The Vaucluse region in Provence is the garden of France; each field is laden with sensory stimulants that will tantalise your senses hectare by hectare. There’s more packed into this tiny corner of Provence than the rest of France put together, and this includes that queen of the Perfume world, the rose.
The Rose Lady
An hour after landing at Marseille, we knocked on the door of a chic town house in Fontaine de la Vaucluse. We were shown into a frescoed parlour, where marble walls were fringed with heavy drapes, mirrors reflected the cool light bouncing off the tiled floor and the spread of cabinets before us teemed with trays of organic rose potions and powders.
The rose lady, aptly named Rosaline Giorgis, soon came in and offered us a refreshing glass of water flavoured with a hydrolat of rose.
As we sipped, she explained. A litre of distilled rose water provides a miniscule 3ml of precious essential rose oil. This is used in cosmetics and mixed with oil from the factory in Grasse, which is still the heart of France’s perfume business. Her signature rose, a delicate sweet-smelling Centifolia called Baptistine, is the essence of everything she creates. Remarkably, 700 kilos of roses produces a single canister (the size of a Häagen Daz tub) of rose wax. We spread a teaspoon of precious wax on our hands and felt it seal a gentle film of protection, detectably delicious.
Rosaline sees the rose in terms of soul, body and spirit. This very French all-consuming passion for a single flower is pretty addictive; Rosaline will make you believe in its alchemy. She describes the ‘powers of peace’ that can be achieved with the fragrance and flavours of the rose flower and it is intoxicating.
The hydrolat is the secret ingredient of every perfume and Rosaline’s garden in l’Isle sur la Sorgue is worth more to her than any house or chattel. She beams in her ring of roses as guests obediently trot behind her, following directives to ‘look left, smell right’ and tasting the fruits of her heavily laden plum trees at any opportunity.
Rosaline harvests her flowers, from two square hectares of roses, very early in the morning and then at dusk. She states adamantly that her knowledge is of the nose and not the laboratory; Rosaline is an old school olfactory genius as opposed to a chemical concoctionist. Her aim, just like her father and grandfather before her, is to produce the best of the year. Learned skills, such as coping with too much sun or too little water, provides these organic Vaucluse products with their unmatchable intensity.
What to buy
Shop for dozens of rose products including: vinegar, rose hip marmalade, jelly, hyssop and rose sauce, rose petals for champagne or water, syrup, petal meringues and rose lip balm.
Her tip is to place a slice of bread on freshly cut roses in the morning and eat it at lunch to test its potency.
If bread cannot absorb the scent, it simply cannot be done. She also told us that red headed girls struggle to pick the right perfume; fair skin oxidises perfumes quickly and the aromas will often change after an hour. As a highly organic scent that can turn acidic on fair Gaelic skin, Jasmine is apparently the worst. Be warned.
La Maison de la Rose, chemin des Soleillants, 84800 Fontaine de Vaucluse
Tel: + 33 (0)4 90 20 39 15