Travel: 89 posts

Searching for scents and sensory traditions around the world.

Laurent Gerbaud: The Chocolate Treasure of Brussels

Brussels is a city renowned for its chocolate, but even so, the creations of Laurent Gerbaud stand out. Their flavors are exquisite, their quality is impeccable and the presentation is beautiful. The boutique on Rue Ravenstein, located close to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts–another one of the city’s treasures–is a place I return often to taste chocolates or linger over a glass of wine.

In my recent FT Magazine article, Laurent Gerbaud, I talk about this enigmatic confectioner and his craft. The range of flavors is seasonal–fig and apricot in the summer and yuzu in the winter. One of my favorite discoveries has been milk chocolate with salt and green cumin, a combination that seems unexpected and tastes addictive.

The boutique itself is a destination–charming and serene.

When I’m finally ready to step back into the real world, I leave with a couple of chocolate bars or perhaps a Mondrian set, a box divided into squares and rectangles reminiscent of the Dutch painter’s compositions. Gerbaud’s is edible art at its best. The flavors range from delicate to intense, but the experience is invariably of pure delight. To continue reading, please click here.

 

Scent Diary : Bulgarian Roses

Bulgarian roses smell of honey, cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, green leaves and a hint of raspberry. It’s the rose damascena variety, but the unique terroir of the Rose Valley gives it a particular fragrance. Imagine what a whole field of roses smells like!

Please jot down any interesting observations in this thread. You can write about your favorite books, interesting scents you’ve encountered. For those who would like to use the Scent Diary to sharpen their sense of smell, I will give a short explanation. As I wrote in How to Improve Your Sense of Smell, the best way to do so is to smell and to pay attention to what you’re smelling. It doesn’t matter what you smell. The most important thing is to notice scents around you. It’s even better if you write it down. So please share your scents and perfumes with us.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

On the Japanese Incense Trail with a Paris Detour

I’m sitting in front of smoldering joss sticks trying to determine whether they smell of the milky sweetness of sandalwood or the raspy sharpness of cedar. A young woman with a glossy black bob lights one stick after another, blowing each out with a gentle wave of her hand. I’m unused to kneeling for so long, and I feel the crunch of tatami mats through my thin wool trousers. The back of my head throbs slightly from jet lag, and I am being overwhelmed by the size of Tokyo and the strain of trying to remember Japanese covered by layers of other languages I’ve learned since my university days. I also feel anxious that I may not be able to guess the scents correctly, but then I remember my perfumery teacher’s words “don’t think, just smell,” and I let myself go.

I’m inside a Shoyeido incense store hidden in the elegant Aoyama district of Tokyo. Nearby are the glittering avenues of Harajuku, lined with fashion boutiques and populated by some of the most stylish people on the planet, but inside the earth toned store, there is only serenity and incense.

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Postcard from Uzbekistan : Desert in Bloom

Every spring the Kyzylkum Desert lives up to its name, which means red sand, by turning crimson. Except it’s not the sand that gives it its vibrant hues, but the wild poppies. Located in Central Asia and shared between Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, it encompasses the region historically called Sogdiana or Transoxiana. Traveling in Uzbekistan for my new research project into the cultural history of aromatics has been full of such discoveries. This land may be associated for many people with its recent Soviet past, but what are 70 odd years of Soviet rule in a place that counts its history in the thousands of years. Even if the recent past left deep scars, from social to environmental, the more ancient traditions and customs remain.

As do the scarlet flower fields of the Kyzylkum Desert. Alexander the Great crossed it. And so did Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. The remnants of Alexander’s fort still stand in the desert, their ancient ramparts still imposing enough. And the lines of the Persian poet Ferdowsi came to my mind.

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Bulgaria Travel Reading List

Some of you will be joining me in Bulgaria’s Rose Valley this May, and I’ve received a couple of requests for reading that would prepare you for a trip. Bulgaria is one of the largest countries in the EU, and yet like so many places that fell on the other side of the Iron Curtain, it remains  terra incognita. Yet, it’s a place with an ancient history, delicious food, beautiful music, picturesque churches, and of course, roses. Bulgaria supplies 50% of the world’s rose essence.

I’ve decided to put together a list of non-fiction and fiction books that would be interesting even if you have no plans to visit Bulgaria and simply want to learn something new. These novels and travel accounts present a fascinating and rich land, a place where many different cultures, influences and traditions meet.

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