According to ancient Greek mythology, roses were first introduced to the world by Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who created the flowers from her tears and the blood of her lover, Adonis. While many of us might not believe in such myths today, there’s still a place and time where the incredible beauty and scent of this flower could make you think, just for a moment, that it has otherworldly origins…
In the dry folds of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, hiding within the oases of the Dadès Valley, lies a heavenly pink town called Kelaat M’Gouna. Here, in the height of spring, the air is scented with the fragrant Centifolia rose – also known as the Persian rose – and the streets are lined with flowering hedgerows. The sun shines year round in this so-called ‘Valley of Roses’, and the weather is generally warm and welcoming, but it’s during springtime when the local roses “wear” their most vivid colours and unleash their most powerful scents.
Brought to Kelaat M’Gouna by 10th-century pilgrims immigrating to Morocco from Mecca, the Persian rose has become the trademark of the town and is celebrated in May with an annual Festival of Roses. More than 20,000 people from across the world visit every year to wander the rose-perfumed streets during the 3-day festival, mingling with the local children in their rose garlands and the townswomen dressed in traditional head scarves decorated with vividly hued roses.
The factories in Kelaat M’Gouna produce thousands of petals every year and a large souk, or bazaar, is held in the small town for nearly a week, where producers from across the region gather to sell their products at competitive, customer-friendly prices. Ten tons of petals are needed to create just a few litres of sought-after rose oil, making the harvest a labour of love, and the festivities that much more valued and beautiful.
The main events include strong doses of traditional music, dancing and feasting, in addition to a chariot procession through a shower of rose petals. Visitors can take camel rides, view grand floats decked out in flowers, and even join a short bus tour organised by the festival coordinators that goes from Ouarzazate to the Valley of the Roses. The undisputed highlight, however, is the highly anticipated beauty pageant where a Rose Queen is selected to reign over the year’s aromatic crop.
As for visitors who want to see more than just the rose festival, the Valley of Roses happens to be positioned at the confluence of some of the most famed sites in southern Morocco, including the Merzouga Dunes, the Drâa Valley near Zagora, and the Jbel Saghro mountain range between the High Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert. A wide selection of tours led by experienced guides can please even the most demanding and adventurous of travellers.
Special thanks to Alecia J. Cohen of Travel Exploration Morocco for providing festival information. Visit travel-exploration.com or contact 1800-787-880 for Rose Festival tour details.