Esprit de France 1997 Educational Tour of the Perfume District
August 9-August 24, 1997 Michael Scholes School of Aromatic Studies
Imagine hearing about a two-week educational tour of the perfumery district of South France – in Provence – being led by my absolute favorite aroma-colleague in the world -Michael Scholes! Then, imagine having to convince your family, clients and business associates that you just MUST drop everything and go on this trip, and getting it together with two weeks notice. Well, I did. I had no expectations and knew no one on this trip except for the wonderful hosts, Michael Scholes and Joan Clark, but knew I just had to go. And I am so glad I did. By the time it was over, I had 14 new friends and many wonderful memories of the delicious food (the cheese! the wine!), perfumeries, the lavender fields, the friendly people and the rich cultural history of Provence. The Esprit de France, 1997, sponsored by the Michael Scholes School of Aromatherapy, was one of the best adventures of my life.
We arrived in Nice on the Cote de Azur, the French Riviera, on the Mediterranean shore. The next day, 15 excited travelers and the hosts set out in two vans and a Mercedes (my kind of car!) into the mountains of Provence. After a beautiful scenic ride, we visited the Musee des Aromes et du Parfum (Perfume & Aroma Museum) in Graveson En Provence. The building, an old monastery, now houses a museum that author Nelly Grosjean created several years ago. She has collected stills, lab equipment and other fascinating memorabilia pertaining to perfumes and essential oil production. In addition to the museum, she keeps up a large herb garden and gave us a fragrant tour.
We then drove a bit more thru quaint towns and countryside as the lavender fields began to appear in the landscape! That evening we arrived at Orto De Provenco- the Center for Aromatherapy Workshops and Medicinal Plants. This secluded educational retreat is located in Aurel (pop.80), near Sault en Vaucluse and was developed by Dr. Malte Hozzell (owner of Ayus/Oshadhi) and his wife Veronique. Here in two nicely restored Provence farmhouses they host residential groups for classes, providing comfortable lodging and healthy tasty Provincial meals. Our visit was timely in that the Lavender Festival in nearby Sault was going on so we saw the lavender cutting contest, an old Provincial style parade and shopped for Provincial delights while sampling lavender pate, and lavender liqueur! One evening and a full day were spent with Daniel Penoel and his wife, Rosemarie. Daniel, one of France’s leading aromatherapy doctors, is quite an entertaining educator and left us with a renewed passion for our oils and his version of the Aromatic Revolution!
Other activities included field trips to a farm where organic savory was being distilled and a local lavender farm to see all the different species in one place. We also had a lecture on adulteration and perfumery with a perfume lab director and were visited by a colorful third generation lavender farmer. We participated in distillation of organic lavender on the premises, and got to bring home lots of samples. Malte is a beautiful “exceptional” man, and quite an inspiring teacher. His expansive knowledge on the botany and commodity of essential oils and their properties is hard to find, even in our industry, and I quite enjoyed being with someone who could actually answer my questions! We all enjoyed being with him and ‘sampling’ his knowledge, as our time with him was just too short! (I personally want to return for the 8-day stay next year!). Cool nights with clear star-studded skies were spent on the hillside, as we enjoyed the mountain quiet (no phone, fax, email) and each other in song and laughter. A truly wonderful experience!
After five days, we left for Digne Les Bains, the city famous for the therapeutic hot spring baths. After spending the night, we left there and visited Sisteron- climbing the steep path to the citadel fortress built in the 14th Century. More scenic travel thru the countryside led us upon a rural festival where we purchased local crafts and more lavender delights! That evening we arrived at Riez- a medieval town with ruins of an old Roman temple. Our timing was good as they were also having a festival complete with music and dancing! Some of us joined the locals and danced all night under full moon in the Town Square. The French DJ played familiar Rock songs and some in French, as we enjoyed the local beer, danced the night away and even showed them how to do the Macarena!
Leaving Riez, we came across a large tract of lavender fields and a large commercial still. Though they spoke no English, the workers recognized our desire to see what they did and they let us come look around. One in our group even got to pitch a few bales of lavender! En route to the next destination, we shopped in Moustiers-Ste-Marie, famous for porcelain painting and then traveled thru the French Grand Canyon – Les Gorges du Verdon. Here we marveled at the beautiful scenery of high mountain peaks and, due to the narrow roads, lack of guardrails, and the thought of “dropping-off-the-edge-into-the-gorge-below” some of us were quite tense by the time we stopped! Being from the flatlands (Florida), and the thrill-seeker that I am, I particularly enjoyed this scenery, anxiety and all! After a refreshing break in the ice-cold river at the bottom, we passed thru the village of Castellane and finally we came upon the perfume center, the city of Grasse and checked into the Perfumers Hotel.
Grasse is now a modern city with quaint historical sections that we viewed on an off-the-beaten-path walking tour thru the old parts of town (reminiscent of Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume). Small alleyways were full with odors of delicious foods being prepared and now and then we discovered a small hidden perfumer shop emitting wondrous aromatics. With a busy schedule for the next five days, we visited the International Perfumers Museum, where they had a perfume bottle exhibit spanning thousands of years. We toured several local perfume factories (Moulinard/Fragonard), and several of us had first hand experience in creating our own perfumes complete with an honorary Master Perfumer certificate. It was very interesting playing with synthetic bases in alcohol- quite different for us aromatherapists, but fascinating and educational and my perfume blend turned out quite nice nevertheless.
We spent an afternoon with a famous ‘Nose” who showed us his private lab and workshop, discussed perfume ingredients and formulation, distilled some lavender for us and let us try our hand at creating a perfume with three pre-blended bases! One morning- very early, we left for the jasmine fields where we picked jasmine along with the Italian pickers. One young worker sang Beatles songs (“Yesterday”) as he worked so we all joined in singing with him! (Music, truly is the universal language). We saw how they graft the plants to propagate, and got to experience the backbreaking labor jasmine picking demands- not for very long, of course! That was an incredible smell – a whole basket of fragrant blossoms! The farmer’s wife sold us rose petal jam which I brought home – strange, but very tasty! We also toured the facilities of the largest and oldest essential oil house, Charabot, where we saw absolutes being made on a grand scale.
Several side trips included Tourettes-sur-Loup, a secluded artisan village and once the Violet Capital- although the only violets sold there now are crystallized or made into liqueur! We also went to Ste.Paul de Vence where the rich and famous are said to hang! (Lots of expensive art and jewelry shops, Jaguars and everyone talking on cell phones!) We didn’t see any “stars” or famous people, but it was a beautiful place, nevertheless. We also visited Antibes, on the coast and Biot- the glass blowing center, then spent the afternoon on the beach in Cannes. Sorry, but give me the Provence countryside any day! (It’s hard for me to get excited over the small rocky Riviera beaches, jammed-packed with people, when I live near the finest beaches in the world!)
I have to say that this was the most interesting two weeks I have ever spent. Though my favorite time was spent at Orto with Malte, it was quite a treat to visit places I’d heard of and especially to see the lavender fields and Grasse. I brought home many samples of oils I that can analyze for my updating my manual and took eight rolls of slide films and a video for addition to my classes. Everything on this tour was well planned and though we covered a lot of territory and had a lot of activities, we kept to our schedule with lots of time for shopping and playing too. Michael Scholes was the most perfect tour guide anyone could ask for! Every time I even had a question about our activities, which was rare as we were so well informed, Michael was coming around the corner with the answer! We were fully accommodated – just about everything (but souvenirs) was included in the tour price and every possible need was handled in a timely and efficient manner.
For a large group, everything went extraordinarily smooth which was a result of Michael – who he is and his preparation- and the personalities involved. Besides Michael and one other exceptional guy, we had a good varied group of women from all over the USA and Canada. A good time was had by all and we all developed quite a camaraderie with each other. On my last day – I had to leave two days early to get to a trade show- I was honored by my new colleagues and newfound friends in a teary good-bye circle!. This felt like one of those rare times when a lot of influential future and important heart-warming connections are made…and I will cherish these memories for a long time. A very big hug-and-kiss thank-you to Michael for providing this opportunity.
(You can reach the Michael Scholes School of Aromatic Studies in Los Angeles, California at 310-276-1191)