Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Travels In Spain, Part Two: Seville

Reviewing: Dame Perfumery Soliflore Rose de Mai, Ramon Monegal Entre Naranjos, and L'Artisan Seville a l'Aube

After leaving Mallorca we traveled to mainland Spain, and despite Ryan Air's* best attempts to spoil the trip I think we all agreed that the next stop, Seville, stole our hearts. The city itself has numerous impressive and historic sights and it is entertaining simply to wander the twisty narrow streets, stopping for a tapas and wine, then moving on to the next place. My favorite tourist sight we visited was the Real Alcázar and its attached gardens. Real Alcázar started life as a Moorish fort about one thousand years ago but was conquered by Catholic kings during the Reconquista  beginning in the 12th century and during the 1400's took on its present appearance as a palace.

Seville in the 1400's was the epicenter of Spain's Golden Age. From here explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Magellan came to plead for funding of their voyages from Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. No doubt they would have been awed by the beautiful palace halls of colorful tiles, courtyards with tinkling fountains, and glimpses of the green gardens outside through the arched doorways. Real Alcázar isn't as grand as more traditional castles like the one we viewed in Madrid, with their multitudes of rooms and lofty ceilings. But as travel writer Rick Steves describes: "The Alcázar feels like an Arabian Nights fairy-tale: finely etched domes, lacy arcades, keyhole arches, and comfy courtyards."

Scene from Game of Thrones inside Real Alcazar.

So enchanting is this Moorish palace that it was chosen to represent the world of Dorne in the 2014 season of Game of Thrones. My daughter and I watch the show and were searching for familiar scenes. The first one we recognized was the shot of the water garden, where this scene below was shot.

As beautiful as the palace is, the gardens are equally stunning and one can imagine how the running water, the fountains, shade trees and lovely scented gardens would have offered such relief against the hot summers sans air conditioning. Reportedly the gardens are fragrant with orange blossom in the spring but as I was there in August I missed that pleasure, however there were numerous rose gardens and bushes of flowering jasmine. Arbors of wisteria lined some of the palace doorway entrances to the garden. Wisteria is a favorite of mine but also a spring bloomer; nevertheless the jasmine and roses sent sweet scent into the hot afternoon air.

Photo of Real Alcazar rose garden by www.eduardolibby.com

The scent I had with me that most perfectly recreated the beautiful scent of the roses in the Alcázar's garden is Dame Perfumery Soliflore Rose de Mai oil rollerball. This oil captures the rose in all of its sweetness, expressing the fragility of the cupped velvet petals atop a slender green branch. Perfumer Jeffrey Dame came out with a collection of soliflore oils in 2015 and 2016 and advertises them as,  "A true floral, alive and in full bloom. Lifting off into the breeze, floating through the air; adrift in a garden of earthly delight." This may sound like advertising hyperbole but in this case the words are entirely true. I have tried several of the oils and found them all beautiful, but there is something about rose. It is uplifting, happy, and always puts a smile on my face. More recently Mr. Dame has introduced the scents in 100 ml. eau de toilette sprays but I haven't had the opportunity to try these yet.

Anyone who has done business with Dame Perfumery knows that Jeffrey excels at customer service, is generous with samples, and has very affordable prices. Now when I smell Soliflore Rose de Mai I will always be reminded of this beautiful Moorish garden in Spain. The perfume is as named--a soliflore--so rose de mai is all that is happening here. But it is so beautiful and realistic and sometimes I just yearn for simplicity and beauty. Dame Rose de Mai delivers on both counts.

Seville is also known for it's beautiful cathedral, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See but more commonly referred to as just Seville Cathedral. It is the third largest church in the world and the largest Gothic cathedral, famously housing the remains of Christopher Columbus. It's central nave is an impressive 42 meters high, punctuating the wishes of the church elders who drew up the plans in 1401, "Let us build a church so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it will think we are mad." While it is hard to get a feeling of reverence in the cathedral with all the tourists milling about, it is not hard to imagine how awed the attendees would have been five hundred years ago to enter this stunning space.  The cathedral has an adjoining garden with orange trees. When we were there in August the trees were laden with oranges; in spring I would have smelled the city's iconic orange blossom scent.

Photo of Cathedral oranges by https://myfacesandplaces.co.uk

The orange trees reminded me of a scent I had brought along by a Spanish perfumer, Entre Naranjos by Ramon Monegal. Monegal's line is  based out of Barcelona (as all Spanish perfumers seem to be), the one big city I didn't go to on my trip. Monegal was a perfumer and creative director in Spain for many years before going independent and starting his own line in 2007. He created Entre Naranjos in 2011.

Enter the oranges, indeed! You have petit grain, you have neroli, you have orange blossom and bitter orange. This perfume opens with a parade of orange in all its guises. You get the bitterness of orange peel and the occasional sweetness of orange blossom. For a short time I can smell the amber glowing warm and spicy, giving the citrus more presence. As time passes the neroli is what I can smell the most, and it does eventually take on that slightly soapy air of a barbershop. This smells clean, uplifting and invigorating. Later the amber and Indonesian patchouli take the lead. The patchouli is especially nice and these notes give the orange a warm edge and more depth. The orange blossom seems to be the symbol of Seville and this perfume sparkles with orange. This has been done before and it's not groundbreaking but Monegal has done it very nicely and the quality of his ingredients shine through.

L'Artisan Seville A L'Aube was released in 2012 to great fanfare. It was a collaboration between blogger Denise Beaulieu and perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, bringing to life a scented memory from Seville's Holy Week which Beaulieu wrote about in her book The Perfume Lover. Three years before this perfume would be conceived, a contributor to National Geographic's Intelligent Traveler blog used this phrase to describe the Holy Week scene: "During Semana Santa, the sweet smell of azahares (orange blossoms) muddled with incense and loads of candle wax permeates the city." This familiar scene is also described by Ms. Beaulieu in her book, The Perfume Lover. 
I am in Seville, standing under a bitter orange tree in full bloom in the arms of Roan, the black-clad Spanish boy who is not yet my lover. Since sundown, we've been watching the religious brotherhoods in their pointed caps and habits thread their way across the old Moorish town bearing statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary...In the tiny white-washed plaza in front of the church, wafts of lavender cologne rise from the tightly pressed bodies. As the altar boys swing their censers, throat-stinging clouds of sizzling resins - humanity's millennia-old message to the gods - cut through the fatty honeyed smell of the penitents' beeswax candles."
 Denyse Beaulieu, The Perfume Lover
I tried a sample of L'Artisan Seville a l'Aube shortly after it was introduced in 2012. As I recall, there was a lot of fanfare about this being a great orange blossom perfume. Orange blossom is one of my favorite notes and I had fallen hard the year before for Elie Saab perfume, a joyous explosion of orange blossom crafted by Francis Kurkdjian. So I tried Seville a l'Aube with this preconceived notion of what to expect and all I remember is being underwhelmed. I don't remember my exact impression but I do recall thinking, "where is all the orange blossom?" Knowing that I was going to be in Seville, I had to give this perfume another chance so I ordered a sample and patiently didn't touch it until I was in Seville.

The heavenly radiant heights of the cathedral and the darker, moodier floor below.
Photo from www.skullsinthestars.com

This time I opened my mind to whatever the perfume wanted to tell me. Whereas before I had looked for a ground-breaking orange blossom what I found this time was that the bright sweet orange blossom is just the beginning of this story. The petitgrain lends a green briskness overshadowing the sweetness of the orange blossom. As the scent unfolds I smell the honeyed beeswax, representing the candles lit by the penitents. Beeswax can sometimes have gourmand elements but here there is almost a feral smell as if digging into the hive where all these busy creatures live and withdrawing hands dripping with unfiltered honey. This stage lasts for around an hour and doesn't totally agree with me. Half the time I wore Seville a l'Aube it had this unsettling effect and I found the honey note unpleasant. Skin chemistry is a funny thing, though, and a couple of the times the honey note was beautiful, rich and floral.

So you might think that the honey note would have been the end of my interest in this perfume, but not so fast. The base notes of this perfume contain olibanum, benzoin, and lavender, but not just any lavender. This is Luisiera lavender from Seville area and its scent it markedly different from the average lavendula, emitting aromas of apricot, dried fruit, leather, and cognac. This is a beautiful and meditative lavender, and when combined with the rich darkness of benzoin and olibanum it's simply gorgeous. I'm a lavender lover and for me Seville d l'Aube is not the perfect expression of an orange blossom perfume, but of lavender. The bright opening notes mimic the glowing heights of the Seville cathedral and the lavender lends a contemplative tone representative of the stone floors and somber darkness of the cathedral's more earthly level. Toward the end of the perfume's life on my skin I can still smell strains of the orange blossom filtering through the darker notes of the lavender, and if I was prosaic I would compare it to the light passing through the stained glass windows of the cathedral, bursting into gorgeous shards of glimmering color splayed on the cold gray stone floors. I am still on the fence about whether I need this one in my life. Reading other reviews on Fragrantica it's clear that this perfume performs quite differently on people so your experience may be totally different than mine.

After only a couple of short days in Seville it was time to move on to our next destination. Read more at Part One Part Three,  Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six.

*Ryan Air is a budget airline within Europe. When we bought our tickets there was no mention that if we didn't check into our flight online in advance of the flight we would be charged a fine. A notice was sent to my email the day  before the flight but we didn't have internet access so showed up to airport without having checked in and were charged an extra fifty euro per ticket plus tax. We saw it happening to other people around us and I think it's a real rip off to unwary travelers who have never flown the airline.

Top Photo: www.spain.info.com.  Two Game of Thrones photos from www.businessinsider.com. Perfumes were all my own.


Old Herbaceous said...

Wonderful descriptions! I too fell in love with Seville on a recent trip to the Andalusia region. I blind-bought a bottle of Seville A L'Aube to commemorate the trip but haven't tried it yet; your review makes me look forward to that!

Cynthia said...

Isn't Seville grand?! I will be curious as to your thoughts on Seville a l'Aube. I am leaning towards thinking I need it, but it is a very complex scent!

Undina said...

What a beautiful description of this part of the trip!
I haven't tried Rose de Mai (because I don't like either soliflores or oil-based perfumes) and I haven't even heard about Entre Naranjos (most likely, because it wasn't among the perfumes that were first released by the brand in the U.S., and since then I wasn't paying much attention to the brand), but I like Seville a l'Aube, which surprised me since I'm not a huge fan of orange blossom. I don't need a bottle of it but I bought a small decant and use it from time to time.

Cynthia said...

Undina, I don't usually like oil based perfumes because I can smell the oil but Jeffrey Dame's are different. Thanks for reading!