perfume lover’s belgium: 7 posts

Jenever Belgian Liquor : Juniper, Rose, Lavender

Museums where you can exercise your sense of smell are few and far between. As anyone who has tried to convince a gallery to add a fragrance exposition knows, it can be a difficult undertaking. “Not enough funding” is a common excuse. One is left treating the aisles of Sephora as the august halls of perfume education. Or so it seems at first, because besides museums featuring fragrance, there are numerous venues that feature scent. For instance, any museum dedicated to wine or spirits would have a smelling bar and an explanation of aromatics. That you can later taste the stars of the exhibit only adds to the appeal.


During my research on the lavender farm in Limburg, I discovered that Hasselt, the province’s capital, has a jenever museum. Jenever, also known as genièvre, genever or peket, is an ancestor of gin, a local spirit made out of grain and flavored with juniper and other botanicals, and it has been made in the region since the 13th century. Wine and brandy distilled from grapes have traditionally been expensive, while the surfeit of corn brought from the New World made aqua vitae distillers eager to experiment. The result was a drink described as “banishing cares and making the heart courageous.”

That this 75 proof liquor has such an effect is easy enough to believe. Jenever might have started out as medicine, but instead of using sugar to mask the rough taste of the alcohol base, pharmacists chose a much more interesting approach by flavoring it with spices, herbs and flowers. Eventually, locally grown juniper started to dominate the composition, while jenever moved from the pharmacy shelf to the cafe.

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Belgian Lavender

The Belgian province of Limburg is an expanse of green fields punctuated by neat red brick towns. Although Brussels is a much more laid-back and calm city in comparison to London, Paris or Berlin, as I stroll through the woods near Hasselt, Limburg’s capital, I feel as if I just left a bustling metropolis. It’s all serenity, stone church spires and the soft rustle of leaves in the trees lining the river. And the rich perfume of lavender.


Although lavender is usually associated with Provence, there is a 4 hectare farm near Herkenrode in Limburg, and it’s open for the summer. “Yes, we have lavender in bloom, and it’s a genuine variety, not lavandin,” I was told by a lady at the nursery. “Please visit before we harvest it.” The following weekend my husband and I drove one hour to Limburg to see the lavender fields of Belgium.

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Place Vendôme Haute Parfumerie : Cult Shop

My article about Place Vendôme Haute Parfumerie is going to appear in The Financial Times Magazine, May 3rd June 7th issue. The store is a unique perfume destination featuring exclusive fragrances, skincare and candles. Place Vendôme makes its home in Wevelgem, a small Belgian town that feels a world apart from the rarefied glamour one typically associates with perfume. Nevertheless, the boutique has managed to earn cult shop status, and its selection is impressive as is its customer service.


“Gold on the inside,” says David Depuydt, owner of Place Vendôme Haute Parfumerie, describing Chanel No 5. The flacon is austere, but it contains a mélange of the most precious essences available to perfumers. Depuydt’s comment applies equally to his store. Although you would hardly suspect it based on the plain façade and modest location, the boutique is a unique luxury beauty destination.” Read the rest here.

The new magazine issue will be available at newsstands this weekend. To read the online version, please click here.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin.

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.


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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