I was in Morocco with Masterchef Travel (operated By Cox and Kings) learning to appreciate the country through its food. MasterChef Travel take participants to cities around the world with chefs from the popular TV show. For a glimpse of Morocco outside Marrakesh, I travelled with Eben Lenderking, the owner of the Riad Dar Les Cigognes (where I was staying) and Lise (a local expat who conducts their programs and cookery classes) to the Ourika Valley, a lush region of orchards and groves with waterfalls against the dramatic backdrop of the snow capped Atlas Mountains.
We drove through vast stretches of land lit up with bright yellow flowers and in the distance were the High Atlas- a string of snow covered mountains. This was a region of orchards and farms, groves of olive, orange and lemon and Berber villages clinging defiantly to mountain sides. We drove past stretches of argan trees- the famous tree that produces the prized Moroccan oil, and has goats climbing its spiny branches to feast on the fruit. Almost anything thrives in the rich soil of the Ourika valley including the highly prized saffron.
We spent the afternoon at Paradis Du Safran run by an energetic Swiss lady, Christine, who started a saffron farm here with fruit trees, a nature trail and a restaurant. Christine walked us through her hectares planted with fruit trees and saffron patches. Her energy and enthusiasm for the land she toils on was infectious!
She has made the whole experience interesting by adding a nature trail where you can walk on a path with wood, pebbles, stones- different textures that stimulate your nerve endings and a peaceful rest area at the end where you can dip your feet in tubs of water with herbs! I picked up trivia like 200,000 saffron flowers are needed to obtain 1kg of saffron! Unfortunately we were there after the harvest and could not see the saffron flowers in the fields.
There are different spice jars which offered a quiz, for your nose!
Christine took us for a walk to show us the amazing abundance of exotic fruit trees and herbs she has growing in her 2.5 hectares of land – papaya, mangoes, lemon trees, fruit, lavender, rows upon rows of the sweetest smelling roses.
She showed us how the crimson red saffron threads stain the hand yellow – and tells us to not be cheated in the souks by fake saffron saffron that stains the hand red as this shows it is not pure but has been mixed with other substances such as bits of meat and colouring.
Lunch was amidst the greenery on low stools and tables. It was a typical Moroccan lunch under open gazebos and watching a local matron bake tafernout- flat bread baked in a clay oven on a bed of pebbles. I looked at the distant Atlas Mountains and soaked in the serenity of the moment, savoring a vegetable tajine accompanied by aromatic bread fresh from the oven.
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