Expo Rose

My visit to Grasse seemed to be in a perfect timing: not only is it the rose harvest season (which only lasts 3 weeks), but also that week was the week of Expo Rose – a rose show with rose experts and growers from around the world showcasing incredible hybrids of fragrant and colourful roses.

The English roses were particularly impressive, with hundreds of petals condensed and arranged in such a stylized way as to resemble flowers made out of rolled crepe paper or metallic Art Nuveau sculptures.

And of course there were many vendors outside selling anything from rose jewelry and accessories to rosewater, rose wine, rose petal jams, soaps and so on. A little word of warning though: not everything that tastes like flowers in Grasse is high quality. In fact, I was barely able to swallow two bites of a crepe filled with mimosa-flavoured confiture. It was horrible. And so were the flower-flavoured seeds at the end of the meal in the local Indian restaurant. Both tasted like platic (for reference: if you’ve ever tasted a fragrance oil accidentally, that was the effect). One must be careful and stick to the authentic rosewater and orange flower water when visiting this overtly perfumed town…

In this blog entry are just some photos of how the city centre looked like May 21 - 24. And the city’s businesses, shops, museums and restaurants all had rose petals decorate the tables or reception area. At the end of the day, the street grounds were dotted with rose petals too. Quite a sight!

Rose petals in a water-fountain. How very luxuriuous!

Terracotta coloured rose. Never seen a colour like this (but it's really difficult to transfer through the camera).

English Roses
Fake rose trees that decorate the little alleys, staricases and passages in Old Grasse (aka downtown/city centre).

La Bastide du Parfumeur

La Bastide du Parfumeur is a conservatory and a botanical garden nestled between Grasse and Cannes, that has opened just recently - in 2007.

This is an unusual botanical garden. Expect none of the manicured and controlled French garden like those in Paris. What you’ll find here is a wild paradise of fragrant plants and flowers, arrange visually like one beautiful meadow that spills from the hills with endless surprises of unusually fragrant plants (most of which are famous for their use in perfumery, others less known or exotic – such as Seringat and Hymmemosporum). And between them grow in careless abandon unlabeled roses of surprising colours as well as wild oats and other weeds. The beauty of the place is breathtakingly unconventional. And it is arranged according to odour, a classification quite unusual for any garden. You’lld find rustic signs for vanillic notes, woody notes, citrus notes, herbaceous notes, spicy notes and so forth.

The list of sponsors is impressive on its own right (including perfumers such as Le Cristophs for examples), and also from talking to the gardeners I understand that Michel Roudnitska played a key role there in consulting about what plants to use and how to group them together.

Where to find it: 979 chemin des gourettes-06370 Mouans-Sartoux Tél : 04 92 98 92 69

Below are just some of the highlights to hold you over until you go there. Because you must do that.

The garden begins with mint groves that smell more impressive than they look. The Japanese mint is especially green, crisp and sweet and with hardly any camphoreous menthol aspects. And some are more sharp and strange than others. The picture above is of Bergamote Mint, which smells convincingly of bergamote. I'm guessing its the result of high presence of Linalyl acetate.

Next come some spicy and woody notes (I was happy to find Zantoxylum in the raw living form for the first time).
Other beautiful spicy notes belong to the many carnations the trimmed the plots, both pink and white (I spotted 3 types but all photos of one of the fuller-petaled pink ones turned only blurry).

The garden of white flowers included jasmine (not in bloom at the time visited), star jasmine and white roses.

I haven't spotted any plants around the Vanilla notes area, rigth next to the canal at the centre of the garden and across from the white florals - but this sign will give you an idea of how the garden was arranged. Each section had a note category stated by a sign that looked like this:

The fruity notes included sweet juicy strawberry, loquat and Ananas Sage, which is very unusual and mouthwatering with its pineapple-like notes. Of course I couldn't help myself and had a little picnic.

After fruity comes floral...

I really liked how the iris was planted right next to the acacia garden. There are common characteristics for these two notes - powdery, woody and floral and cool. There was only one bush in bloom, since the mimosa season in Grasse is January-February.

This is Seringat, a bush I'm unfamiliar with and am at loss describing its scent. It was floral and a little fruity - perhaps peachy - but I can't remember being able to come up with any other adjectives.

Next come the herbaceous notes, and there are plenty: rosemary, helicrysum, lavender, sage, clary sage, Roman chamomile, etc. and many types of pelargonium, including this strange looking one, Eucaliptus scented pelargonium and one that didn't have a sign and smelled intensely of animalic musk.

This particular helicrysum really smells like curry more than others.

I was surprised at how soft this dangerous plant smells. Sweet and almost coumarin like, despite all the thujone.

Roman chamomile, of course!

The aquaduct is at the centre of the garden and brings a powerful visual element of freshness and coolness, even though the water is neither good for drinking nor for bathing. You have to experience the heat of that Cote d'Azur day to understand it fully...

Notes Hesperide, which is French for citrus notes - here are bitter orange trees with lemon verbena in the space between them. Across from there is a plot with melissa (lemon balm) and lemongrass.
This exotic Australian tree was planted right next to the citrus plants, although it smelled more like a mixture of ylang ylang gand vanilla. There were also many fragrant pittosporums around this area, so judging by the plant's family, this must be the connecting reason. Or perhaps the orange blossom like aroma of some pittosporum blossoms. There is no mention of pittosporum on the garden's map.

Going down to the left side of the garden, there are open fields, less structure, and many wild flowers. I pass by sitting spots, some look sureal and all very beautiful - my favourite being two chairs in the middle of a lavender field. There is one plot for Jasmine (not blooming now), lavender fields and more herbaceous fields including more curry plants, sage and rose geranium. The garden ends with two large plots for Rose de Grasse (Rosa centifolia, aka Rose de Mai), and many wild poppies in pink and red.

On The Train to Grasse

I’m on the train from Paris to Grasse, breathing in with my eyes the green landscape of the French countryside. Although I admit I woke up still feeling sick and was mostly into sleeping for the best part of the train ride, I was able to get some rest and enjoy some fo the view.

We are now at the very last bit of the trip and I’m gradually feeling more like home. It looks like my homeland in the winter or spring time. Fields of poppies, bushes of broom covered in yellow flowers. Little coral houses with orange shingles, and of course vineyards everywhere. The Mediterranean ocean pops into view every once in a while and it’s as blue as one can only hope.

Being here for a few days I’m noticing a few things about the French (and I do hope this is not going to offend anyone), which come across quite obviously with smells: most people wear perfumes, and they wear good ones too. I’ll be walking on the street and various scents, some familiar and some not cross my path. People here smell good. But than there was someone on the train who was wearing some baby-poweder smelling perfume and we had to put up with that for the entire ride, so I guess being around other perfumephiles comes at a price… On the other hand, there’s a lot of smoking going on and you pass through clouds of smoke or need to put up with them in cafes and restaurants all the time. The toilettes are usually way cleaner than anywhere else I’ve visited. There is almost always some good smelling hand soap, and more often than never there’s even an air freshener. In fact, the metro stations are regularly sprayed with air fresheners, mostly smelling of lily of the valley (or lilac I’m told too but I haven’t smelled that yet). I don’t know how they would’ve smelled without the air fresheners, but I was told it used to be horrible.

Towards the end of the train ride, I managed to finally et myself together and stop feeling sorry for myself (even though my ears are still ringing) and go freshen up with some of my mimosa perfume I was planning to wear in the south of France. We than enjoyed the last bit of macaroons we saved for the trip, whose flavours intensified because they were out of the fridge for several hours. The mango jasmine was so much more intense and just downright amazing; and the violet also came through a lot more clearly in the violet-cassis macarons. I also tried new flavours – Caramel Fleur de Sel, Lemon, Rose, Raspberry and the Orange Blossom, which is my new favourite (right next to the Bergamote and Mango-Jasmine).

After another very short train ride to Grasse, leaving the beaches behind and heading towards the very beautiful mountain, we took a taxi to the hotel. Even the receipt of the taxi driver reeked of perfume. And so was nearly everything everywhere – a nice old fashioned floral perfume this or the other in every level at the hotel and everywhere there are little shops and perfume museums. The city looks very pretty and spreads wider than I would have ever imagined. It’s a mountain city and the population here is far more diverse than you’d expect from a small town – there’s a huge Italian influence not only on the architecture but also the cuisine, and the population is not only French – there are North African Muslims, East Indians and Antilleans for examples (and restaurants to match as well). I was particularly thrilled to walk down the narrow streets and find little Arabic pastry shops selling all sorts of baklawa and Gazelle horns. It reminded me of the nearby Arab city to my village as well as other ancient mountain cities with the narrow swirling streets spilling over the mountains and staircases everywhere.

Paris Day V - Serge Lutens & IUNX

Today was a sick day, the Jiboulee weather in Paris got the best of me (unequipped Canadian who expects anywhere else other than Canada to have better weather – I packed only summer clothes pretty much). I got up very late after trying to sleep off a head-cold or an upcoming flu and went to meet Denyse near the Palais Royal. We sat at a café for a while talking mostly about the restrictions, regulations and legislation issues – a topic that one cannot get away from especially when in Europe*.

Than strolled through the Jardin de Palais Royal to Serge Lutens. Being a weekend, the shop was buzzing with officially dressed sales clerks and customers. By serendipity we met Thierry – a Parisian perfume connoisseur who shocked me by telling me everything about my latest Paris travel post. I was not expecting to meet a SmellyBlog reader in Paris so that was a wonderful surprise!

I tried too many Serge Lutens exclusives all at once: on my left writs Tubereuse Criminelle again, and on the upper side of that hand Sarasin. On my right wrist I tried and on top of the right hand Mandarine Mandarin, which starts like candied mandarin peel but ends up more like curry.

We than proceeded towards Rue St. Honore, to visit IUNX and Colette. Colette was quite crowded so we went straight to Hotel Costes, where Olivia Giacobetti’s IUNX line is being gradually re-introduced. The tiny shop is a dark modern catacomb of sorts, made of tinted glass and dark furniture. Red bottles of the hotel’s signature scent and candles are lined up and on the very left wall large monoclins emit the 5 scents and one is instructed by a strict sales clerk to inhale the scents in this particular order, from left to right:
Cologne Blanc, Eau Sento No. 2, l’Ether, l’Ether (for the second time), and than Splash Forte (the one that smells like dessert).

My immediate favourite was l’Ether, which smells mostly of geranium, myrrh and musk. I would have been happy to buy a bottle on the spot, but they come in a towering 1/2meter tall bottles or so, that seem impossible to operate. The candle collection is overwhelmingly beautiful albeit most of the smells reminded me of some of the outstandingly gorgeous Diptyque candles. I hope they will bring out again the Guimauve scent (marshmallow with strawberry and orange flower water) so this might be something to look forward to in a future Paris visit.

It was already the end of the day and shops gradually started to shut down. I was able to sneak into Penhaligon’s before closing even though I wasn’t planning on it – I just stumbled upon it. But unfortuantley I got to Colette just minutes after closing time (I really was hoping to get me some Kyoto and sniff other Comme des Garcons as well as Le Labo’s line which aside from Vetiver 46 I’m completely unfamiliar with) and also missed the big Annick Goutal on 14 Rue Castilligone (which was ok because I already smelled what I wanted to in St. Germain) - not to mention was not for the life of me even able to spot any clues as to the whereabouts of JAR. I will just have to go to Paris again and not get sick this time!

* And just as an aside: Since I had many opportunities to discuss this in Grasse with working professionals, I am coming back to my original conclusion that the regulations are entirely se to eliminate any sort of competition for the big aromachemical houses: this is a double-sided sword that is set to a) make it extremely difficult for small, independent companies to survive thanks to a complex system of beaurocracy that is so labour intense it is only possible for large companies to comply with, having the means to develop elaborate software and have keep on their payroll a legistlation department and b) reduce if not eliminate completely (eventually) the production of natural raw materials. And even though synthetics are also becoming restricted, banned and so on this is not really a problem since it only creates more work for the chemical companies to develop new molecules to replace them.

Paris Day IV - St. Germain & Pierre Herme

Today I mostly wanted to visit St. Germain des Pres, where Boris Vian used to live and work and play his jazz trumpet; and where now Pierre Hermé established his legendary patisserie. We were also planning to go to the Louvre after dinner but that never happened. I think my boyfriend is going to spend the entire day there tomorrow (and this way I can get away from the task and go sneak into Pierre Hermé again!)

We first headed out to Le Marais, an old neighbourdhood with narrow streets and Jewish population. My boyfriend insisted on showing me the falafel stands even though it would be the last place for me to eat while in Paris (I had to keep reminding him I am here for the macarons!). The falafel places were pretty close to the Israeli version, ran by loud Israelis of course who know how to make fast food fast. It was pretty good but I just tasted a little bit because I really do prefer the falafel back home and I can wait until than to have it. One thing to be said to their credit – they do use the proper pita bread (in Vancouver the pita bread is so think it’s ridiculous – the so-called “pita” is rolled like a wrap and everybody is suppose to pretend it’s ok). Le Marais is filled with little Jewish bakeries and on Friday the window displays are full of breaded Challas and the air was full of caramel-scent. After another mundane mission was accomplished (I had to buy a bag after the one I brought with me broke, sadly), we took the metro to St. Germain des Pres metro station.

It was again one of those terrible weather days when the weather couldn’t make up it’s mind. It repeated endless cycles of sunny-rainy-sunny-rainy etc. I was wearing l’Ecume des Jours and feeling particularly moody. Searching for Pierre Hermé we stumbled upon another Laduree location on Rue Bonaparte, where I bought some macaroons for later (the train ride to Grasse) and also some guimauve for my daughter. I was a bit disappointed – though not surprised - to learn that macaroons don’t travel well; but since she loves marshmallows, I think the guimauve will be perfect – especially when they come not only in white (orange blossom) but also in purple (violet) and pink (rose). I guess I will have to learn how to make flavoured macaroons until I’m able to take her with me to Paris again!

Pierre Hermé is a tiny little patisserie and everything there just looks spectacular. For some reason, I was particularly attracted to a vanilla tart and also wanted to try a few macaroons: Pink Grapefruit, Mint, Jasmine, Cassis, Pistachio with a clove-soaked redcurrant in the middle, Rose, Passionfruit-Chocolate. We walked to the nearby square to sit and eat our newly found treasures. The macaroons were hopelessly amazing. We just had two to start with: the mint – a flavour I would have never picked, and that was actually spearmint (with the leaves ground or chopped very thinly into the filling) and it was really delicious with the jasmine macaroon (which was obviously pure happiness).

And than came the vanilla tart. I’m afraid I’m unable to describe this without being profane, so I will just let you stare at this picture and imagine to yourself tasting something that is more creamy and vanilla than vanilla every thought it could be. It was like biting into a piece of cloud and a few minutes later I felt happy again.

We walked aroud a little bit more and went to Café Deux Magots where they serve Ispahan, a large rose macaroon with rose cream and lytchee fruit in the middle and rapberries all around. On top there was a rose petal with a dot of honey, which looked like a dew drop. It was perfect.

We than walked to Luxemburg Gardens, watched the people playing speed chess than walked towards the tennis courts and sat in lounge chairs to munch on the rest of the macaroons (the other flavours were unabashedly amazing – but what else to expect from Pierre Hermé?).

In the evening we went to the Morrocan restaurant l’Atlas on St. Germain for a couscous dinner. The restaurant was very pretty and the staff very friendly and hospitable. The chef even came out to check on the guests and see how they enjoy the food. The appetizer-salads we very flavourful and suprising – for example, sweet tomatoes with cinnamon and anise. We had Morrocan tea before we left, which is gunpowder green tea with fresh sprigs and leaves of spearmint, and sprinkled with orange flower water. A good way to end the day!

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