Valley of the roses, a horse ride in Morocco
The rust-red dawn greets the rose pluckers from Hdida hamlet. The trail we ride along here is overhung with figs, oranges, pomegranates and dates but the rose pluckers just ahead of us ignore them and head straight for the tangled mass of dark green and spitefully spiked rose bushes. Even these ladies pull on leather gauntlets before locking horns with the roses.
The rose fields are protected by walnut trees which keep the winter winds off, but at this time of year the blooms are at their best and smell unbelievable (David Austin eat your heart out!). The blooms have to be picked at dawn because the sun causes the shocking-pink roses to lose their potency. Gauntleted fingers work 19-to-the-dozen and it doesn’t take long to fill a whole sackful which is carried back to the village to add to the co-operative’s harvest.
Before the road was put in the petals were exported on mules that followed a cat’s cradle network of paths. These are the trails we have been riding.
A rose by any name at all: the roses in the M’Goun Valley are Rosa Damascena and have been growing in Morocco for centuries. This variety started life in China at least 4,000 years ago. How they came to be here isn’t documented, but they probably followed an ancient trading route. The total petal harvest from this valley is about 3,500 tonnes! The co-op sells them to distilleries that make rose water. Other cottage industries make soap and pot-pourri; but the majority are bought by large French perfume wholesalers.
Pub trivia: 1 ½ million blooms make 1 litre of rose oil!
Festival of Roses
Roses petals make great tea: they smell great, taste great and look great! The oil is good for your hair, good for your skin and good for your heart. You can even get a rose ointment here from the hole-in-the-wall village shops which cures everything from chapped lips to sunburn. The festival itself is an unsophisticated affair, despite the valuable deals that are struck. It’s just a pleasure to wander around and be part of the event. Each village co-op has its own white canvass tent to show off their crop, and just imagine the scent in the air! There are other crops as well, the most unusual of all being the saffron which is harvested, by hand, using a pair of tweezers to extract the stamen from a crocus. And this is all “every day” to the local Berbers!
Leave the crumbling kasbahs and mud-brick homes, complete with stork nests on their rooves, and ride back into the gorges. It’s quite amazing what secrets the High Atlas Mountains conceal.