The Turkish Art of Kolonya or How to Wear Cologne

The sight of a driver bearing a bottle of kolonya on the bus journeys across Turkey has always left me with mixed emotions. They always insisted on waking you up and then drenching you with perfume, whether you wanted it or not. On the other hand, a splash of kolonya always felt refreshing, and I became so used to the ritual that I began to practice it myself whenever I needed a pick me up. Using my Turkish friends’ example, I would pour kolonya generously into my hands, rub and whatever remained, I’d dab over my clothes. Of course, one needs a light, cologne-style perfume to accomplish it successfully, and Turkish kolonya is perfect.

Kolonya comes from the word cologne, and it became popular in the court of sultan Abdülhamit II (1876 – 1909) before taking over the rest of the country. Kolonya supplanted rosewater, which was used in a similar manner, since it was seen as antiseptic and cleansing. Kolonya is still offered to people at the restaurants and cafes. Kolonya is the first thing you’d offered entering a Turkish home, along with a plate of candy. The former is for cleanliness and refreshment, while the latter is for ensuring a sweet conversation, according to one Turkish belief. The kolonya culture is part of an old tradition of hospitality and sharing as well as a reminder that perfume was once valued for its salutary properties.

While there are luxury versions of kolonya, it is such a common product that you’re more likely to spot the jugs as the one above, made by an old Ankara brand Eyüp Sabri Tuncer renowned for its lemony kolonya. It advertises it as a new packaging requiring no funnel (to refill smaller bottles).  Lemon and orange blossom are popular, but kolonya comes in a wide range of scents, and many Turkish cities have their own varieties. The apricot cologne from Malatya, for instance, is my favorite–and impossible to find elsewhere.

I’ve tried a few different kolonyas so far, and Eyüp Sabri Tuncer is one of the most popular brands. It was founded in 1923 in Ankara. This is the kolonya you’re most likely to find in Turkey, and its lemony scent is a signature. It’s inexpensive enough to be used generously.

Another popular brand, Atelier Rebul offers a wide range of scents with bergamot, saffron, lavender, orange flowers and more. The brand dates to 1895, when a French perfumer Jean Cesar Reboul opened a shop in Turkey’s capital.  The scents are light, but interesting.

You can replicate the Turkish kolonya ritual with any light cologne, although I should note that kolonya is not an expensive product, and it’s so lightly scented enough that you use it several times a day without overwhelming yourself with smell. 4711 Eau de Cologne, Farina 1709 Eau de Cologne, or Roger & Gallet Cologne would be good options–after all, kolonya takes its roots from Johann Maria Farina’s creation.

Guerlain Eau de Cologne Impériale has a scent similar to many kolonyas–lemon citrus and herbs, and I often keep a decant in my purse for mid-day refreshments. While kolonya is not a substitute for hand washing, hand sanitizing and other hygiene practices, it’s a nice addition to my routine.

Edit: I’ve formulated both colognes and hand sanitizers, and since this topic comes up often, I’ll explain why I don’t consider cologne to be an ideal substitute for hand sanitizer. It’s hard to use it in the appropriate quantities and a solution high in ethanol can cause severe skin damage (which is why hand sanitizing gels include skin conditioning and hydrating ingredients.) Finally, cologne or hand sanitizer must include more than 60-65% alcohol to be effective. Not all brands include that much alcohol, so read the labels carefully and remember that alcohol proof is not always identical to alcohol percentage. Stay safe!

Photography (top image) by Bois de Jasmin



  • Emel: You’re wrong about the last part. 80° and above Turkish colognes do actually a better job than hand sanitizers. And you can sanitize your things with it, too. April 6, 2020 at 9:37am Reply

    • Victoria: Edit: I’ve added a note explaining my disclaimer. April 6, 2020 at 10:03am Reply

      • David: Agreed, I use 4711 as my hand sanitizer; colognes have the highest alcohol content at over 80% (not to be confused with proof) so perfectly strong enough. April 7, 2020 at 4:52pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, 4711 is 170 proof (85% alcohol). Most colognes are significantly less, 40-45%, with the rest made by solvents, water and essential oils. As for 4711, my friend who plays violin uses it to clean the strings from the rosin used on the bow. Apparently, it’s quite effective! April 8, 2020 at 9:34am Reply

    • Marc: Because 80o is just over 45% and hand sanitisers need to be 60% alcohol. April 11, 2020 at 7:21am Reply

  • Jenni: oh how I wish I could find some in Arkansas! Thanks for the world tour of scents. April 6, 2020 at 9:53am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t know if you have any other cologne at home to try this technique. It should be very light, though. April 6, 2020 at 10:08am Reply

    • Joy Erickson: A particular brand, Danu, can be ordered from Amazon. I also use 4711 which I order from Smallflower. The Danu is lemony. I would like to try some of the other fragrances. A splash is nice on a hot day and leaves a slight refreshing fragrance. April 6, 2020 at 1:10pm Reply

      • Joy Erickson: I had the name of the Turkish colony incorrect. It is Duru, Limon. I also love a couple of Spanish colognes. One is Heno de Pravia. It comes in large bottles. The fragrance is fresh, dried hay with lemon. I also use Agua de Colonis Concentrada by Alvarez Gomez. It has a top n IU team of black pepper drying down to a citrus. It comes in an array of products, lotions. Shower gel, and a favorite of mine for travel, towelettes. April 6, 2020 at 2:51pm Reply

        • Victoria: That’s another popular brand! April 8, 2020 at 9:47am Reply

  • Ariadne: And we can’t forget the Jean Nate after bath splash. :+) April 6, 2020 at 10:05am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, you’re right! That one is fantastic. April 6, 2020 at 10:09am Reply

  • Matty1649: Thank you for this post. I’ve got the Guerlain
    it really is refreshing. April 6, 2020 at 10:28am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s one of my favorites! April 6, 2020 at 2:23pm Reply

  • Danaki: Thank you Victoria for writing about this. I grew up in the Middle East and the tradition of Kolonya, rose water or orange blossom water is slowly dying out. Sad because it was always something that made me smile and made me feel welcome. These traditional hospitality rituals are lovely and should be preserved. April 6, 2020 at 10:48am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s too bad that it’s disappearing. I always loved the offer of rosewater when I traveled in Oman or UAE. My Lebanese and Iraqi friends, on the other hand, would sometimes offer me a fragrant blossom when I leave their houses, and that’s another custom I love. April 6, 2020 at 2:25pm Reply

      • Danaki: A fragrant blossom! Of course. In Lebanon, it’s common in the villages and it reminds me of when I left a family I was interviewing for my research with three gardenia blossoms from their garden. She (the mother) insisted!
        Incidentally, she also fragranced my coffee (Turkish coffee) with drops of orange blossom water which had a great effect on both the flavour and smell of the coffee. I suppose tasting is smelling.
        As a Lebanese, I had boxed-up Beirut urban lifestyle mostly and have lived in the UK for the last 15 years. It seems I forget that all those lovely fragrant practices are still alive but I don’t experience them when I visit because I stick to the city (where my parents live).
        Its good I have your blog to remind me of all the beautiful and pleasurable things in life both in the East and around the world.
        Since I discovered your blog in 2013 it has made a real difference. Thank you again. April 7, 2020 at 9:27am Reply

        • Victoria: I love the idea of this combination—coffee and orange blossom. Wouldn’t it make a great perfume? April 8, 2020 at 9:38am Reply

        • Victoria: And thank you so much for your kind words. Reading this made me happy. April 8, 2020 at 9:38am Reply

  • Madelyn E: Hi Victoria ,
    Your selection of topics is as refreshing and revitalizing as these types of colognes itself.
    My memory of this kind of custom is dear to me as my mother used to carry in her purse cologne sachets in little single use packets. They were for, as she put it, refreshing up on the go. I carry lavender scented ones even today along with perfume samples.
    I am grateful for your uplifting review of worldly hospitality customs. We need them more than ever now ! April 6, 2020 at 11:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Turkey is one of the most hospitable places I’ve visited! April 6, 2020 at 3:01pm Reply

  • Tami: I love the Guerlain eaux but I’m driven crazy by the expense of something so fleeting. I’m intrigued by the idea that something more cost-effective, but still lovely is out there. I wonder if any of my local markets carry this (they often have odds and ends as well as food). Thank you! April 6, 2020 at 11:48am Reply

    • Victoria: Do check what they offer, because many inexpensive Turkish brands are excellent. April 6, 2020 at 3:11pm Reply

  • Peggy: Would Florida Water be something similar? April 6, 2020 at 12:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, definitely! It’s the same idea. I don’t remember how strongly scented it is, but it should work. You don’t want too strong of a perfume, since otherwise your hands will smell of it all day long. April 6, 2020 at 3:13pm Reply

  • Joy Erickson: I love Jean Nate. It can still be found at Walgreen’s here in the states. April 6, 2020 at 1:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s not common here in Belgium, but I remember the scent from days in the US. April 6, 2020 at 3:13pm Reply

  • Susan: Thank you for this post. I grew up with Jean Nate and the reminder of that as well as the refreshing habit of using cologne in that way sounds perfect for our upcoming warmer weather. Thank you as always, Victoria April 6, 2020 at 3:11pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: 4711, the kolonya from Cologne—Köln in German—has this newish range which sounds very much like a Turkish kolonya. There are the predictable blends (blood orange & basil, lemon & ginger or lavender & thyme) as well as the more exotic ones (lychee & white mint, myrrh & kumquat or white peach & coriander). It‘s a very short-lived pleasure and a bit generic, but for 22 EUR for 100 ml, what is not to like? April 6, 2020 at 3:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve seen this range too, but I haven’t tried it yet. Myrrh & Kumquat is the one I most want to try. Have smelled it already? April 6, 2020 at 4:50pm Reply

  • Gaëlle: Victoria, such a good idea to speak about cologne : an unexpensive pleasure for perfume lovers ! I do love cologne. My favorite turkish one are the fig scented one of Eyup Sabri Tuncer and the Green tea of Atelier Rebul (I discovered it during a Turkish airlines flight). Spain is another cologne country. The Spanish brand Alvarez Gomez has an iconical Aqua de Colonia Concentrada which is so refreshing during summer. It fragance is quite extraordinary, complex, unique and long lasting.
    On the French side, Berdoues offers a lot of choices. Violette is my favorite. Very easy to find in shops and French bathrooms are Mont Saint Michel colognes, “Ambré” is a male classic as “Fresh”. Bien être Cologne are commun too. I like their “Rose and Geranium” which smell like a peaceful garden in June. If you go to Paris, don’t miss “Sous le parasol”, a store near Les Halles which has an stunning range of home made colognes, among them “Tilleul” (Linden) and Lilac, two very rare scents. April 6, 2020 at 4:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: These classical colognes, from local brands (rather than luxury perfume houses) are my favorites. They may not be as easy to find outside their countries of origin, but they’re excellent—refreshing, uplifting, effervescent. Exactly what a good cologne should do. Thank you for this comprehensive list! April 6, 2020 at 4:52pm Reply

  • Karen A: For some reason even reading your article and all the comments made me feel refreshed!! Just wish we had one of the huge bottles of the Turkish cologne instead of the small one from our last visit, yummm!!!! April 6, 2020 at 6:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: My friend brought me a selection last year of small sizes so that I could try a few different colognes. I also was supposed to go to Turkey this spring.
      The hospitality customs in general are fascinating, and even more so when they involve a perfume. April 7, 2020 at 8:14am Reply

      • Karen A: Wonderful that you have a selection! Where were you going? This was the second time our plans to go to the southeast did not work out. Hopefully this fall the world will be – wow, realized I don’t even know what word to use! A’right?? Tilted back on it’s correct axis??? April 7, 2020 at 8:48am Reply

        • Victoria: Istanbul and then it was an open-ended plan, but I still continue learning Turkish in hopes that someday I can make this happen. And hope that you two can travel there. April 8, 2020 at 9:40am Reply

        • Susan: My two favorites Royale Ambré and Nenuco! My boys still use Nenuci. DSo fresh and clean even when they sweat. I grew up using both. I use Royale Ambré all the time and even layer it with Sisley Eau du Soir parfum. They don’t clash. They go well together beautifully. April 21, 2020 at 7:34pm Reply

  • Ana: Thank you for this lovely article. Let’s not forget Nenuco from Spain, intended as a baby cologne but plenty of adults use it. 🙂 And Royal Ambreé. I grew up with those beauties! April 6, 2020 at 6:46pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much for mentioning all of these additional colognes. I now want to write a separate post about the Spanish colognes, so I’ll do some research. If you have any other favorites, please let me know. April 7, 2020 at 8:15am Reply

      • mononoke: Nenuco, a true classic. I would also add the whole range of Alvarez Gomez, my favorite was the red roses one but it sadly disappeared!. I also like Hierbas de Mallorca and Hierbas de Ibiza. And my mums favourite, Lavanda de Puig. I hope it helps! April 8, 2020 at 5:12pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much, this definitely helps! April 9, 2020 at 11:14am Reply

    • Inma: Yes, I also grew up with Nenuco and love it. My grandmather used to have Heno de Pravia’s soap, I don’t think it was a colonia back then.

      These days I am with Yves Rocher Muguet en Fleurs, I think it is an eau de cologne. It doesn’t have the sanitizing feeling although it brings me calmness and gentleness, so comforting nowadays. April 15, 2020 at 10:27am Reply

  • Andy: You inspired me to re-create this ritual right after slamming the laptop shut this afternoon and setting aside work to enjoy some time outside. I used Bien-Être (the lemon verbena one), and it felt fantastic.

    Thank you for your inspiring posts during this time. My work has ramped up in response to the pandemic, and it’s now more than ever I appreciate that which reminds me to set time aside for comfort and pleasure. April 6, 2020 at 9:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: Bien-Etre colognes are excellent. They also can work in the same way as kolonyas, since they are so light. April 7, 2020 at 8:17am Reply

  • Sandra: I am not sure if its in the category of colognes but L’Occitane makes Verbena and Citrus Verbena that are light and refreshing.. April 7, 2020 at 8:19am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a nice cologne. In the end, you might have to experiment. Any cologne designed as a splash would be appropriate to use generously. Also, it’s best not to use a dark colored cologne on light fabrics, since it may stain. Elizabeth Arden Green Tea also makes a nice splash, especially if you chill the bottle beforehand. April 7, 2020 at 8:38am Reply

      • Sandra: something like Jean Nate
        Is the Guerlain Cologne one a splash? April 7, 2020 at 8:58am Reply

        • Victoria: All of those colognes once came in splash bottles. They are still stronger than most Turkish kolonyas, though, but you can use them generously enough. April 8, 2020 at 9:42am Reply

        • Ann: I really enjoyed this article Victoria, I find it very edifying to learn about customs. When my sister was studying in Cyprus I asked her to bring me back some Myrto which I had read was popular there and in Greece. April 15, 2020 at 10:26pm Reply

          • Victoria: I like this cologne too, which a friend brought me from Cyprus. April 20, 2020 at 6:54am Reply

    • Karen A: I love their Verbena! But it lasts as long as I’m spraying it – I wish it had a little more longevity, it’s so perfect in the summer. April 7, 2020 at 8:50am Reply

  • Kathy: Oh I love that word picture of you sitting on a bus anticipating being splashed with the kolonya: had you developed your “olfactory stoicism” at that time in your life? I have been trying to figure out why perfume is not more in use where I live. I think it is related to a desire to be polite, which then produces the opposite attitude of your Turkish friends, alas. Now that I know about kolonya, I will try putting an Eau de Lancôme mini on my entryway table. My friends would probably enjoy seeing a jug of kolonya more, but it would not get enough use. April 7, 2020 at 8:45am Reply

    • Victoria: Those colognes are light enough, but I really disliked being woken up to be “cleaned.” 🙂 People say that it’s becoming less common on the bus journeys, but judging by the size of the cologne bottles at my local Turkish shop, they’re still used widely. April 8, 2020 at 9:45am Reply

  • Aurora: I’ve noticed kolonya at the Turkish store where I buy fresh produce, I’m going to pay closer attention thanks to you. Thank you for having included brand names. My favorite cologne for the purpose you describe is vintage Christian Dior Eau Fraiche, it is deceptively simple but nothing smells quite like it. April 7, 2020 at 1:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: I like the whole Dior cologne range. There are some great scents in it, classical and modern. April 8, 2020 at 9:46am Reply

  • Eric H: Hi Victoria!

    I have been leaving my bottle of Eau du Coq in my car for a quick refresh to my hands during this turbulent time. It’s true, it is rough on hands, but it is becoming a welcome refresh after a probably-tense outing.

    I know it may not survive summer in my car here in Houston, but it was languishing on my shelf. And I’ve been quite liberal, using maybe 20 ml this month! Hopefully the smell won’t remind me of this time when it is far behind. April 8, 2020 at 7:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: Or you may associate it with the stress relief. I also worry about using some of my favorites too much during this time, but then again, they help and they make me feel better. April 9, 2020 at 11:19am Reply

      • John: Yes! I find my whole relationship to fragrance seems to be changing a little. Comfort (and the solace of being surprised afresh and renewed by the multidimensionality of good materials) seems to play a big role, but also a composition that is either light enough or complex enough to withstand reapplication throughout the day. Diurnal favourites right now for me in this vein are Guerlain Vetiver and Caron Yatagan, both of which withstand repeat layering very well. April 9, 2020 at 4:23pm Reply

        • Victoria: I agree, I also notice that I wear less perfume, but that I select it much more carefully. I smell a lot, however, whether by doing my scent exercises or when I cook. April 11, 2020 at 7:29am Reply

  • John: I loved reading this article and the many anecdotal comments too. I have a cherished bottle of Florida Water picked up one day on a road trip, but the fragrance I confess I sometimes (ab)use as a cologne water is Caron Pour un Homme…I have a big 1 litre bottle of it in the bathroom and almost always apply it before turning in for the night. April 9, 2020 at 3:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Caron Pour un Homme is a fantastic cologne. That sweet lavender and vanilla twist is irresistible. April 9, 2020 at 11:21am Reply

    • John: But maybe it’s Agua Lavanda I should be looking for? Or the ‘cologne of the Missions’? I know of these only through reading, but love the idea of lavender as the heart of the cologne water experience… April 9, 2020 at 11:25am Reply

      • Victoria: Le Couvent des Minimes Eau des Missions is strong on vanilla and tobacco, but while smoky, it still smells fresh. Definitely recommended. April 9, 2020 at 11:28am Reply

  • Susan: My two favorites Royale Ambré and Nenuco! My boys still use Nenuco. So fresh and clean even when they sweat. I grew up using both. I use Royale Ambré all the time and even layer it with Sisley Eau du Soir parfum. They don’t clash at all. They go well together beautifully. April 21, 2020 at 7:41pm Reply

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