From there we drove south, over the Erg Chebbi dunes of the Sahara toward the Skoura Oasis in the Dades Valley, the place with that fairy-tale name. Our destination was Les Aromes du Maroc—the largest producer of rose oil and rose water in the country—in the town of Kelaa el Megouna, site of May’s annual rose festival.
Inside the distillery, a trim man named Mohammad explained how the damask rose—a thorny old plant with exceptional fragrance—thrives in this climate. During a 40-day harvest, tons of rose petals are plucked from massive hedgerows and brought to the distillery. Behind Mohammad, muscular men scattered armloads of pink petals onto a concrete floor, where they were bagged, weighed, and loaded into distillation tanks to create products for the international and local markets.
As we drove out of town, young boys selling rose garlands approached our car; we bought two strings for 10 dirham and half of our guide’s ice cream bar. As we watched the Valley of Roses disappear behind us, the boys kicked a soccer ball around a dusty field, their heads crowned with rings of roses.