Fragrance in Travel Literature-Provence,France

La Chaîne des Maures


Romantic cities of Provence ([1906])
Caird, Mona Alison


To the left, a magnificent plane-tree spreads golden
foliage far and wide, brimming up to our bedroom
windows just overhead. And a little further from the
house, on this side of a sombre row of cypresses, with an
ethereal view to the left of palest mountain peaks — a
Provencal rose garden !
" But gather, gather, Mesdames," invites our kind host,
" gather as many as you will." He smiles at our amazed
delight, and waves a hospitable hand towards the masses
of blossom, radiantly fresh and fair.
The sun draws out the fragrance and shines through
the petals till they gleam like gemmed enamel. We
linger entranced.
In the narrow path we are elbow high in roses. And
everything seems to stand still and wait in the hot sun.
Nothing moves on. There is only a tiny floating back
and forwards of a thread of cobweb between rose and
rose ; and very slowly now and again a broad swathe
of plane-foliage heaves up and down on a little swell of
air which the tree has all to itself in the shade-dappled
precincts that it rules.

We plunge straight into their heart and begin to
mount by gradual windings through little valleys, arid
and lonely. Dwarf oak, lavender and rosemary make
their only covering. But for their grey vesture one might
imagine oneself in some valley of the moon, wandering
dream-bound in a dead world. The limestone vales
have something of the character of the lunar landscape :
a look of death succeeding violent and frenzied life,
which gives to the airless, riverless valleys of our
satellite their unbearable desolation. It might have been
fancy, but it seemed that in the Alpilles there was not a
living thing ; neither beast nor bird nor insect.

As we ascended, the landscape grew stranger and more
tragic. The walls of rock closed in upon us, then fell
back, breaking up into chasms, crags, pinnacles. The
lavender and aromatic plants no longer climbed the sides
of the defiles ; they carpeted the ground and sent a sharp
fragrance into the air. The passes would widen again
more liberally into battlemented gorges from which great
solitary boulders and peninsulas rose out of the sea of
lavender. Here and there this fragrant sea seemed to
have splashed up against the rock-face, for little grey
bushes would cling for dear life to some cleft or cranny
far up the heights ; sometimes on the very summit. As
one follows the road it seems as if the heavily overhang-
ing crags must come crashing down on one's head. What
prevents it, I fail to this day to understand.

The roses are exhaling their fragrance in the dark
garden just below ; now and then the omnibus horses
peacefully move in their stalls, perhaps going over again
in their dreams the happy homeward journey after the
last train.

On the hillside grow many sweet-smelling aromatic
plants, and they tempt one to linger that one may
bruise the leaves and so enjoy the fresh wholesome-
ness of the perfume. Below, at a dizzy distance, runs
the Gard, the shores rich with woods over which now
is a sort of mysterious bloom that seems in perfect
keeping with the unseen Enchanted Castle filled with

There is a
languid Eastern deliciousness in the very scenery of the
story, the full-blown roses, the chamber painted in some
mysterious manner where Nicolette is imprisoned, the
cool brown marble, the almost nameless colours, the
odour of plucked grass and flowers. Nicolette herself
well becomes this scenery, and is the best illustration of
the quality I mean — the beautiful, weird, foreign girl,
whom the shepherds take for a fay. ..."

"It is from this fantastic scene," says one of the
fraternity, "that the beautiful wind-touched draperies,
the rhythm, the heads suddenly thrown back, of many
a Pompeian wall-painting and sarcophagus frieze are
originally derived." And the same eye sees in the figure
of Dionysus the " mystical and fiery spirit of the earth
— the aroma of the green world is retained in the fair
human body." "Sweet upon the mountains" is the
presence of the far-wandering god " who embodies all
the voluptuous abundance of Asia, its beating sun, its
fair-towered cities."

The traditions of chivalry are among the priceless
possessions of the human race, and it is in Provence
that their aroma lingers with a potency scarcely to be
found in any other country. The air is alive with rich
influences. The heat of the sun, the extraordinary
brilliance of light and colour, the dignity of an ancient
realm whose every inch is penetrated with human doings
and destinies, all combine towards an enchantment that
belongs to the mysterious side of nature and prompts
a host of unanswerable questions. The eye wanders
bewildered across the country, wistfully struggling to
reahse the wonder and the beauty. It sweeps the peaked
line of mountains with only an added sense of baffle-
ment, and rests at last, sadly, on some lonely castle with
shattered ramparts and roofless banqueting-hall, where
now only the birds sing troubadour songs, and ivy and
wild vines are the swaying tapestries.

An embassy to Provence; (1893)
Janvier, Thomas Allibone, 1849-1913


We went down the mountain road at a
good trot, with the brakes set hard. The
road was as smooth as French roads — barring chemins
d' exploitation — always are, and
the descent was sharp : even the Ponette
could not refuse to trot with the carriage
fairly pushing her along. Dusk was falling
on the heights, and darkness had come by
the time that we reached the plain. From the
unseen fields of flowers sweet scents were
borne to us ; sweetest of all being the richly
delicate odor from a field of heliotrope close
beside us, but hidden in the bosom of the
night.

Bearing in her hands our two candles, our
beautiful hostess piloted us to our bed-cham-
ber — up the narrow worn stone stairway,
along the narrow crooked passages broken by
incidental flights of steps, and so to the large
tile-paved room whereof the mahogany furni-
ture had grown black with age, and where
everything was exquisitely clean. The bed-
linen had a faint smell of lavender, and the
beds were comfortable to a degree. As I
sank away into sleep I was aware of the
delicate, delicious odor of flowers swept in
through the open window by the soft night
wind.

Most gentle is the business carried on by
the people of Saint-Remy: the raising of
flowers and the sale of their seed. All around
the town are fields of flowers ; and the flowers
are suffered to grow to full maturity, and then
to die their own sweet death, to the end that
their seed may be garnered and sold abroad.
Everywhere delicate odors floated about us in
the air ; and. although our coming was in
August, bright colors still mingled every-
where with the green of lca\es and grass.
Insensibly, their gracious manner of earning
a livelihood has reacted upon the people
themselves: the folk of Saint -Remy are no-
table for their gentleness and kindliness even
among- their gentle and kindly fellows of
Provence. We understood better Roumanille's
beautiful nature when we thus came to know
the town of gardens wherein he was born,
and we also appreciated more keenly the
verse — in his exquisite little poem to his
mother — in which he chronicles his birth:
In a farm-house hidden in the midst of apple-trees,
On a beautiful morning in harvest-time,
I was born to a gardener and a gardener's wife
In the gardens of Saint -Remy.


A spring walk in Provence; (1920)
Marshall, Archibald, 1866-1934

This southern country flushes to tender spring
green only here and there. The cultivated hill-
sides keep their darker colours, though they may
be most sweetly lit with the pink of almonds.
March would be a glorious month in Provence
if it were only for the almond blossom. Mixed
with the soft grey of the olives it makes delicious
pictures, and it is to be found everywhere. And
the wild rosemary is in flower — great bushes of
it, lighting up the rocky hillsides with their deli-
cate blue. They were all around me as I sat
on this height, and there were brooms getting
ready to flower, and wild lavender, and thyme.
The air held an aromatic fragrance, and as I
walked on between the pines and the deciduous
trees, not yet in leaf, the birds were singing and
the water rushing down its channels from the
snowy heights very musically. There were prim-
roses and violets by the roadside, as if it had
been spring in England, and juicy little grape
hyacinths to remind one that it was not. There
was something to look at and enjoy at every step.

Dusk was falling, and I went down stony
paths between olive gardens, which are very
peaceful and mysterious in twilight. I met some
of the inhabitants of Berre mounting slowly to
their little town after their day's work. Most
of the women carried cut olive boughs on their
heads, and some of the men drove asses laden
with them. It was the time of pruning, and olive
leaves are very acceptable to most animals as
food. By and bye I had the track to myself,
and sometimes lost it, but I did not much mind.
I could see the lights of Contes below me, and
whenever I found myself on a path that seemed
to lead aside from them I took a straight line
over the terraces till I found a more suitable one.
I was rather tired, but rest and refreshment were
not far off, and it was soothing to the spirit
to walk in this odorous dusk, and in such quiet-
ness.


I wandered for an hour up paths and down
paths and along the edges of terraces where there
were no paths, but keeping my face generally to
the right quarter. The lights of Grasse shone more
and more plainly between the tree-trunks, but
were still a very long way off. Sometimes I came
across little secluded farms, and in the garden
of one of them a great stretch of yellow jonquil
shone in the dusk hke a square of sunshine left
behind from the departed day, and its fragrance
followed me for a long way. From another a
dog barked and somewhat alarmed me, for dogs
are not to be lightly regarded in this country.
Later on I should have been more alarmed still,
for reasons which will presently appear. But this
dog did no more than bark savagely, and bye and
bye, when it was quite dark, I came out onto the
road, not so very far from Chateauneuf, round
which I had walked almost in full circle.

On the way up from Les Baux to the col, and
for some distance beyond, the country is arid and
cold; but the wealth of aromatic and flowering
shrubs that carpet the ground in these stony
regions, and the breathing spirit of the spring,
gives them a charm of their own that is far
removed from desolation. The road was lonely
enough. A few flocks of sheep and goats clat-
tered among the loose stones of the hillsides that
were on either side, among the pines and the
thyme and rosemary and the yellow brooms; and
the shepherds watched and whistled to them,
never very far away. A motor-car passed me as
I rested at the top of the hill, and a carriage
jogging along the straight road to the " plateau
des antiquites " offered itself for a lift; for I was
on my way to see something that every tourist
in these parts comes to see, and this one was
plying for hire in this lonely region in the ordi-
nary way of business. But otherwise I had the
road to myself in the early morning, and took
my time over the six or seven kilometres that were
all that I was yet able to accomplish.

I walked on, into the land of flowers — flowers
grown not for their beauty but for their scent,
and grown in terraced fields, just like any other
crop. Grasse, the centre of the industry, draws
supplies for its scents and soaps, pomades and
oils, from miles of country around it, and I was
getting near to Grasse.
There were great plantations of roses, all care-
fully pruned and trained on low trellises, but
not yet in flower. Sometimes the rows were in-
terspersed with vines, and many of the fields
were bordered with mulberries. There were ledges
covered with the green foliage of violets, and
great double heads of purple, scented bloom peep-
ing out of it. There were fields of jasmine, of
tuberoses; terraces of lavender, of lilies of the
valley, carnations, mignonette; gardens of orange
trees, grown more for their flowers than for their
fruit; and of course groves of olives, of which
the oil forms so important a part in the local
manufactures. This day and the next day I
walked for miles with the scent of flowers all
about me.

I walked right through the town, but if I had
not already seen something of the processes by
which the scents from the miles of flowery fields
through which I was passing are extracted and
hoarded, I think I should have stayed to do so.
For I am so constituted that every manufacturing
process remains a complete and insoluble mys-
tery to me until I have seen it, and yet arouses
my curiosity and my willing interest.
It was about this time of the year that I had
visited one of the light, airy factories of Grasse.
I remember a huge, scented mass of the heads
of violets heaped up on a white sheet on one of
the upstairs floors. It was half as high as I was,
and smelt divinely. These were the only flowers
in evidence, for the full harvest, when all the
great space of this chamber would be covered
with gathered blossoms, was not yet. But there
were sacks of lavender there besides, and bundles
of sweet-scented roots — orris, and patchouli, and
vetiver — which can be turned into essences as
sweet as those taken from the flowers themselves.

The little hills all around were covered with
thyme, rosemary, asphodel, box and lavender. In
odd corners there were vines, which produced a
wine of some repute — the wine of Frigolet;
patches of olives on the lower slopes; plantations
of almond-trees, twisted, dark and stunted, on
the stony ground; and wild fig-trees in the clefts
of the rocks. This sparse vegetation was all that
these rugged hills could show; the rest was noth-
ing but waste and scattered rocks. But how de-
licious it smelt! The scent of the mountains at
sunrise intoxicated us. . . .

We became as rugged as a troop of gipsies.
But how we revelled in these hills and gorges and
ravines, with their sonorous Provencal names . . .
eternal monuments of the country and its lan-
guage, all embalmed in thyme and rosemary and
lavender, all illumined in gold and azure. Oh,
sweet land of scents and colours and delights and
illusions, what happiness, what dreams of para-
dise thou didst reveal to my childhood! " *

Well, you will agree that Saint-Michel de
Frigolet was a place to see. I got up to it by
a winding track among the hills. It was a clear,
sunny morning, and the bees were humming
among the scented herbs that give such a charac-
ter to these stony hills, just as they did in the
poet's happy childhood. On this side of the hill
were a few olives here and there, but no other
sign of cultivation until I came to the top of
a hill, where there was a patch of dug ground,
and beyond it a collection of pinnacles and walls
conveying the impression that I had unexpectedly
hit upon a large modern cemetery.

In troubadour-land. A ramble in Provence and Languedoc (1891)
Baring-Gould, S. (Sabine), 1834-1924


What a delightful walk is that on the cliff of the
chateau ! The day I was at Nice was the 9th of April.
The crags were rich with colour, the cytisus waving its
golden hair, the pelargonium blazing scarlet, beds of
white stock wafting fragrance, violets scrambling over
every soft bank of deep earth exhaling fragrance ; roses,
not many in flower, but their young leaves in masses of
claret-red ; wherever a ledge allowed it, there pansies
of velvety blue and black and brown had been planted.
In a hot sun I climbed the chateau cliff to where the
water, conveyed to the summit, dribbled and dropped,
or squirted and splashed, nourishing countless fronds
of fern and beds of moss, and many a bog plaat. The
cedars and umbrella pines in the spring sun exhaled
their aromatic breath, and the flowering birch rained
down its yellow dust over one from its swaying
catkins.


It was evening when I visited the theatre, a balmy
spring evening, where shelter could be obtained from a
cold wind. The pink Judas trees were in full flower.
The syringas scented the air. The golden sunlight filled
the theatre with light and warmth. But two persons
were present, except myself. Seated on one of the
white marble steps for the audience, was an Aries
mother with a royal face, in the quaintly beautiful
costume the women of all classes still affect, and she
had spread her mantle over the shoulders of a girl
of fourteen, sick, with face of the purest alabaster,
and of features as fine as were ever traced for
Venus Anadyomene, with large, solemn, dreamy eyes,
watching a robin that was perched on the proscenium
and was twittering.

Rambles in Provence and on the Riviera; being some account of journeys made en automobile [and things seen in the fair land of Provence] ([1911])
Mansfield, M. F. (Milburg Francisco), b. 1871


Around Martigues, in the spring-time, all is
verdant and full of colour, and the air is laden
with the odours of aromatic buds and blossoms.
At this time, when the sun has not yet dried
out and yellowed the hillsides, the spectacle of
the background panorama is most ravishing.
Almond, peach, and apricot trees, all covered
with a rosy snow of blossoms, are everywhere,
and their like is not to be seen elsewhere, for in
addition there is here a contrasting frame of
greenish-gray olive-trees and punctuating ac-
cents of red and yellow wild flowers that is rem-
iniscent of California.

The whole note of Grasse is of flowers, trees,
and shrubs, and the perfume-laden air an-
nounces the fact from afar.

Above all, one should see Nice in the height
of the flower season, when the stalls of the
flower merchants are literally buried under a
harvest of flowers and perfumed fruits.

To arrive on the terraces of Monte Carlo
at twilight, on a spring-time or autumn eve-
ning, is one of the great episodes in one's life.
You are surrounded by an atmosphere which
is balsamic and perfumed as one imagines the
Garden of Eden might have been. All the arti-
ficiality of the place is lost in the softening
shadows, and all is as like unto fairy-land as
one will be likely to find on this earth. The
lovely gardens, the gracious architecture, the
myriads of lights just twinkling into existence,
the hum of life, the moaning and plashing of
the waves on the rocky shores beneath, and,
above, a canopy of palms lifting their heads
to the sky, all unite to produce this unpar-
alleled charm.

Far to the northward and eastward is a
chain of mountains, the foot-hills of the mighty
Alps, while on the horizon to the south there
is a vista of a patch of blue sea which some-
where or other, not many leagues away, bor-
ders upon fragrant gardens and flourishing sea-
ports; but in these pebbly, sandy plains all is
level and monotonous, with only an occasional
oasis of trees and houses.