In The Rose Capital of Iran

“The ancient Iranian city of Kashan is sometimes eclipsed by its more famous neighbour, Isfahan, but as I wander around Bagh-e Fin – a vast garden turned into an architectural jewel by the 16th-century Shah Abbas I – I fall under a spell that only Kashan could conjure, with its sandy beige Agha Bozorg mosque, winding streets and remarkable rose plantations. Indeed, roses are the main reason for my trip.” The rose capital of Iran, Kashan, inspired the latest article for my FT column, Radiant Rose Perfumes.

I visited Kashan during the off season for flowers, but nevertheless I had a chance to meet rose distillers and sample perfumes and fragrant waters. The aroma is sweeter, fruitier and warmer than that of Bulgarian or Turkish essences with which I usually work. I’m not the only one who found Iranian rose essence extraordinary, and I discovered that Émilie Coppermann and Francis Kurkdjian were among the perfumers who were fascinated by this material.

In my article, I describe the roses of Kashan and fragrances that remind me of my visit. To read the full piece, please click here.

If you were to do a scent trip anywhere in the world, which places would you have liked to visit? (Let’s dream and pretend that neither time, money nor visas are an issue in our trip planning.)

Photography via FT, a rose distillery in Kashan

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53 Comments

  • Karen A: What a wonderful trip that must have been! It is remarkable the variety of fragrances from roses (and a good excuse to grow lots of different varieties). Planning a visit to Isparta during rose harvest, but it will be next year (unless Turkish Air has a crazy good deal, which they do occaisionally). February 20, 2017 at 9:42am Reply

    • Anne K: I’d love to travel anywhere in Turkey. Is Isparta the only place for roses or is it the most famous in Turkey? February 20, 2017 at 11:08am Reply

      • Karen A: It’s the most famous for the rose industry, but they grow all over. It’s such an incredible country – I’ve been numerous times. Whatever your interests are, archeology, religious history, art, food etc. you can find it there. (And Turkish Air frequently has great deals for getting there) February 20, 2017 at 11:31am Reply

        • Victoria: Istanbul is one of my favorite cities, but I haven’t explored much out of it. February 20, 2017 at 2:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve never been to Isparta, but given how often I’ve used rose essences from that region of Turkey, I feel that I must visit. It definitely won’t work this year, but keeping fingers crossed that it might be possible next year. February 20, 2017 at 2:46pm Reply

  • Anne K: This is such a beautiful article, Victoria. I remember you posting about your visit to Iran and your photos. I’d love to see more. February 20, 2017 at 11:06am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ll share more. The trip was so full of impressions that I almost don’t know where to start. I haven’t even finished sorting through all of my photos. February 20, 2017 at 2:46pm Reply

  • Mathias: Can you buy rose essence or rose water from Kashan outside of Iran? February 20, 2017 at 11:17am Reply

    • Victoria: Not the rose essence, but rosewater, yes, you can find in most Middle Eastern stores. Some brands in fact advertise that they’re from Kashan. February 20, 2017 at 2:47pm Reply

  • Sara: Provence for me! 🙂 February 20, 2017 at 11:25am Reply

    • Victoria: A great sensory destination–perfumes, food, nature, art. February 20, 2017 at 2:48pm Reply

      • Victoria: Oh, and wine, of course! February 20, 2017 at 2:48pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: How wonderful: something to look forward to as I will be traveling for 20 days through Iran this April, and Kashan is on this list!
    Would there be any specific rose water or rose attar / oil which you would especially recommend (the company of the product)?
    Would you also—off the bat—want to recommend any other perfume or food products in Iran? Saffron and pistachio obviously top my to-do list, but it would be exciting to hear if you have any suggestions you’d like to share? February 20, 2017 at 12:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: How lucky you are! In Kashan there are so many producers that the best bet is simply to walk around and try several stores. When you smell rose oils, look out for the ones that smell sweet, spicy, rather than metallic and citrusy (those might be doctored up). Also, if it’s too cheap, it’s too good to be true.

      Among the things I would buy in Iran are good kashk (sun-dried yogurt sold in hard little balls). It’s so rich in flavor and we don’t get anything close to it here. Also, herbs like savory, thyme, marjoram and other local varieties. Shiraz market has some wonderful herbs, and adviyeh shops all over the country sell whole spices and blends for different dishes. Fruit leathers are excellent, whether 100% natural fruit that can be used in cooking or mixed with apple juice to eat as snacks.

      If you spot a shop that sells dried fruit and nuts, try their assortments of salted dried cherries (so good with black tea) and seasoned quince seeds. They are called beh daneh in Farsi.

      Olive oil soaps were another discovery. And also regular soaps scented with pomegranate are very nice.

      If you’ll be in Esfahan, try saffron flavored chicken juje kebabs at Shahrzad restaurant and go to the Abbasi hotel for the saffron pistachio ice cream. February 20, 2017 at 3:08pm Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: My goodness, Victoria: I do not know how to thank you for this plethora of exciting information. I’ll be sure to make a print-out, especially for the Shiraz and Esfahan recommendations.
        I highly appreciate your time and effort: thank you very much indeed! February 20, 2017 at 3:26pm Reply

        • Victoria: And be sure to try kalooche with dates or walnuts. They are round pastries with stuffing (decorated on top).

          Oh, and if you have a chance, go for the breakfast in the street. Find a stall that sells hot soup and nearby a bakery where you can get hot sangak bread straight out of the oven. It will cost you pennies, but it will be delicious, and you can interact with the locals. The Iranians are some of the warmest, most generous people I have encountered. February 21, 2017 at 3:20am Reply

          • OnWingsofSaffron: You bet I will!! Sounds absolutely delicious, especially the bread hot from the oven.
            Once again, thanks a ton – much appreciated. February 21, 2017 at 11:02am Reply

            • Victoria: Just thinking of that bread makes me hungry. February 21, 2017 at 12:02pm Reply

      • sherry: The very best time, and most magical time to go to Abbassi Hotel is at night! You’ll be seduced by the gardens, the beauty of the surroundings, the smells of the roses, and the atmosphere.

        If you go to the Grand Bazaar, try to venture in deeper than the very first few shops, because those are the most touristy(although packed with cool merchandise, especially great tablecloths). February 21, 2017 at 3:49pm Reply

    • Sherry Frantz: If you visit any bazaar in Iran, make sure you buy 2-3 bags of the most amazing natural exfoliating called “sef-eed-ab” (seefeed means white, amd ab means water). This exfoliating comes in dried patties 1/2 inch deep amd 1.5 inches across) it’s easy to purchase. You pinch a piece off amd rib it on wet skin, amd watch rolls of dead skin just peel away! It’s addictive. My mother Mills it in a coffee grinder amd keeps it in a jar.

      Other items to purchase : hibiscus tea. Dried mint. Dried herbs of any kind.

      There are ATTARS (natural parfumers) in every bazaar, I would take empty bottles you feel are travel safe. February 20, 2017 at 6:37pm Reply

      • Victoria: Oh, yes, Sherry is totally right about the bottles. Buy a few sturdy decant vials (screw tops or roller balls are usually better than sprays). My Kashani rose essence spilled all over my bag, because its top just came off. And packing ziplock bags for all of the herbs, spices and rosewater is a good idea too. February 21, 2017 at 3:18am Reply

        • Victoria: Here is what sefidab looks like:
          http://www.kalamala.com/products/sefidab?variant=258564834 February 21, 2017 at 3:22am Reply

          • OnWingsofSaffron: Looking at the pic, one wouldn’t expect all too much 🙂 Looking forward to this one! February 21, 2017 at 2:18pm Reply

            • sherry: May I apologize for all the typos from yesterday, due to typing on my phone? Yes, you may not have high hopes for sefeedab, but once you use it, you’ll find no other exfoliant that will slough off dead skin that effectively. Its actually a goumage (sp?), made from animal fat and other herbs, etc. If you soak it for a few minutes first, it is easier to pinch off a piece. February 21, 2017 at 3:45pm Reply

            • Victoria: But do be careful, if you have sensitive skin, since it’s quite a potent exfoliant. February 21, 2017 at 4:37pm Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: Dear Sherry Frantz,
        may I thank you for your fantastic recommendation and, I love the way you give such good, pragmatic advice: I would never have thought about the bottles and the caps. Great! Thanks such a lot! February 21, 2017 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Joy: So enjoyed this article today, Victoria. Until I began reading your website and subscribed to your newsletters, I really had little knowledge of the magnificence of rose fragrance. I have always been most attracted to woody, green fragrance with some floral favorites such as Patou’s 1000 and Chanel no.5. Now I am aware that both have rose in them. My experience with rose as a wearable fragrance has been an occasional friend who likely wore Tea Rose essence; not my favorite.
    Having been a gardener for years and growing
    many types of roses, I have often noticed the amazing fragrance on my hands after deadheading blossoms from my bushes. I have momentarily wondered why this fragrance could not be created as a wearable fragrance. Reading your articles and becoming inspired to sample rose fragrance, I now know that it has with so many nuances. It has been an education for me.
    Other rose fragrance that I love is Malle’s Une Rose, Serge Luten’s Sa Majeste La Rose, Goutal Rose Splendide. A rose that I truly love for its depth and intensity is EL Knowing. Knowing is so reasonable in price that I can use it in many ways, scenting unscented shampoo and conditioner, spraying on a cotton pad and placing in a lingerie drawer or closet.
    Thank you for another wonderful newsletter with examples that I can sample. February 20, 2017 at 1:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: Rose is such a versatile note, and of course, it doesn’t have to dominate a perfume. I also started by enjoying in as a supporting note and slowly grew to love it in its richer forms. February 20, 2017 at 3:09pm Reply

  • Surbhi: I loved both of these rose perfume by mfk. Thanks for yet another lovely post Victoria, you show us so many different things from the world. February 20, 2017 at 1:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: He does some clever things with roses, that’s for sure! February 20, 2017 at 3:09pm Reply

  • Tiamaria: Thank you the lovely article Victoria. What a fantastic trip and so wonderful to be able to meet artisan producers. Rose was a note I avoided when I developed an interest in perfume but thanks I think mostly to POAL I have fallen in love with it in the last few months. The perfumes I reach for most these days are POAL and Une Rose and am soon going to order some samples, the majority of which will be rose centered. A big turn around for me. I have always found the smell of roses intoxicating and fascinating though. We go to Cornwall on holiday most years and the town we go to has a beautiful rose garden open to the public. It’s one of my favourite parts of the trip. I could spend the whole day ambling about smelling the different varieties, all so different yet distinctly rose.
    My money and time no object destination would be Provence. This has been at the top of my list for many years. I dream of driving through fields of Lavender in the hot sun! Maybe next year I’ll make it there! February 20, 2017 at 1:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also love rose gardens, and it never fails to amaze me how many different scents roses can have, from lemon to caramel-like.

      And I’m wearing Une Rose this evening! February 20, 2017 at 3:11pm Reply

  • OperaFan: So lovely!
    I’m so unimaginative that the only place I can think of wanting to visit for fragrance is Grasse and the So of France during blooms harvest season. It’s certainly a start.
    When I see the name Isfahan and its connection to roses, I’m reminded of one of my favorite Faure melodie, “Les Roses d’Ispahan.” My voice teacher told me it’s an imaginary place conjured by the poet, Leconte de Lisle. I’ve often wandered what such a place would be like. The song never fails to evoke beautifully scented roses on a warm day, as far as the eyes can see, even though the song is more about the object of the poet’s love and the flower was just a measure for comparison.
    I’ve been wanting to try the 2 FK fragrances, so now I have an incentive to pick up some samples. One can never have too many roses.
    Cheers! February 20, 2017 at 8:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for mentioning Les Roses d’Ispahan. So beautiful! February 21, 2017 at 5:03am Reply

  • Marie: Dear Victoria,
    I enjoy lots reading your text since I can remember and smell my home country rose water.
    Thank you very much for your informations, it is 2 decades which I live in Tokyo but there is still very strong thread between me and iran. In coming august I will visit Iran so please if you need something maybe I can prepare it for you.No hesitation.
    Good luck ,
    Marie February 21, 2017 at 8:04am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Marie, for such a kind offer! I’d love to hear about your trip when you return. 🙂 February 21, 2017 at 11:59am Reply

  • ariane: Utterly gorgeous photo and wonderful article,thank you so much,making notes of all the recommendations as I am planning to visit Iran as soon as possible.Good to see Lumiere Noire mentioned,one of my favourites! February 21, 2017 at 8:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a fascinating place, with very welcoming, generous people. February 21, 2017 at 12:00pm Reply

  • Eudora: Victoria, thanks for this post.
    Dreaming… Years ago I was fascinated with an article I read about Serge Lutens home-palace in Marrakesh. It was the first time I knew about him and it bring me to discover his so special work. I still remember the first time I smelled Ambre Sultan… So my trip is to go to Marrakesh and meet the man and being in that gorgeous exotic place and learn with the Maestro about all fragances I dream in Marrakesh. February 22, 2017 at 8:07am Reply

  • Aurora: This great article makes me dream and I think Kashan should become twin city with Grasse, about which you had written so well during the rose harvest.

    My ideal trip would be to go on of the tours that follow the silk road. Just the name Samarkand evokes mystery scents to me. February 22, 2017 at 2:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: Uzbekistan is high on my list of places to visit. William Dalrymple wrote a very good book tracing the route of Marco Polo, and it did touch the Silk Road. It’s called In Xanadu. February 23, 2017 at 12:54am Reply

  • SilverMoon: Victoria, thank you for sharing a lovely article. And specially loved the photo of the rose flower picker/sorter. As you might know, I love rose perfumes. It is probably my favourite note (consistently; can’t think of a rose I don’t like). I must try the two FK perfumes listed. What is the difference between the pour homme and femme versions?

    I remember your article about the rose harvest in Grasse last year and I think that is the place I would love to visit. February 23, 2017 at 4:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: They are both chypres, but Pour Homme version is herbal, while Pour Femme is more floral. February 24, 2017 at 10:12am Reply

      • SilverMoon: Thanks Victoria. I think I shall try the Femme version first. February 24, 2017 at 3:47pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s a stunning perfume! February 25, 2017 at 11:51am Reply

  • Carla: I’m glad you highlighted Lumiere Noire, a favorite of mine for a long time! Although I almost never wear it, it’s that “sumptuous” February 26, 2017 at 9:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds more like a reason to wear it often. 🙂 February 27, 2017 at 5:38am Reply

  • Inma: Hello!
    What a beautiful article and what a wonderful question! A scent trip.
    It is touching to read what you don’t, almost, dare to dream of.
    England and their roses, Portugal and the beautiful soaps they make.
    Just recently, when reading this blog, I am curious about places where people work on orange blossoms and jasmins in different ways here in the south of Spain. It is not clear to me where to start yet.

    Thank you for the pleasure of reading this blog! March 1, 2017 at 11:27am Reply

    • Victoria: I wonder if you can take a look at the producers of the orange blossom water and take it from it? There still must be some local ones. March 3, 2017 at 2:23am Reply

      • Inma: Thank you for the push to follow my own interests. I’ve just taken the thread and I’m throwing of it. It´s a spanish expression, I think, although I´m sure you understand what a I mean.

        Have a lovely weekend! March 3, 2017 at 5:47am Reply

        • Victoria: My pleasure! We inspire each other. 🙂 March 6, 2017 at 10:08am Reply

          • Inma: Hello! I wanted to share that orange trees are blooming right now in Seville. The whole city is perfumed by azahar. Even today, that is raining, you can smell it in every street. It is a beautiful experience I wanted to share with people in this blog that love perfume so much. Warm regards, March 14, 2017 at 10:17am Reply

            • Victoria: It sounds so beautiful! Rain and orange blossoms. Thank you very much for this vignette. March 14, 2017 at 10:31am Reply

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