The Saffron Harvest

With the arrival of autumn the saffron harvest will begin soon in Morocco. Saffron comes from the crocus flower, specifically the crocus sativa. This sterile variety does not grow in the wild. The plant is cultivated for the red or orange threads, called stigma, that grow from the stylus in the middle of the flower. The flowers grow from corms that die after one year, but the corms form cormlets during the growing season from which further plants are grown.

In Trine, in the Ourika Valley, near Marrakech, women from the villages are up early to pick the flowers. They must be picked before they open up in the sun. This is to protect the stigmas from dust and drying out.


It is back breaking work.

Once collected they are taken inside and are spread out to separate the stigmas from the flowers. This is an opportunity for the ladies to sit down together and catch up with the latest news from across the valley. The stigmas are dried in a kiln, a process that takes about 20 minutes. Then the saffron is weighed and packaged. The work of the women, however, does not end there. The corms are dug up, separated and replanted for the next year’s crop.


 The discarded flowers are strewn prettily on the paths at the saffron gardens.

It takes 115 flowers to produce enough stigmas for 1gm of saffron. Understandably it is the most expensive spice in the world. Good saffron is an even colour and when dampened will produce a yellow stain. Pliny wrote: saffron is the most falsified commodity. Nowadays, dried marigold or calendula petals are sometimes added to produce a lower grade (and cheaper) spice.

Saffron was used in ancient Rome to scent baths and public halls. It has also medicinal and purposes.

Visitors are welcome at both Naturom and Saffron Gardens, in Tnine, to learn more about saffron production. Their gardens make for a peaceful day trip from Marrakech.


Christine Williams

October 2016









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Marrakech Atlas ETAPE -Sunday, April 24th.

The Atlas Etape has become a major international cycling event. Contestants come from England and many European countries. Many Moroccan riders from Casablanca and Agadir cycling clubs and enthusiasts from all over the country take part. Cycling as a sport has come of age in Morocco!

The Atlas ETAPE began in 2012 when Mike McHugo, of Discover Ltd and the Kasbah Toubkal, teamed up with Saif Kovach of Argan Extreme Sports. The Atlas Etape starts from the ancient city of Marrakech, continues to the Ourika Valley and onto the steep, challenging ascent  towards snow capped peaks and Oukaimeden ski station  at 2,642 metres. The riders are rewarded  by the idyllic mountain scenery and the earth village houses with their terraced fields and the colourful dresses of the women and children. Once at the summit riders enjoy the views of the Marrakech plains before starting down again on the long downhill run to Marrkech. Riders need skill to maintain control as speed builds up on the long downward slopes to  the finishing post in Marrakech.

The Atlas Etape raises funds for Education For All an NGO founded by Mike McHugo which provides boarding houses near schools for young girls in Atlas Mountains  who wish to pursue their education to  College level. To do this they need appropriate well run accommodation with a housemother and cook near the colleges which Education for All (EFA) provides. EFA believes that educating girls in the rural areas helps to ensure education for future generations. Great efforts are being made to boost education for girls in rural areas where traditionally they were restricted to looking after the home or working in the fields.

Riders need to be fit . They have the option of courses for 60 kilometres which  BBG Chairman and owner of Riad Farnatchi  James Wix describes this course as a « fun day » which most can enjoy and the full 140 km as « a really hard slog « which requires fitness and ideally as few months of  reasonably strenuous biking practice. The 140 km  course is for professional bikers and  those who are really fit. Two additional routes are available at 84 and 104kms to suit riders of different abilities, and encourage as many as possible to take part.

The Marrakech BBG fully supports this enjoyable and exciting event. BBG members can help at the feeding stations where riders can rest and take in badly needed refreshment to maintain energy levels, as well as record their timings. Monitoring safety on the route is also an important part of the operation and some riders inevitably require treatment for exhaustion or accidental injuries.

This year the BBG will also be hosting a barbecue at the finish line from noon through the evening. We will welcome tired contestants as they finally achieve their goal and the cheer on the winners as receive their prizes. A special welcome is reserved for all those who have completed the course no matter how long it takes.

Any BBG member willing to help with the barbecue and on the rest stops around the course should contact BBG Secretary Liz Giles.

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The BBG organised an open day on December 6th with the Espoir orphanage, one of the local charities supported by the BBG Marrakech. Located behind the vast CHU Mohammed V Hospital La Creche d’Espoir is not easy to find, but has a guardian at the entrance leading in to the courtyard with colorful wall paintings that indicate that it is a children’s orphanage. There are palm trees around a central open area where the BBG arranged stands  for the occasion. On sale were Maddy’s Mitts -colorful mittens hand-knitted by Maddy Williams which  raised over 3,000 dirhams. There were also a book stall run by Michael Roberts, a bric-a-brac stall run by James Cutting and Kati Lawrence, photographic prints from Alan Keohane, hand-made silk purses from Chris Williams and fresh-pressed oil oil for sale from the team at Jarjeer Mules.  Additionally, light refreshments and cakes, prepared by Natasha Compton, were available.

Touria, the manager of the orphanage, greeted BBG members and a good number of Moroccan visitors.  She explained that the orphanage was started in 1995 by a group of dedicated doctors and nurses. The Ministry of Health provided funds to buy the land for the orphanage. Espoir depends on private sector donations from organisations like the BBG . The Association L’Espoir is a recognised public utility number 202 882. The  Espoir website is

The nurses are salaried and look after a number of babies who are left at the orphanage so they can be cared for and adopted.   There are currently 23 babies and four handicapped children at Espoir. The older children tend to stay on longer as prospective parents tend to prefer to adopt babies. The majority of babies (57 per cent) come from rural areas in the Marrakech Tensfit Haouz region. Some 25 per cent come from the city of Marrakech.

Upon entering the orphanage Alan Keohane, the BBG member who has been the driving force behind the BBG’s support for Espoir, shows me  a room on the left where four elder children are standing up in their cots. Alan points to the new physiotherapy equipment to help the handicapped children exercise their limbs and gain mobility. The BBG pays for a  qualified physiotherapist to treat the four handicapped children on a regular basis. One child, Omar, was almost completely paralysed  but now, as a result of the physio treatment,  can walk with a little bit of help. BBG chairman James Wix points to this as a real achievement.  More physio equipment is required and a larger room is being prepared for the physiotherapy unit, and is now in the final stages of being painted.

In the past, Alan Keohane has directed the BBG’s support for Espoir having arranged for the purchase and installation of the air conditioning units, which also provide heating in winter. He was instrumental in arranging the regular physiotherapy sessions by a qualified practioner which are essential for the handicapped children. Despite his very busy life as an internationally famous photographer with his company Still Images, Alan has devoted much of his time to Espoir and has kept the committee and members informed on progress and the needs of the orphanage. The initial contact and support for Espoir by BBG members Marcus and Emma Joyston- Bechal played an important role in getting the BBG involved.

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The Espoir building has a central corridor which leads to a courtyard with other rooms which will enable the orphange to expand its activities. The large light filled play room gives the children a good play area with French windows leading to a pleasant garden area.

A great day was had by all. BBG Vice President, James Cutting said that donations and sales from the different stalls amounted to over 15,000 dirhams  which will help to sustain Espoir’s future expansion and shows what can be achieved when the BBG supports an occasion like the open day.   Another open day at Espoir is planned for April 2016 when it is hoped as many BBG members as possible will be able to attend or send donations to BBG treasurer John Stobbart.

Please feel free to contact us regarding support of Espoir and the BBG’s continued efforts to assist the orphanage with future endeavours.

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Walking in Morocco: in the footsteps of giants

atlas-mountainsLast year, I made a big decision. Winning Olympic gold in the double sculls in London in 2012 had been the culmination of a period of huge pressure and excitement in my life and for the first time in a 15-year rowing career I’d had the chance to take a break from the sport. I worked on my PhD. I did some television work. But the question soon became urgent: would I return to training for the 2016 Rio Olympics? Well, I decided to take up the challenge, to try to get my fitness back, and to make sure that I could put myself in a position where the end point could be another Olympic Games. It’s great to be back in a boat again, but it’s a huge commitment, and it means taking holidays gets that bit harder. Of course, I’ve travelled extensively as a result of my rowing career, but most of Continue reading

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Marrakech: Because it feels good to get lost in the right direction

As part of the ‘Get lost project’, the following was posted on the getlostprojectblog. The city with no doubt can be call the “Heart of Morocco”. Amazing and magical atmosphere can will put every duramen into trance. All the smell, noise, colors and insane things happening around – it’s just crazy but still bearable. The best is to just go with the flow and get lost within the streets of medina. You always end up in the main square, no matter how far you go, its always easy to find your way back. My top places to see:  Jemaa el-Fnaa – the world famous square, which got his name after public executions and slave trade– means ‘assembly of the dead’. The place where the things happen in Continue reading

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Advice for women travellers to Morocco: 7 things to know, a website for the community of women who love to travel, has just posted Morocco Travel: 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Trip, by Kait Krolik: I decided to study in Morocco to fulfill my desire to learn Arabic and about Islam from a source other than the media’s cover. I wanted to live in and observe to debunk the claims often made by people living in a different culture. Morocco fulfilled all of these criteria and is a kingdom in Africa. I found all of this extremely intriguing. So here I am, two months into my Morocco travel adventure, eager to share the things that I have learned and what I wish I knew before packing my bag. 1. Language: The most important concept I wish I had grasped before landing in Morocco would be how language works here. This is especially true since Continue reading

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