‘The scent of pine trees evokes my child­hood’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Noth­ing quite pre­pares you for the ol­fac­tory shock of ar­riv­ing in In­dia. Thirty years later, I still re­mem­ber the first time I landed and the plane door opened. Back then, there were no bridges directly into the ter­mi­nal and I re­mem­ber be­ing hit by a whiff of damp. Smell – more so than our other senses – evokes pow­er­ful emo­tions and helps de­fine our sense of a place.

Many places in­spire me. I have a small house in Nor­mandy that smells of grass and is an im­mense source of hap­pi­ness; I dream of vis­it­ing Africa to find the tree that bears a berry called mir­a­cle fruit, which has a strange, mys­te­ri­ous smell said to sweeten any­thing that is bit­ter or acidic… even one’s char­ac­ter. Per­haps I should make a per­fume from that.

As a per­fumer, there are no good or bad smells – all scents are in­ter­est­ing. It is my nose that guides me on my trav­els or when out walk­ing. You can close your eyes but you can’t switch off your nose. Peo­ple ask me if I smell things dif­fer­ently be­cause of my job. It’s true that my nose is sen­si­tive and I prob­a­bly smell more things than most. And, gen­er­ally, one’s nose is not as de­vel­oped as our other senses. But you can learn to smell – it’s like learn­ing to see colours bet­ter. I’ve worked hard on my ol­fac­tory mem­ory. When my nose be­comes over­whelmed and I need to give it a rest, the way I calm it down is by smelling my own smell. I bury my nose into a shirt or sweater and that neu­tralises it.

I never thought of be­com­ing a per­fumer grow­ing up in Geneva, partly be­cause I didn’t re­alise that job ex­isted. I don’t have a typ­i­cal per­fumer’s back­ground: I started out as a chemist at fra­grance com­pany Fir­menich, and later worked as a chro­matog­ra­pher, a job that en­tails de­ci­pher­ing fra­grances and their in­gre­di­ents.

The scent of my child­hood was grow­ing up by Lake Geneva. A lake is not the same as the sea – there’s a smooth­ness to its scent that dis­tin­guishes it from the sea be­cause there’s no salt in it. It’s also the smell of pine trees and hik­ing in the moun­tains. It’s also mist and the smell of gruyère cream – make that gruyère dou­ble cream. You can smell the calo­ries a mile off!

One smell that re­ally does stand out for me is that of Boro­talco, the Ital­ian equiv­a­lent of John­son & John­son baby pow­der (my mother was Ital­ian). As soon as I smell it, it’s like be­ing trans­ported to cher­ished mo­ments with my fam­ily, snap­shots in time grow­ing up.

But there are so many more: what fol­lows are 10 of my favourite places with smells to sigh for.

Chris­tine Nagel, pic­tured above, is the first fe­male head per­fumer at Her­mès. Mex­ico City, or specif­i­cally Frida Kahlo’s Gar­den, is where I en­coun­tered mag­nif­i­cent lan­tana bushes. This small bush has red and white flow­ers or some­times yel­low and white ones. When you crush the flow­ers be­tween your fin­gers, they give off a scent that is like that of pas­sion fruit. It’s an acidic yet fruity and sul­phuric aroma, a bit like a black­cur­rant that tastes of sun­shine. You also find it along the edge of the Mediter­ranean. I’ve used it in the Eau de Rhubarbe Ecar­late cologne. The house of Frida Khalo (muse­ofrida kahlo.org.mx) is worth a visit. If you get the chance, visit dur­ing the Day of the Dead, a fes­ti­val that is cel­e­brated in a very lively and colour­ful way. If you like meat, head to La Man­sion Mar­riott Re­forma (mar­riott.co.uk) and try the bread rolls with chili spices, and the tuna with chorizo.

A seven-day Art of Mex­ico tour from Jour­ney Latin Amer­ica ( jour­ney­lati­namer­ica.co.uk; 020 3811 5828) starts from £1,847 per per­son, in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, some meals and lo­cal trans­port. Ex­cludes in­ter­na­tional flights. made up Ayurveda mas­sage oils from un­known herbs and co­conut oil. Later, I met an In­dian jour­nal­ist in Lon­don who had this oil in her hair and it took me back to Ker­ala im­me­di­ately. I would love to use this smell in a per­fume. If you like Ayurvedic treat­ments, I ad­vise vis­it­ing Matt In­dia (mat­tin­dia.com).

Transin­dus (transin­dus.co.uk; 020 8566 3739) of­fers a 16-day Ker­ala with a Dif­fer­ence tai­lor­made tour, which costs from £3,114 per per­son, in­clud­ing B&B ac­com­mo­da­tion, all meals on the rice boat cruise, en­trance fees, lo­cal trans­port, trans­fers and in­ter­na­tional flights. The small­est of the ae­o­lian is­lands is where, dur­ing an evening passeg­giata, I came across the most in­cred­i­ble smell – both milky and earthy. I looked up and there, above me, was the most enor­mous fig tree – its large leaves cover­ing the path only steps away from the Bou­tique Raya (hotel­raya.it/en-bou­tiques. php). Years later, I was chat­ting to an­other per­fumer who had been struck by the ex­act same fig tree. Among all the lit­tle streets there, I also dis­cov­ered the most won­der­ful restau­rant, which serves up a de­li­cious and orig­i­nal aubergine gnoc­chi, the Da Pina (Via San Pi­etro, 98050 Panarea ME, Italy).

Cox & Kings (coxand­kings.co.uk; 020 3883 6117) of­fers an eight-day Ae­o­lian Is­lands Sail­ing trip from £2,250 per per­son, in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, most meals, trans­fers, en­trance fees and flights.

The Frida Kahlo Mu­seum, left, is also known as the Blue House; re­lax­ing on a back­wa­ter house­boat in Ker­ala, be­low

The smell of the fig tree on Panarea was in­cred­i­ble

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