Known as the “City of Roses,” Taif is a city located on the slopes of the Hejaz Mountains in Saudi Arabia's province of Makkah. The sixth most popular city in the Kingdom, Taif enjoys moderate weather throughout the year, even in summer — making it a popular summertime destination for Saudis to escape the scorching heat typically experienced in lower-lying regions elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula.

I always enjoy the fun and adrenaline from driving up along the winding road, along Highway 15, hugging the majestic mountain ranges leading up to Al Hada and then Taif City proper — located at 1,800 metres above sea level. My latest visit to Taif, in early April, was to experience the annual rose season. Since 2005, there's usually a large Rose Festival every year at the city's Al Rudaf Park celebrating the rose season but, due to the global pandemic, the annual event was cancelled this year.

But the pandemic didn't stop Taif's entrenched and pivotal agricultural sector, best known for the cultivation of roses. The area, including the town of Al-Hada, the valley of Wadi Mahram and the Al Shafa mountains, is home to approximately 900 rose farms, collectively producing around 30 million roses during spring, and about 70 factories.

The rose season begins in early March and runs for 40 to 60 days. The Taif region's mild climate provides the ideal conditions to cultivate the renowned Taif rose. The carefully handpicked roses are then transported to rose factories that distill the petals into rose oil (attar) and rose water used to produce a range of products such as fragrances, lotions, soaps and more. The rose water is commonly used across the Gulf region in tea, coffee and food.

Visiting a family-owned rose farm

The 30-petal Taif rose — the Wardh Taifi — also known as the Jori or Damascus rose is believed to have made its way into Taif during the Ottoman Empire, around 250 years ago, from modern-day Turkey. The Damascene Jori actually traces its roots on the Arabian Peninsula back to the 16th century when the Ottoman Turks transported them from the Balkans. But the highlands of Taif ultimately proved to be the ideal setting for its cultivation.

Thanks to Taif-based local guide Khalid Sherbi, I visited a 200-year-old family-run rose farm administered by patriarch Mr. Salim and his sons Akram, Jameel and Ayman. Since 2017, they have been welcoming visitors on their farm to enjoy the experience of seeing first-hand the harvesting during the rose season.

Exit full screenEnter Full screen
previous arrow
next arrow

As they welcome visitors year-round, they've also created a special plot of land where roses are grown all year, outside the primary spring season. Mr. Salim's farm also has many apricot trees under which about a dozen traditionally decorated cabins can be rented by the hour to enjoy a local breakfast, dates and Arabic tea or coffee.

Visitors can try their hand at the delicate craft of picking the roses from the bush by hand. There's a specific flick of the wrist movement required to master the art.

While you're stopping to smell the roses, Pin It!

It takes between 10,000 to 15,000 hand-picked roses to produce just a small 12 ml vial, or “tolah,” of rose oil. Deluxe perfume is produced from as much as 45,000 roses.

In order to maximize the extraction of the highly volatile rose oils before they evaporate under the mid-day sun, rose farm workers rise early, well before dawn, to pick the roses at the optimal time. It takes ten days for each rose to bloom fully, and timing is everything.

Exit full screenEnter Full screen
previous arrow
next arrow

As I mentioned in my previous article on the agrotourism farms in the southern Jizan region, the development of these ancestral family farms into experiential tourism hubs is an important part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 objectives to diversify the country's economy and promote sustainability in rural tourism.

Distilling the rose essence at Al-Kamal rose factory

Also tracing their origins to the time of the Ottoman Turks, about two centuries ago, the descendants of some original rose distillers still operate the family-run Al-Kamal rose factory in Taif's nearby Al-Hada district. The Al-Kamal factory was founded in 1831 — making it the oldest in the Kingdom. The seventh-generation owner, Khalid Al-Kamal, manages the operation with his three sons.

They use techniques passed on from one generation to the next to turn the delicate rose petals grown and gathered in Taif's farms into perfumes, aromatic rose water, lotions, soaps and more.

Exit full screenEnter Full screen
previous arrow
next arrow

I purchased a small tolah of rose perfume from oil essence (attar) for the equivalent of about $150 USD. Prices vary depending on the season, essence quality and size of the container. The larger container was priced at just over $400 USD. Most of the lotions and soaps are priced at around $10 USD. An on-site café also offers rose tea.

Packed in large multicoloured cloth sacks and baskets, the Wardh Taifi (Taif roses) are sorted and weighed upon their arrival at the rose factory before being distilled in large copper alembic pots.

Attar and rose water are produced by filling those large tin-lined copper pots with thousands of roses. The images below capture a worker from the Al-Kamal factory transporting bags full of rose petals which he methodically filled the copper pots with. The copper boilers are then filled with water, and the mixture is left to simmer for several hours.

Exit full screenEnter Full screen
previous arrow
next arrow

Equipped with over 120 distillation pots, the Al-Kamal rose factory uses a process of steam distillation, using gas to heat the pots, to release the essential oil into vapour form. The steam collects under the mushroom-shaped helmet fitted above the boiler. A downward-angled tube then directs the steam through a zing cooling tank, and the distillate condenses are thereafter collected into large glass containers. The separation process between the rose water and attar then begins. The rose fragrant oil extract ends up floating on top of the rose water surface.

As a reminder of how their forebearers worked with more modest means, a small restricted area in the Al-Kamal factory conserves some original copper pots, along with the wood burners of olden days, as museum pieces.

Write comment (0 Comments)


Julia Cosgrove is the award-winning Vice President and Editor-in-Chief at AFAR Media, based in San Francisco, which publishes the influential travel magazine AFAR and website. Born in New York and raised in Berkeley, she now lives in Oakland, California – where she's been sheltering in place since the pandemic.

Write comment (0 Comments)


Ever since moving to Saudi Arabia, I've wanted to visit the enigmatic flower men living in the southern provinces of the country and extending into Yemen. They're the descendants of ancient Tihama and Asir tribes dating back two millennia who are known for wearing colourful and distinctive flower garlands on their heads. They also sport an ornate traditional curved dagger, called the jambiya, over a colourful and multi-patterned wrap-around male skirt known as a futa.

Write comment (2 Comments)


One of the things I most looked forward to when visiting Brazil's northern city of Manaus, known as the Gateway to the Amazon Rainforest, was the opportunity to visit some of the aboriginal people living in the Amazon. The opportunity came when we sailed along the Rio Negro river towards a riverside village inhabited by the Tuyuca (Tuyaka) people. They also call themselves Dojkapuara or Utapinõmakãphõná. Their population is concentrated in Brazil and Colombia. Tuyuca is spoken by 500 to 1,000 people in these two South American countries.

Write comment (0 Comments)

Continuing on my tradition to seek out the bohemian and artistic neighbourhoods when I travel to a new city, my first stop the morning after I landed in São Paulo, Brazil, recently was to visit the borough of Vila Madalena — located in Pinheiros district.

Write comment (0 Comments)


Experiencing the Rio De Janeiro Carnaval has been a big item on my bucket list for a long time. I had the opportunity to make this dream a reality in 2020. The world-famous extravaganza is considered the biggest carnival in the world — bringing around 2 million people per day on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Carnaval begins on the Friday preceding Lent and ends on Ash Wednesday. But the Winner's Parade takes place on the Saturday after the carnival ends.

Write comment (0 Comments)


Cape Town, colloquially known as South Africa's Mother City, is the country's legislative capital and the main city of the Western Cape province. I first visited Cape Town in 2010, just after the FIFA World Cup. I still have the emblematic vuvuzela plastic monotone horn, which became part of the world's lexicon during the World Cup that year.

Write comment (0 Comments)


I had planned a two-night stop-over in Johannesburg, South Africa, before Amaria and I headed on to our self-drive adventure in Namibia. It was our second time in Johannesburg. We had already experienced driving to Soweto, sampled the vibrant life there, as well as visited Pretoria the last time; so the idea this time was to explore more of Johannesburg itself.

Write comment (0 Comments)


The Republic of Namibia is situated in the south-western part of the African continent. Positioned along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s bordered by the Republic of South Africa to the south, by both Angola and Zambia to the north, and Botswana to the east.

Write comment (0 Comments)


Nearly five years into my experience as an expatriate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I can still point to the historical district of Old Jeddah, known as Al-Balad (translates as “The Town” in Arabic) as one of my all-time favourite travel destinations. Only a few places on earth provides visitors with a genuine feeling of travelling back in time to an authentic by-gone era, unspoiled by modern-day mass tourism. Al-Balad is literally an open-air, living, museum.

Write comment (0 Comments)

Most popular articles

February 17, 2017

Al-Balad: Journey into the heart of old Jeddah

in Saudi Arabia
Nearly five years into my experience as an expatriate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I can still point to the historical district of Old Jeddah, known as Al-Balad (translates as…
March 02, 2017

Trekking and trail running in the Arabian desert

in Saudi Arabia
No expat experience in Saudi Arabia would be truly complete without venturing out into the desert, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. One of the best and most memorable…
June 25, 2016

Cocu: A corner of France in Buenos Aires

in Travel
My favorite part of any large city I visit has always been the bohemian neighbourhoods. It’s sacrilegious for me not stop by Soho when in New York City to take in the art…
July 07, 2019

My self-drive adventure in Namibia

in Travel
The Republic of Namibia is situated in the south-western part of the African continent. Positioned along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s bordered by the Republic of South…