At the foot of the High Atlas Mountains approaching those of the Sahara, we find an unexpected place, the Valley of the Roses where, in spring, the whole area is dressed pink and breathes a wonderful smell. It is a delight for both sight and smell.
On the route of the Kasbahs, about 90 kilometres from Ouarzazate, in the middle of the Dades valley, is a fortified village known by the name of Kelaat M'Gouna, main access to this beautiful valley and one of the last oases in the south before reaching the infinite sand of the Sahara. Although this village is the starting point for hiking trails and excursions, it is, above all, the Moroccan capital of the rose.
The valley extends from Kelaat M'Gouna to Boutaghrar, which continues about 30 kilometres of uninterrupted rose cultivation. The rose found in this valley, called damascene rose, is resistant to cold and drought, and one of the most perfumed and quoted species in the world. According to the legend, it was introduced by chance in one of the caravans of pilgrims that returned from Mecca about 300 years ago.
The period of flowering of the roses is, depending on the climatic conditions, from mid-April to mid-May. At dawn, women collect one by one these precious flowers, a task that is not difficult, but rather exhausting. They are taken to the kasbahs for a first selection and, according to the final destination, the petals are allowed to dry for a few days or they are taken to the distilleries to begin the industrial process. To give you an idea of the task of harvesting, it takes more than an hour to harvest a kilo of roses and it takes a ton of petals to produce a kilo of rose essence. In favourable weather conditions, up to 4,000 tons of roses per year can be harvested.
In Boutaghrar, from the magnificent and imposing Ksar of Boutaghrar, which overlooks the beautiful oasis, you can admire the show of gathering in the morning.
Rose petals are mainly used to make rose water, soaps and cosmetics. Much of this water is sold to foreign perfume companies. In Kelaat M'Gouna there are shops dedicated to its production and sale and, if requested, also explain the process of distillation. Visiting distilleries and buying rose water or other products is possible at any time of the year.
After the harvest, usually the second weekend in May, one of the most popular festivals in Morocco, the "Feast of the Roses" is celebrated. For three days, from Friday night to Sunday, visitors arriving from neighbouring villages and crowds of tourists, meet in Kelaat M'Gouna to enjoy the music and the colourful: balconies, terraces, gardens and streets are Flooded with flowers.
The festival includes shows and concerts by Berber outdoor groups, exhibitions of agricultural and craft products, mainly jewellery and carpets, and competitions. Also the Queen of the Roses is chosen for which the most beautiful women of the zone dance in the streets dressed in their best caftans and adorned with petals.