&sky in the Ville Nouvelle.
Where to stay in Bhalil?
Bhalil has just one hotel to stay called Dar Kamal Chaoui (you can book here). The hotel is located in the centre with views over the hills and neighbouring houses. Is it worth to spend a night in Bhalil? Yes, if you want to escape the chaotic city life, stay in a the off the beaten paths. Probably, you will be the only tourists spending a night in Bhalil. Dar Kamal Chaoui owner Kamal can give you a guided tour of local life in Bhalil exploring the cave houses. Kamal also can arrange your transportation for 37 € door to door one way.
We spend a half-day exploring Bhalil and after Karim offered to visit the waterfall in the nearby Sefrou town. Sefrou is known for its historical Jewish population, and its annual cherry festival held annually every June. Karim also told us about the beauty contest during the festival where Moroccan women participate to win the title of Miss Cherry.
Appart the festival, Sefrou is also renowned for its modest waterfall (Cascades de Sefrou), 1.5km walk west of town. Honestly, the waterfall is nothing, wow, but it was worth to visit another panoramic stop on the way back to Sefrou.
I enjoyed our short visit to the peaceful Bhalil and its surroundings. Next time, I will stay there overnight to feel the daily rhythm and mingle with locals.
DAY TRIP TO BHALIL
The visit to Bhalil and Sefrou is a nice half-day out from Fez. For the full day trip, I would also add a visit to Ifrane, Morocco’s “Little Switzerland”. A small town&ski resort has the European Urbanism, and its sloping roof reminds you of Switzerland. Contact me to arrange the private driver from Fez and local guides.
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