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Surprising Story: Marie-Antoinette’s Dairy at Rambouillet

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While Queen Marie-Antoinette’s influence on the gardens of Versailles is well known, particularly with regard to her so called English garden and ornamental farm, few tourists are aware of the fascinating legacy she left in the gardens of the Château de Rambouillet. In Part II of our Surprising Story feature on Rambouillet, we trace the roots of the Queen’s interest in gardens and see how her experience at Versailles led her to add an element of beauty to a place she was poorly fond of. Read more

Surprising Story: The Princess de Lamballe at Rambouillet

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Château de Rambouillet, 1791 – Dessin de Fontaine, Pierre-François-Léonard (1762-1853)

Garden enthusiasts looking to escape the crowds in Paris often choose to visit Versailles or Giverny, but we recommend that visitors venture further off the beaten path in order to visit the Château de Rambouillet. Located approximately 50 kilometers south of the capital, the castle offers a delightful encounter with two of the best-preserved examples of French eighteenth-century garden architecture—an ornamental dairy and a seashell-encrusted grotto—built for Queen Marie-Antoinette and her lady of waiting, the Princesse de Lamballe. Our two-part Surprising Story feature explores the history of the chateau and the legacy of these two esteemed royals and garden patrons. Read more

Perfumes of the Orient Exhibit, a Evocative Journey through Scent

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Egyptian women gathering lilies for perfume, Perfume Burner

For travelers to Paris this winter who want to learn more about gardens, flowers, and perfume we highly recommend The Perfumes of the Orient exhibition at the Institut du Monde Arabe. Held until 17 March 2024, the exhibit is an innovative opportunity to discover the history of scents inspired by gardens and floriculture from the Arab World. 

The exhibition opens with short films of the diverse landscapes where perfumers source their raw materials. Despite this arid and hot climate, two trees, the Commiphor myrrha and the Boswellia sacra, native to Arabia, Oman and Yemen, produce resins essential to perfume making. Since ancient times, the existence of these trees established this part of the world as the center of perfume trade routes. Many of the objects displayed in the exhibition, which date from antiquity, were used as containers for these raw materials. 

Animal based substances, such as musk and civet, have been collected in this region for ointments and balms since antiquity. Roses are still grown in Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Roses, often combined with narcissus, saffron, and jasmine constiute the essential scents of Eastern Oriental perfumery. 

Choix des merveilles du monde terrestre et maritime, 14th century manuscript, BNF

The curators  encourage visitors to immerse themselves in these fragrances by creatively designed  scented devices, either embedded into the walls, or recreated as alembics. These fragrances were specially created for the occasion by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake, whose tantalizing scent palette most notably includes warm, spiced, and amber scents. 

The exhibition  presents the basic building blocks of how to make perfume and also evokes the multiple uses of perfume in the Arab Muslim world. The location of spice dealers and perfume sellers in the souk and hammam, as well as in the home, attests to the ongoing importance of fragrances to the city. Olfactory sensations are so important, that the city is designed to encourage (and discourage) different types of odors. An interesting installation on the tanning of leather  reveals how industries that provoked foul scents are relegated to spaces at the edges of the city.

Carpet with floral motifs (left), Beiti II, France, 2011, Curcuma, ginger, zaatar, sumac, white pepper, collection de l’artiste (© Laurent Mareschal / ADAGP / Van Abbe Museum (right)

One of the most inspiring installations, a carpet made of spices designed by Laurent Mareschal, shows the links between perfumery and food. The installation reproduces the cement tiles of Palestinian homes, commonly found at the beginning of the 20th century. Mareschal names his ‘spice tiles’  Beiti, meaning ‘my home’ in Arabic and Hebrew, a poignant plea as ongoing wars destroy homes in this region. In addition, the smell of the spices from the carpet, like that of perfumes, is an ephemeral moment that conjures shared memories, and the common heritage in plants and flowers as a basis for future coexistence.  

For further information on perfumes, see our blog post A Garden of Scents: Pomades, Pastilles, and French Perfume. We can also take you through the exhibit as a combined experience with our Paris perfume Tour, from Garden to Scent, find out more on our sensorial tours page.

A Garden of Scents: Pomades, Pastilles, and French Perfume

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Left: Roses, Jill Wellington / Pixabay. Right: Jasmine, watsilchum / Pixabay

Smell is perhaps the most ephemeral of the five senses. Our noses can detect thousands of odors, which we unconsciously categorize as pleasant or repellent, information which is stored in our minds for the rest of our lives. While we easily identify our favorite scents, we tend to forget that perfumes have their own histories, which are often rooted in gardens. For centuries flowers have provide the source material for a range of products, from pomades to soaps, and they continue to be inspire fragrance creators to this day.

A perfumer in the 18th century. Perfume Foundation.

This fascinating image of a seventeenth century printed personification of a perfumer is a veritable walking cosmetics stand. His wares include vials of essences (scented oils or waters), pomades hailing from Rome and Florence, soaps and savonettes from Naples, and an array of eaux de senteurs, all inspired by a thousand flowers.  Although we don’t have many accounts of how people actually used perfumes—as they were applied to the body, hair, and skin—we can trace how some early perfumes were manufactured.

Pomades were made by pressing flowers into animal fats. Distillation, heating petals to capture the fragrant oils released from flowers from the vapor produced  ‘essences’ such as rose water.  Infused oils were also considered perfumes. In the eighteenth century, treatises gave readers ‘recipes’ that instructed them how to make perfumes. For example, in his recipe for rose water Polycarpe Poncelet recommended that one gather roses ‘two or three hours after sunrise’ and then ’crush them in a mortier’. The crushed petals should then be placed into an alambic to distil them, which would produce a rose water with a ‘marvelous scent.’

Lavender fields. Hans / Pixabay

Perfumers worked like apothecaries, stressing the medicinal role of these early perfume recipes. At a time when unpleasant smells were considered signs of diseases, vinegar and spices were used to try to ward off sickness or clean wounds. Our perfumer sold products to cure bad breath that contained the likes of anise, mint or thyme—antecedents to today’s toothpaste.

Daffodils. SanduStefan / Pixabay

Daffodils. SanduStefan / Pixabay

The emergence of France as a capital of perfume production went hand-in-hand with the creation of French gardens. As Louis XIV expanded his gardens at Versailles, he developed a keen interest in floriculture. In order to supply his gardens in both Versailles and Paris with sweet smelling flowers, he established a botancial garden in Toulon for the importation and acclimation of flowering bulbs from across the Mediterranean, especially daffodils and hyacinths.

While the gardens at Toulon did not survive past the Sun King’s reign, this appreciation of heavily scented flowers gave a boost to the perfume industry. Since the middle ages, the town at Grasse, located not far from Toulon, had developed a local flowers, including roses, jasmine, lavender, myrtle and wild mimosa, into a small industry. The guild of glove perfumers was established in the town and the perfumers began marketing ther most prized asset: their  flowers to the court. Today, Grasse is still considered the center of the French perfume industry.

Perfume Making Workshop in Paris

Today’s trends in aromatherapy and  scented candles can be traced to the connection between gardens and perfumes. If you would like to learn more about the history of flowers and perfume, we offer the following thematic experiences in and near Paris:

  • History of Perfume Tour and Workshop: Our 4-hour  tour focus on how flower gardens have supplied the perfume industry for centuries. We visit two historic perfumeries in the Marais before trying your hand at the art form during a perfume workshop where you can make your own fragrance.
  • Visit to the Osmothèque: Not far from the Palace of Versailles, the Osmothèque (from the Greek word to preserve) isperfume archive that contained over 3,000 perfumes. This living collection of existing or no-longer available perfumes protects the world’s fragrance heritage. Private or group tours can be arranged upon request.

Please contact us to book any of these experiences or to work with us to design a custom Paris perfume experience.

 

A Romantic Tour Under the Arcades of Paris: Chocolate, Pastries, Perfume & More

Palais-Royal: Jimmy JAEH / Unsplash

The French do not unanimously celebrate Valentine’s Day, as they feel any day is the perfect occasion to celebrate love. No matter the day, when they want to commemorate love with a gift, they think of similar items as we do in North America: chocolates, pastries, perfumes and flowers. Many of Paris’ best purveyors of these can be found in and around one of our favorite romantic places in Paris, the Palais-Royal. The picturesque park, steeped in history and elegance, is the perfect starting point for a romantic, and delicious, amble around the district and its sublimely romantic shops and cafés.

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Gardens to Gifts: Picturesque Voyages Holiday Gift Guide

For millennia the bounty of French gardens has been transformed into a wide array of artisanal goods, from gastronomy to housewares. These centuries’ old traditions are being maintained, or revisited, by a variety of craftsmen and entrepreneurs around the country. Through our tours we strive to advocate this living heritage by introducing visitors to some of the figures that are keeping these traditions alive. Their exceptional creations, from candles to porcelain, also make for great French gift ideas, like these examples included in our holiday gift guide.

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