perfume lover’s belgium: 4 posts

Bluebell Forest of The Hallerbos

In Japan, there is a practice of shinrin-yoku or forest-bathing, which is a leisurely walk in the forest to reduce stress and improve one’s well-being. It’s like aromatherapy, but instead of inhaling a blended oil, you inhale the natural scents of the forest. But what if you forest-bathed surrounded by millions of bluebells? It’s something that you can experience every spring as the wild hyacinth bluebells turn the Hallerbos, a forest in the municipality of Halle, 30 minutes south of Brussels, into a blue colored, intensely perfumed fantasy.

bluebell-forest-today1

Bluebells have a delicate scent of green leaves, cloves and lemony roses, but when all of the flowers burst into bloom, the fragrance in the air is rich and heady. Imagine the fragrance of hyacinths at your local florist, dilute it with green tea and rainwater, add a dash of autumnal leaves, and you have the perfume of the Bluebell Forest.

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What Souvenirs to Bring Back from Belgium

I will be the first person to admit to my embarrassingly meager knowledge of Belgium before I moved here. On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad. The Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme didn’t even know the Belgian national anthem and once memorably burst into La Marseillaise instead of La Brabançonne. But the more time I spend here, the more layers I discover to this tiny but complex country. It features three official languages (Dutch, French and German), has more cheese varieties than France, the world’s best beer (according to the international beer pundits) and the world’s best chocolate (according to me). The two latter points make up for the fiendishly convoluted bureaucratic system, lots of rain and plethora of EU officials.

speculoos spreadbrussels-autumn

There are many more reasons to visit Belgium than beer and chocolate. You have the Gothic treasures of Gent, edgy fashion of Antwerp, fairy tale ambiance of Bruges, quirky charm of Dinant, and surrealism of Brussels. The Flemish and Wallonian lands are so distinct culturally that a trip from Knokke to Namur will feel like a visit to two different countries. But while the politics often overemphasizes the rift, the truth is that north or south, Flemish or French speaking, Belgians know how to kick back and enjoy their glass of wine or beer. The best souvenir you will bring back is the memories of tucking into moules-frites after walking through the same rain streaked streets that inspired painter Rene Magritte.

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Brussels Flower Carpet and Cafe Blanc : Lebanese Orange Blossom Drink

750,000! That’s how many flowers it takes to cover Brussels’s central square, the Grand Place. Every other year a carpet of colorful begonias is laid out in the historic city centre, the vibrant and extraordinary spectacle that turns the plaza into a fairy tale vision. It’s not hard to embellish the Grand Place, which is often voted as the most beautiful square in Europe. Ornate Baroque guild houses and Gothic town hall buildings line its periphery, and side streets bearing names like ‘butter’, ‘cheese’, ‘herring’, etc. reflect its origins as the main marketplace of old Brussels. Today the shops are still around, although most of them hawk chocolates and tacky souvenirs. But the Grand Place retains its majestic aura, and it’s easy to understand why this place is still one of the busiest tourist sites in the city.

I first visited the Grand Place on a cold winter day when the square was all but empty. Like much of Brussels, its beauty left a strange impression on me of something grandiose, but aloof. It took the flower carpet for me to see Brussels in a different light–more colorful and more joyful. What a delightful thing it is to block the main square for several days just to decorate it with thousands of petals! All this for a few evanescent moments of beauty.

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Belgian Perfume Treasure : Place Vendome Perfumery

I just discovered another reason to like Belgium, and it’s a modest looking place called Place Vendôme Haute Parfumerie. Modest applies only to the exterior of this perfumery located on a quiet street in the town of Wevelgem, one hour south-west of Brussels. Inside, it’s an Ali Baba’s cave of the most exclusive niche lines and fragrance classics. The store is owned by David Depuydt, who along with his team has been in business for the past 21 years.

I found out about Place Vendôme by chance via a friend who raved about the customer service and the jewelbox ambiance of the store.  Similar praises were lavished upon the boutique by both the perfume historian Elisabeth de Feydeau and Guerlain’s creative director Sylvaine Delacourte. Although Brussels lags behind New York and Paris in terms of perfume shopping, fragrance isn’t hard to find in Belgium, where even the cosmetic shops like Ici Paris XL and Planet Parfum carry Serge Lutens and small lines like Kenzo, Rochas, and Tom Ford. A couple of weeks ago my husband proposed to visit the trappist abbey at Westvleteren that brews a particularly sought after beer. Since the abbey’s limited distribution of their beer rivals that of Serge Lutens bell jars, we decided to combine our interests in one trip. We’re a family of geeks, what can I say.
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