At the foot of the High Atlas Mountains, which approach those of the Sahara, we find an unexpected place, the Valley of the Roses where, in spring, the whole area dresses in pink and breathes a wonderful smell. It is a delight for both sight and smell.
On the route of the kasbahs, some 90 kilometres from Ouarzazate, in the heart of the Dades Valley, there is a fortified village known as Kelaat M’Gouna, the main access to this beautiful valley and one of the last oases in the south before reaching the endless sand of the Sahara. While this village is a starting point for hiking and excursions, it is above all the Moroccan capital of the rose.
The valley stretches from Kelaat M’Gouna, to Bou Tharar, which means about 30 kilometers of uninterrupted rose cultivation. The rose found in this valley, called the damascene rose, is resistant to cold and drought and is one of the most fragrant and sought-after species in the world. Legend has it that it was introduced by chance into one of the pilgrim caravans returning from Mecca some 300 years ago.
When To Go To The Valley of Roses
The flowering period of the roses is, depending on the climatic conditions, from mid-April to mid-May. At dawn, the women pick these beautiful flowers one by one, a task that is not difficult, but exhausting. They are taken to the kasbahs for an initial selection and, depending on the final destination, the petals are left to dry for a few days or are taken to the distilleries to begin the industrial process.
To give you an idea of the task involved in harvesting, it takes over an hour to harvest a kilo of roses and it takes a ton of petals to produce a kilo of rose essence. Under favourable weather conditions, up to four thousand tonnes of roses can be harvested per year.
In Bou Tharar, from the magnificent and imposing Ksar de Bou Thrar, which overlooks the beautiful oasis, you can admire the spectacle of the harvest 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 we ask, they also explain the distillation process. Visiting the distilleries and buying rose water or other products is possible at any time of the year.
The Festival of the Roses
After the harvest, usually on the second weekend of May, one of the most popular festivals in Morocco is held, the “Festival of Roses”. For three days, from Friday evening to Sunday, visitors from neighbouring villages and a multitude of tourists gather in Kelaat M’Gouna to enjoy music and colour: balconies, terraces, gardens and streets are flooded with flowers.
The festival includes open-air performances and concerts by Berber groups, exhibitions of agricultural and craft products, mainly jewellery and carpets, and competitions. The Queen of the Roses is also chosen, for which the most beautiful women of the area dance in the streets dressed in their best caftans and adorned with petals.
The valley has a perfect climate for the damson rose to grow and flower. Due to the average altitude of the valley, 1,650 meters in the village of Hadida, the atmosphere is dry and cool with little rain. Spring and autumn are great, although it can get a little chilly at night. The winters are cold, but the sunny days mean that the temperatures are not unpleasant. Summer is hotter but, because of the altitude, it is not stifling, and bathing in the river that waters the valley is quite refreshing. That said, although spring is undoubtedly the best time to visit, the charm of this valley remains all year round.
Where To Stay in the Valley of the Roses
Many of the kasbahs in the valley have been refurbished and converted into beautiful accommodation, decorated in the Moroccan style, where you can spend a few days of peace and quiet enjoying the beauty of the surroundings.
At the exit of the village of Kelaat, there are, for example, Kasbah Itran, with a spectacular view over the valley and Kasbah Ait Moussa which has a swimming pool, hammam and panoramic views of the Atlas mountains.
About 7 kilometers away is Kasbah La Perle De M’Goun, on the banks of the river M’Goun and surrounded by a beautiful garden. From the parking lot you have to walk about ten minutes to the kasbah. No need to worry about luggage, a donkey will take care of it.
In the village of Agoulzi, about 9 km away, Kasbah Dar Timitar is situated on the top of a cliff overlooking the Atlas mountains in the distance, the rocky hills in the foreground and the green oasis of the Roses valley below. Be careful, it is difficult to locate and access.
Kasbah de las Rosas, about 17 kilometers away, is located in the middle of the valley, in Hadida. It has a hammam, terrace, garden and barbecue area.
In the village of Bou Tharar you can find Kasbah Chems, which offers easy access to the obligatory visits of the city, and of course, its views are also great.
And these are just a few examples, there are many more.
So much for today’s post. I don’t want to end without telling you that the Valley of the Roses offers a multitude of possibilities for hiking and trekking, some of which we recommend you do with a guide.