Kelaat M’Gouna and the Valley of Roses

The town of Kelaat M’Gouna in the Souss-Massa-Draâ region of the province of Tinghir Province in Morocco is most likely best known for the Festival of Roses which celebrates the rose petal harvest in May each year. Kelaat M’Gouna, also known as El-Kelaa, is home to the country’s largest rose water and rose oil manufacturers – products which are used extensively in fragrances, beauty products and the traditional cuisine of Morocco. Visitors to the manufacturers can purchase rose water and other rose-scented products, bearing in mind that it takes up to three tons of rose petals to produce one liter of rose water.

Starting at the city and heading northwards across the M’Goun valley, visitors will travel through the magnificent Valley of the Roses, with seemingly endless rows of Damask roses which bloom in April, producing the most intense and distinctive rose fragrance. Up to four thousand tons of roses petals are harvested annually from the 4,200 kilometers of rose bushes. The Damask rose was brought to Kelaat M’Gouna by the French in 1938, with the first rose water distillery being opened soon after.

Roses have long been prized for their fragrance, as well as medicinal and food value. Ancient Romans, Greeks and Phoenicians cultivated large rose gardens, on a similar scale to fruit orchards and field crops. Rose oil is extracted from rose petals by steam-distilling, with rose water being a by-product of this process. Rose water is also used in religious rituals by Muslims, Hindus and the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christianity.

The three-day Rose Festival in Kelaat M’Gouna is well supported by locals in the region and is a popular tourist attraction. Celebrations include traditional Berber food, music and dancing, as well as a street-parade with brightly colored floats covered in paper roses. The elected Rose Queen of the festival travels on one of the floats and the parade includes Berber dancing with female dancers being accompanied by male drummers as they proceed down the main street. This very festive occasion is a good reason for traveling to this spectacular region of Morocco in the month of May.