perfume lover’s belgium: 6 posts

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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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