Category Archives for "Africa"

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Africa.

Keto on the Go – How to Stay Low-Carb While Traveling

Whether you are among its followers or not, I’m sure the keto buzz has reached your ears somehow. It is a very popular, low-carb, high-fat diet followed by many people trying to lose weight or simply improve their overall health. And like most diets, it requires a certain planning and preparation.

When you add travelling to the equation, things get even trickier. But not impossible.

These travel tips can help you eliminate a lot of roadblocks and make low-carb travel less difficult than you might think.  Reducing the carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat is definitely achievable, even on the road, and this article is here to prove just that!

To help you get the most of the keto diet, at home or when traveling, get inspired by our 14-day meal plan and recipes that will make ketosis fun and tasty!

Eat well before your departure

When you’re hungry nothing feels right. The weather’s not good enough, the company is not fun enough and so on. That’s why it’s always important to be nourished and satisfied whenever you plan on starting something. Like a journey.

A satiating low-carb meal before your departure will set the mood for the beginning of your trip and it can consist of something easy and quick. Hardboiled eggs, Greek yogurt with berries and nuts or beef jerkies are great ways to fill you up.

Stay away from airplane snacks

Obviously, this is not valid for all airlines, but generally, the things they provide as free or purchasable are high in carbs, sugar and salt. Either stick with the first recommendation and eat well before your departure or bring your own low-carb snacks likes mixed nuts or low-carb crackers.

Pack nutritious snacks

If you haven’t had the time to eat at home before leaving on your trip, it might be a good idea to at least pack some nutritious snacks.

Snacks that don’t go rancid or deteriorate are the best option. You can either consume them on the plane, car or the like or keep them for a later use throughout your trip. You never know when you might get hungry.

It’s also a good way to resist unhealthy and processed temptations and trade them for the delicious foods in your carry-on.

Drink coffee to promote ketosis

Coffee is great in boosting your energy by increasing the ketone levels in your blood. If you mix it with the right fats you not only get a satiating and energizing drink but also quite tasty and healthy, releasing caffeine slowly throughout the day. Exactly what you need to keep you active when traveling.

Generally, keto coffee consists of black coffee and butter (preferably grass-fed), coconut oil and MCT oil. MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) get you into ketosis like no other fat, so including it in your coffee should practically be a must.

Research the menu

An important and key part of a successful traveling is sampling the local cuisine.

Most restaurants have fairly decent low-carb options on their menu but even if they don’t, by researching the menu in advance you will surely find some keto substitutions. You can order the foods that they do have and that fit with your dietary needs and requirements. Get creative!

One ground rule when ordering – say no to all types of bread! I guess you know it’s not really the type of food to get you into ketosis. And avoid dessert!

Opt for water instead of alcohol, since it can pack quite the calories or, if you’re really dying to try the local beer or wine, consume in moderation.

Grocery store

Another great way to discover the local cuisine of a place you’re visiting is to take a trip to the grocery store and check out local ingredients and items. It will not only help you find new things you could incorporate into your diet but also save you some money from preparing your own food instead of going out to a restaurant.

Most grocery shops have quick cook items so you can easily prepare them on your own without spending too much time cooking instead of sightseeing. Deli meats, pre-cut veggies, pre-cooked chicken or bacon, sausages are only a few of the things you could buy for your low-carb meals.

Try fasting

Fasting is usually part of a low-carb routine, so if you’ve also experimented with it, you can use it strategically and simplify your trip. How? Well, since you’re already fat adapted due to the keto diet, your body will not likely need you to eat as often.

This gives you the perfect opportunity to plan your trip and consequently your eating based on your flights or travel schedule without getting the chance to get hungry. Or be able to adapt to any situation that might require to delay your meal due to unforeseen circumstances.

Discover The Time Periods Of Ancient Egypt

Every day of my Nile cruise started the exact same way. I made sure they did. The rays of Egypt’s Saharan sun streamed in through my east-facing floor-to-ceiling windows, flooding my stateroom with light. Each morning I looked out at the river and the array of life that it spawns: shepherds herding sheep, cattle grazing on its shores and low-lying islands, papyrus reeds flourishing in shallow waters. It could have been a portal to a time long gone. Breakfast could wait. If you’re thinking of visiting Egypt and want to be outrageously pampered, but also want to get your hands dirty exploring its pharaonic heritage, take heed if you’ve booked passage on Sanctuary Retreat’s five-star Sun Boar IV. This gleaming vessel, with its Art Deco flourishes and cabana-laden sun deck, doesn’t want to stop you from putting on your pith helmet and wandering off into the desert a la Howard Carter. But be warned. It’s very comfy here.


Designed for Nile cruising, the 40-stateroom Sun Boat IV is sleek and streamlined, its hull looking more like a yacht than the bulky-looking, squared-off hulls of older boats permanently moored alongside ageing piers, the legacy of a tourism downturn that has persisted since the 2011 revolution. I was on a four-night cruise sailing upriver from Luxor to Aswan, although the same itinerary can be done in reverse in just three nights sailing downriver from Aswan to Luxor, helped by the river’s gentle current.

Expeditions into the past – What brings people to Egypt is its unparalleled archaeological heritage, and in true Sun Boat fashion, Sanctuary Retreats acquired the services of the man who must surely have been Upper Egypt’s most engaging Egyptologist to light the way. Mohamed Ezzat’s passion for history took him from secondary school in Qena in Upper Egypt all the way to Cairo’s Helwan University. Approachable and engaging, his enthusiasm, sense of humour and insights elevated each shore excursion – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – to the lofty status of ‘expedition’.

We saw the ‘best of the best’: the temples of Hathor, Luxor and Karnak, the valleys of the Kings and Queens and the tomb of Queen Hatshepsut.We visited Edfu, dedicated to the falcon god Horus, and Korn Ombo, both Greek temples built during the rule of the Ptolemies. Finishing in Aswan, we took a bus to its unfinished obelisk – at 1088 tonnes almost a third larger than any obelisk ever raised in ancient Egypt – and visited Philae Temple, cut into 40,000 pieces and moved to its new island location by UNESCO in the early 1960s after spending decades partially flooded because of the construction of the Old Aswan Dam in 1902.

A sunset cruise on our last night in a specially chartered felucca took us past the Old Cataract Hotel (now a Sofitel Legend property), the hotel where author Agatha Christie set part of her classic novel, Death on the Nile. I wondered if there’d ever been an era when Egypt didn’t fascinate. In 1838 the Scottish painter David Roberts came here and spent months drawing hundreds of sketches and watercolours, soon-to-be-famous windows into a once-great civilisation that would go on to wow Victorian England. His work included the barely visible Gateway to the Temple of Hathor and the columns of the Temple of Horus at Edfu, buried almost to their capitals. If archaeology doesn’t intervene, time, if there’s enough of it, can reclaim all things. Especially paintings.


Endless Treasures to uncover – A selfish pleasure gnawed away at me at the prospect of spending a few minutes alone in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Queues here once stretched over a hundred metres, but those pre-2011 days are now long gone. So, as the last few in our group shuffled away, down I went. But I wasn’t alone. Conservationists from the Getty Conservation Institute, a US-based private research institute, were hard at work conserving the tomb’s vivid array of wall paintings. Despite its overall excellent condition, localised lifting of paint remains a problem, and still there were those persistent, disfiguring brown spots, noted by Howard Carter himself after he famously discovered the tomb in 1922 – spots that almost a hundred years on have continued to defy explanation.

After disembarking in Aswan four days later I returned to Luxor at a reasonable pace courtesy of Egyptian National Railways and walked to the Winter Palace Hotel to see its Grand Staircase. It was here, in 1922, that Howard Carter announced he had found the tomb of King Tutankhamun, the otherwise inconsequential pharaoh made famous only because his tomb had somehow managed to avoid being robbed. Wherever you go in Egypt you’re never far from an ongoing excavation. The Department of Ancient History at Sydney’s own Macquarie University has been involved for years on the Theban Tombs Project at Dra’ Abu el-Naga’, a 4000-year-old necropolis near Luxor. Hardly a week goes by without something making news. As I was leaving to fly home, a 2.7-tonne torso of an Egyptian pharaoh was pulled from the mud in a nondescript Cairo suburb.

Egypt’s treasures are innumerable. Crates still sit unopened on the floor of the old Egyptian Museum in Cairo, waiting for the new Grand Egyptian Museum on the Giza Plateau to open in 2018. An astonishing edifice, it covers 50 hectares and, when completed, will be far and away the world’s largest archaeological museum. But its staff will only be stewards. Egypt’s heritage has never been its own. Its treasures have always belonged to us all.

  • a couple of years ago
  • Egypt

Take A Few Free Off-Season Days And Venture Out to Cape Town

MAY TO SEPTEMBER: The Southern Hemisphere winter is the perfect time to explore Cape Town, South Africa. Temperatures are mostly moderate, and visitors can take on the city without having to brave crowds of tourists or shell out for the peak pricing markup.


Cape Town’s Camps Bay is prime for biking in cooler seasons


Cape Cuisine


La Mouette Restaurant

Winter in Cape Town serves up a smorgasbord of more affordable tasting menus and available tables at some of the city’s top restaurants. Chef-owner Harald  Bresselschmidt creates menus featuring seasonal ingredients at Aubergine in the historic Gardens district. “South African black truffles lend themselves to veal and springbok dishes, perfect for winter,” he says. At French hot spot La Mouette, chef Henry Vigar prepares a special winter six-course tasting menu that includes mushrooms with salt-and-pepper chestnuts and house-barbecued beef brisket with fermented car-rots and cauliflower-cheese puree.


Stay in a Silo

V&A Waterfront

V&A Waterfront – Cape Town, South Africa

 Cape Town will welcome its most exciting new hotel in years when the Silo opens at the V&A Waterfront in March. The 28-room accommodation will reside on the top six floors of a historic 1924 silo complex that also houses the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (due to open in September). Rates will start at 12,000 rand (about $850) in May (versus 18,000 rand/$1,274 in the high season).


Winter Wave Rider


Muizenberg Beach – False Bay, Cape Town

“Because of the shape of the peninsula, we always have waves in Cape Town,” explains the owner of Gary’s Surf School, Gary Kleynhans. “But winter is when we get all the swell because of the cold fronts.” So suit up, since water temperatures hover around 60 degrees, and head to Muizenberg Beach in False Bay, where the waves are big enough to be thrilling, but gentle enough for beginners.


Routing Rewards

There are more options for flying to South Africa than ever before. South African Airways flies nonstop to Johannesburg from New York JFK and Delta flies nonstop from Atlanta. Discounted business-class fares (around $2,400 round-trip versus the $6,000-$10,000 norm) on a variety of carriers are also periodically available if you can get to a Canadian hub such as Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.

Mombasa Safari: Colonial History & Swahili Traditions

Several strands of Kenya’s past meet at Mombasa’s Fort Jesus junction. On one side is the entrance to the medieval Arab town, and on the other the colonial-style members-only Mombasa Club. Oddly, the statue in the traffic island here immortalises not some great historic Kenyan figure, but the local tradition of roadside coffee or kahawa, with a giant golden coffee pot. Mombasa was settled by the Swahili people nearly 2,000 years ago, but its customs have been shaped by the monsoon winds that brought maritime traders from near and far. Kenya’s second-largest city after Nairobi bears the cosmopolitan influence of its Bantu, Arab, Indian, Persian, Portuguese, and British inhabitants. Today, people are still drawn to Mombasa from all over the world, for its bounteous beaches, the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, and its access to some of the world’s best national parks teeming with wildlife.

OLD TOWN – I rendezvous with Taibali Hamzali, an architect with a yen for heritage conservation, who has been working towards preserving the buildings and ethos of old Mombasa. A friend of a friend, Taibali grew up in the Old Town and couldn’t be a better guide to its intimate alleyways. We convene at Fort Jesus, a 16th-century citadel and a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Portuguese and a popular meeting point for walking tours. The Old Town Tourist Guides Association, with its reliable registered guides is located here. A map of the Old Town at the entrance to Ndia Kuu, or Main Street, indicates various walking routes. I marvel at the dainty single-storey houses with balconies and balustrades, ornately carved doors, and even some art deco architecture. The scene is reminiscent of small-town colonial India Taibali tells me that indeed this waterfront settlement is a rich amalgam of the Arab-Omani, Indian, and British cultures that touched these shores, and left their mark on the country.


Fort Jesus

Though mostly privately owned, the residential buildings are bound by heritage conservation laws. Still, some have been sold to unscrupulous builders and demolished. I am awed by the fretwork balconies and the teak doors with brass studs. Adorned with inscriptions of Koranic calligraphy and floral vines, these were the handiwork of the Kutchi craftsmen who were early immigrants from India. Meandering through lanes flanked by heritage homes, we come across the 16th-century Mandhry Mosque, believed to be the oldest mosque still in use in the city. Its obelisk-like minaret once served as a beacon to medieval Arab dhows, guiding them into the Old Port. “Old Town Mombasa grew as an Islamic trading post,” says Taibali, “and by the 1900s, finely-crafted stone buildings had been constructed along the main streets.”

The Old Post Office was constructed in 1899, in the British colonial style of arched windows and rich plasterwork decoration. It is from here that Indian indentured labourers sent news and money to their families. The post office is at Government Square, one of Old Town’s few open spaces and the perfect vantage from which to watch boats dotting the harbour. According to a plaque, such “small coastal trading vessels” sailed up and down Africa for thousands of years. I am intrigued by an unmarked door on a periphery wall abutting the ocean and Taibali reveals a darker side to the old port’s history: It was a departure point for slaves being sent to Zanzibar, East Africa’s main slave market.

Further north stands majestic Leven House, seat of the erstwhile British colonial administration, where missionaries such as Johann Ludwig Krapf, and 19th-century explorers John Speke and Richard Burton once stayed. Named after a British ship which ran anti-slaving patrols off the coast of the city, the renovated building now houses the Mombasa Old Town Conservation Office. Outside, in the narrow lanes, Swahili women in loose floor-length buibui gowns or boldly floral patterned khangas (sarongs) and men wearing kikois (lungis) and kanzus (long white tunics) sell souvenirs to tourists. Most of the buildings have curio shops on the ground floor.

 Leven House

Leven House

Though kitschy, many of these shops or dukas have good local handicrafts and items such as brass coffee pots. I mull over my day while sipping kahawaby a painted glass window in the Jahazi Coffee House. More than a cafe, Jahazi is a cultural meeting ground. Like other words in Swahili which have been borrowed from Persian, Arabic, or Hindustani, jafezs- is a familiar term meaning ship. With its carved wooden benches and tables from Lamu, Persian carpets and settees, it offers the ideal setting from which to watch the world go by. Make sure you get a plate of crisp Swahili samosas and kahawa, the signature spice and ginger-laced coffee. I imagine a traditional coffee seller with his trademark brass coffee pot and brazier full of coals peddling the strong brew to the idlers unwinding by the ocean.

  • a couple of years ago
  • Kenya

Argungu Fishing Festival – Kebbi, Nigeria




Well, let these West African fishermen show you a thing or two. WHERE ARE THE RODS? Exactly. This is where it gets interesting. The festival centres around a competition where approximately 35,000 fishermen wade into the water with hand nets and try to outdo each other by grabbing the biggest fish they can see. Fishermen can work in pairs, but they must catch their fish by hand. There was once a winner who dragged an 80-kilo catfish ashore. Not as boring as you first thought, right?


The whole thing started over 80 years ago as a peace-making exercise between the Argungu people and their neighbours from Sokoto. It has grown to be one of the most popular festivals in West Africa, drawing in massive numbers for the fun and the spectacle. Oh, and it might also have something to do with the prizes. The lucky winner takes home around US$8000 and a new minibus. Not bad for a day’s work.

  • a couple of years ago
  • Africa

The Perfect Match Between Food andn Wine – Stellenbosch, South Africa     

From the majesty of Table Mountain and the magic of Cape Town Harbour, it’s only about 50 kilometres to South Africa’s premier wine region, Stellenbosch. With more than 150 wineries and estates, first-class accommodation and wines at very reasonable prices, the region offers great value for the visitor.

Stellenbosch is in a valley with a variety of soil types and a Mediterranean-like climate of hot dry summers and cool wet  winters. The main wine varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and the unique South African Pinotage. Stellenbosch is where Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, originated. Bordeaux-style blends are also very popular in South Africa and account for a significant proportion of wine production in the region.

We visited three of the region’s iconic estates for what could only be described as some very lekker wine matchings. In case you’re wondering, lekker is a Dutch and Afrikaans word that means good, pleasant or nice. It can also mean ‘slightly intoxicated’ which was very appropriate in this case.


Delheim Wine Estate

You walk into Delheim through blooming gardens and leafy trellises, and on a sunny day with a view down the valley, there’s no better place for lunch or its unique wine pairing with cupcakes. Delheim says it’s a process of ‘spreading the love’ to pair four of its classic wines with some carefully crafted cupcakes. I know cupcakes have been a food fashion for some time, but I’ve never really been a fan. I must say, though, that a nice wine does wonders for the cupcake.

The pairings include a pomegranate cupcake, matched with Pinotage Rose; a Rooibos cupcake infused with lemon and topped with a cream cheese and honey icing, paired with Chenin Blanc Wild Ferment; a pumpkin and vanilla cupcake infused with star anise, cinnamon and nutmeg, and topped with diced pickled pumpkin, paired with Delheim Pinotage; and a traditional African makataan (wild melon) cupcake, topped with makataan syrup icing, paired with Gewiirztraminer.


Cupcaketasting at Delheim Estate

I decided that I could get to like cupcakes and marvelled at the fact that Pinotage actually goes very nicely with pumpkin cupcake. A unique experience and very lekker.

South Africa’s first female winemaker, Elizabeth Catherine English, established Lanzerac in 1914 on land that had grown grapes since the 17,h century. Lanzerac was the first vineyard to sell Pinotage commercially in 1961. Chocolate and wine may be a common pairing but Lanzerac has taken great care to match its wines with some beautifully produced chocolates. All chocolates are made by Marionette’s, a chocolate maker in Knysna, especially to go with Lanzerac wines, and with each vintage they look at the pairing to see if it still matches.

The 2016 Lanzerac Sauvignon Blanc is a tropical fruity wine with almond and peach flavours and gets a special lift paired with white chocolate. The 2015 Chardonnay is a light golden colour and coming out of nine months in the barrel, it pairs smoothly with a lemongrass/ lemon verbena flavoured chocolate. We also tried a 2014 Merlot 2014, 12 months on French oak with dark cherry and cigar flavours, paired beautifully with a 60% dark chocolate.

The standout pairing at Lanzerac was its 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon matched with a Cape Malay spice flavoured chocolate, combining cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. This was absolutely lekker.

You may not be able to go back to Constantinople, but the best thing is that Turkish Delight is now available all over the world, and Lourensford Winery in Stellenbosch is using it to offer one of the most unusual and ‘wow’ pairings I’ve ever tried. The Turkish Delight is produced nearby with flavours to complement some of Lourensford’s best wines.


Delheim Estate in South Africa’s beautiful Stellenbosch region

Its MCC (Methode Cap Classique) is made by the same method as Methode Champenoise. This Brut style is in the bottle for 58 months and made from 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir. This MCC has green apple and nutty undertones, which when paired with an almond Turkish Delight nicely picks up the nuttiness of the Turkish Delight.

Lourensford’s Rose MCC is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir and having spent 36 months in the bottle, it has distinct strawberry and rose flavours. It was beautifully paired with a Rose Turkish Delight.

Lourensford has three wine ranges: River Garden (entry level); Estate Range; and a Limited Release Range, which is only produced in exceptional years. 2014 was one of those years and its Limited Release 2014 Chardonnay is a standout. Having spent eight months in 80% new oak, it was a sensational match with Orange Turkish Delight.

The most unusual pairing was with Lourensford’s Honey Liqueur. The bottle had been frozen, a technique that balances the sweetness of the liqueur, which is not fermented but is made from honey, spring water and added alcohol bringing it up to 24%. Lourensford produces its own honey and pairs this liqueur expertly with Ginger Turkish Delight.

Stellenbosch is a beautiful region with some excellent wines, attractive cellar doors and very good cafes and restaurants. However, if you are looking for something different there can be nothing more lekker than these fascinating wine pairings.

 if you go

  • Wine Route
  • Stellenbosch Experience

The Queen Africa’s Favorite Gem: Zanizbar, Tanzania

Ringed by coral beaches and sapphire ocean, Zanzibar is pretty much the jewel in Africa’s crown.

The main island in the archipelago, Zanzibar, has history, culture, natural beauty and so much more. This tiny island is blessed with superlative beaches: Jambiani, with its beautiful coral reef, Pongwe, which is said to be the best beach on the island, and rustic Matemwe where you can swim all day, regardless of tides. There’s also a wealth of wildlife, like at Jozani Forest with its endemic red colobus monkeys, as well as dolphins and the most vibrant sea life.


Monkeys at Jozani Forest

In the centre is Stone Town, with its medieval ambience and labyrinthine alleyways — a walk through here is exciting, with ornate doors surprising you every now and then. When in town, shop for spices, for which Zanzibar is justly famous, at the Darajani Market — they’re so cheap, you’ll feel like an ancient trader.


Selling spices at Darajani Market

Take the rest of the afternoon off at, yes, you guessed it, more beaches – Bweju and Nungwi, where you can swim and frolic, or try a snorkelling day-trip to the Mnemba Atoll with its clear waters and stunning coral reefs.

Mnemba Atoll

Mnemba Atoll

There are also cruises and day excursions on dhows around Menai Bay from Fumba where you can snorkel, sail, eat delicious barbecued seafood, sunbathe and even spot dolphins. Or you could swim with them at Kzimkazi — the best time is morning. Don’t touch, though! Avoid asking at the hotel, as prices are inflated, and go straight to Kzimkazi circle and negotiate with hardworking local fishermen with their own boats who will still give you a trip to remember, within your budget.

LEAVE ON A JET PLANE:Return flights start at 465USD from Mumbai and 847USD from New Delhi.

VISA: 50USD, yellow fever vaccination essential
STAY: Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate – especially if you’re staying at the same place for a few days. Book the first two days before you go and then negotiate a price for the rest of your stay. Try Zenji Hotel, Stone Town or Paje by Night . The Pongwe Beach Hotel or Coral Rock Hotel may stretch your budget but both offer great long stay rates and are totally worth it.


Bedroom at Zenji Hotel

EAT AND DRINK: You can eat very cheaply at local haunts in Stone Town- all you have to do is look for the most crowded stalls. Local staples like urojo (soup with potato balls), chipsimayai (omelette with french fries), pilau (spiced rice), and mishkaki (beef or chicken kebab) are great to fill up on. Forodhani Gardens at Stone Town’s seaside offer delicious grilled seafood street food options in the evening. Luukman Restaurant offers amazing Zanzibari food like biryanis, fried fish, coconut curries and more at cheap rates.
WHEN TO GO: June to September is peak tourist season. October to December (excluding the Christmas to New Year period), mid-January to February and March to May are cheaper times to go. The months of March to May, in particular offer lush landscapes and discounts at hotels. Heavy rains may make some areas inaccessible. November to December is the best time to go.

  • a couple of years ago
  • Africa

Here Are The Roses! – Morocco, M’Goun Valley

Travel into a secret valley deep in the Atlas Mountains for a floral festival unlike any other

Dawn is tinting the Atlas Mountains rust-red as the rose-pickers of Hdida set out for work. Dressed in flip-flops and jellabas, they follow a dusty path down to the fields, and before too long are lost in foliage. Fruit trees teeter over the trail, laden with figs, dates and oranges. Barley and alfalfa sprout from the orange earth, watered by channels beside the path. Pomegranates dangle from overhanging branches. But the women aren’t here to pick fruit; they’re here to harvest something more fragrant.

“Can you smell them?” asks Ait Khouya Aicha, as she pads into a meadow fringed by walnut trees, and heads for a tangle of shrubs. She pulls down a branch: it’s covered by flowers from trunk to tip, shocking pink against the deep-green leaves.


Ait Khouya Aicha and Azrour Zahra

“These are the roses of the Asif M’Goun River,” she says, cradling a blossom in her hand. “They are famous around the world. But to understand why, you must smell them.” Pulling on thick gloves, she snips off the flower and breathes in the scent. The perfume is heady and sweet, with notes of honey and treacle.

“The fragrance is best in the morning, but we must work quickly,” she says, dropping the flower into a robe gathered around her waist known as a tachtate. “The sun will burn the petals, and then the perfume will be ruined.”

Within half an hour, Aicha and her companions have stripped the bushes of blossoms and four sacks have been filled to the brim. They head back to the village, sharing round a bag of dates and nuts for breakfast. Twenty minutes later, they arrive at a backstreet garage that doubles as the village’s rose co-operative, where owner Ahmid Mansouri inspects the blossoms, weighs them on battered scales, and adds them to a heap covering the concrete floor. “These are good roses,” he says, puffing on a crooked roll-up. “But last week we were harvesting twice as many. Next week they will be gone. And that means one thing. It is time for the Festival of the Roses to begin.” No-one is sure how roses first came to this remote corner of Morocco, high in the Atlas Mountains, six hours’ drive southeast of Marrakesh.


Roses in full bloom in the M’Goun Valley

According to legend, they were carried here centuries ago by a Berber merchant from Damascus; the species that grows here is Rosa damascene, the Damask rose, which originates from ancient Syria and has been celebrated for centuries for its intense perfume. However they arrived, the M’Goun Valley — or the Vallee des Roses, as it’s known in Morocco — has become famous for its flowers. Every year during the main growing season between April and mid-May, the valley produces between 3,000 and 4,000 tonnes of wild roses. They’re everywhere: sprouting up from the hedgerows, blooming along stone walls, tangling the borders between farmers’ fields. Each day before dawn, women gather the roses by hand, and sell them to co-operatives dotted along the valley. Some are bought by local distilleries to make rose water, soaps and pot-pourri, but the majority are bought by big French perfume houses, for whom the M’Goun roses command a special cachet. It’s an intensive – and expensive — business: around four tonnes of fresh petals, or 1.6 million flowers, are required to make a single litre of rose oil, and with each litre fetching around 12,000 euros, the rewards are obvious. But with intense competition from other rose-growing areas, especially in Turkey and Bulgaria, the M’Goun. Valley needs to find ways to catch the noses of overseas buyers — and that’s where the Festival des Roses comes in.

Almaha – Marrakesh, Morocco

Just when the British winter seems to be dragging on, late February and early March in Morocco see the Atlas Mountains surrounding Marrakesh thaw, and almond and cherry trees burst into blossom. With a flight time from the UK of less than four hours and a jacket-shedding temperature of around 22°C, Marrakesh makes the perfect shorthaul break in which to grab a blast of sunshine and a glimmer of the exotic.

The riad-style hotel is hidden down a winding derb (alleyway) in the un-touristy neighbourhood of the Kasbah, where the former royal stables once stood. Just a 15-minute walk from the action-packed main square, Djemaa El-Fna, from its rooftop there are sublime views of the High Atlas Mountains, the peaks pastel blue and mauve in the distance.


Almaha’s roof terrace laid out for pre-dinner drinks


To exhale deeply in quiet surrounds. The riad’s design was inspired by Baudelaire’s love poem L’Invitation au Voyage, where he dreams of an exotic escape. Its closing line, “luxury, calm and pleasure” is certainly a theme here, and after a day haggling in the kaleidoscopic souqs, Almaha’s white arcaded courtyard, turquoise pool and sense of space and solitude are the perfect antidote.


An outdoor plunge pool



One of the suites at Almaha

The 12 individually styled rooms and suites are so big they’d match the footprint of many London flats. King-sized beds are backed by intricate stucco feature walls, and star-cut lanterns create dancing shadows over draped curtains. The grandeur continues in the bathrooms, where there are marble his and hers sinks, deep soaking tubs and rain showers, the air infused with the scent of orange blossom and jasmine.



The library where dinner is served

All meals can be taken on the roof terrace, which is the perfect place to plot the day’s adventures. Breakfast is a treat, with homemade pancakes, fresh orange juice, fruit and yoghurt. Just a short walk away, you’ll find Kosybar on the edge of the Jewish quarter. Head to the roof for sundowners and sushi while looking over the red walls of 16th-century El Badi Palace.


The hotel staff don’t speak very good English, so it will help if you can speak French. Though polite and friendly they are somewhat reserved; if you need something don’t hesitate to ask.


Doubles start at £270 per night including breakfast, afternoon tea and pastries, and return transfers from the airport.

1 2 3 15