The Fragrant Spectacle of Morocco’s Festival of Roses
While Spring is in the air in the UK, come May in Kelâat M’Gouna — or the Valley of Roses, the air is tinged with the fragrant scent of the Centifolia rose and the streets are awash with sugary pink petals. The Moroccan Festival of Roses is held every year, for three days, to celebrate Kelâat M’Gouna’s iconic rose harvest.
It is a must-visit for both locals and travellers. The festival showcases an array of artisan crafted products from the abundant supply of fresh rose petals and rose buds the Valley of Roses provides. As always in Moroccan celebrations, dance and food also makes the Festival of Roses a vibrant and special event, and the unique Berber culture is brought to life during the festival.
Folklore has it that the rose has been celebrated in Morocco since the 10th century, with pilgrims from Mecca bringing the flower to the town. Other sources credit the French with the introduction of the Damascus rose to Kelâat M’Gouna, a remote town six hours from Marrakesh, in 1938. However the rose found its way into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, this beautiful, sweet-smelling flower is responsible for one of Morocco’s most famous festivals and is a staple in Moroccan cuisine and craft.
Rose is an important ingredient in many Moroccan products, from perfumes, creams, soaps, teas, jams, sweets and more.
The rose harvest produces between 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of wild roses, and just one litre of rose oil needs four tonnes of fresh petals, making it one of the most prized products to come from the rose harvest. At Raphia, we love to use rose in our chocolate products as we know it is a quintessential Moroccan flavour that makes every bite special.
Before the festival begins, women harvest the roses from the famed Valley of Roses before dawn, picking the flowers and buds by hand and transporting them back to the town to be sorted and sold to the surrounding distilleries. The harvest has to start early, well before the sun can scorch the petals and ruin the scent. The trucks full of pink rose petals that leave a trail of sumptuous fragrance behind them are one of the recognisable signs that the Festival of Roses is beginning.
To make the sought after rose products for which Morocco is famed, the rose petals are dried on rooftops or steamed in copper stills.
During the festival, souks spring up around the town. Children make and sell rose garlands and decorations, floats and parades enliven the streets, and one lucky woman is crowned the Rose Queen, who reigns over the rose crop for the year. It is a feast of traditional dress, dance, music, and food, and is a high point of the Moroccan agricultural calendar.
The Festival of Roses is not only a chance to celebrate a successful harvest and pay homage to the region’s most famous and lucrative crop, it is a chance to show-off the best of Moroccan agriculture; from apples, dates, and almonds, to cinnamon and saffron from across the Atlas Mountains. It’s a treat for any rose enthusiast, and is just one of the wonderful events that brings joy into the beautiful Drâa valley region of the Atlas Mountains.