The Mediterranean is the oldest tourism destination in the world, and still one of the most popular regions. For many northern Europeans, their first memories of a holiday abroad are those of a Mediterranean family vacation with all the sights, sounds and scents that brings.
I am writing from Mallorca, where I am on a brief stay at the gorgeous Cal Reiet Holistic Retreat. I am sitting under a mature Mediterranean pine, listening to the light breeze swaying its upper branches, watching lizards lazily climb the knarled trunk which is oozing in places with a sticky resin. I catch wafts of its treacly, hot magical scent intermingled with those of rosemary and thyme which form low neat trimmed hedges.
There are deep pink, white and blush pink oleander planted in curvaceous urns. Their blooms give out a gentle sweetness and all around is a hay-like aroma from the adjacent, recently-harvested fields and the scent of hot limestone. The coast is not far away and the flora feels its influence though I have no time nor inclination to head to gather up the scents of the sea, being accustomed to those from my home in Malta.
There is nothing more sensual to my mind than living a more al fresco lifestyle and shooting the breeze of a cacophony of Mediterranean summer scents. The two together spell freedom, vivaciousness and a headiness brought on by the incessant heat. It’s bliss to leave the day-to-day routine, escape and feel hot pine needles between the toes. Anything and everything seems possible on a Mediterranean island, whether staying for a few days, like me this time, or a full two weeks. Time seems to stand still, yet surges forward when the last 24 hours loom.
Even though I am island hopping 2.5 hours east to Malta soon, I still want to capture and bottle up the Mallorcan vibe. The Mediterranean has its commonalities, yet each country, region and island has its own version of Mediterranean lifestyle. I feel the need to capture this different set of scents in bottles; discover new Mediterranean perfumes local to the Balearic Islands. I won’t have time to shop locally but I am armed with enough Euros top pick up a flacon while I wait airside.
I have my list of favourite Mediterranean perfumes to look out for in the duty free fragrance aisles. Those that are redolent of archetypal Mediterranean scents but which are not cliche’ nor too expensive either. Mediterranean perfumes that can be splashed on liberally on holiday (after all, one has so many showers in a day) after the beach or getting ready for the night out under the stars.
This post covers some of my faithful choice Mediterranean-inspired perfumes. They are scents to escape with and to recall sweet memories when you return home, and help you relive that relaxed, do anything, do nothing island vibe.
So, I’ve chosen some mainstream and designer brands but perhaps scents in their ranges that you might overlook as their latest launches are usually those marketed more prominently at point of sale. These to my nose are more the timeless scents of summer that won’t fail you and can transition from day poolside or beach bar to evenings under the stars. I hope you enjoy my edit of Mediterranean perfumes for summer living.
Our own signature scent Acqua di Olentium is the Mediterranean in a bottle. I chose citrus tops notes, a floral heaart of jasmine and orange blossom, and white musk, aged cedar and amber as the dry down. It is a blurr of Mediterranean islands I have loved visiting and lived on; all islands and none in particular. The Mediterranean incarnate.
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Mediterranean Perfumes Edit for a Summer Vibe
With 40 years between them, these two Lancôme fragrances prove that citrus and summer are inseparable and stand the test of time. Both are extremely good value at around €30-€35 for 75ml eau de toilette. At that price, they can be liberally sprayed, almost cologne-style, and you won’t have to worry about using them up on holiday.
Ô de Lancôme, eponymous since its birth in 1969, is the more bitter and aromatic take on a refreshing citrus summer scent with its notes of rosemary and basil in the heart, along with vetiver in the base. It is top heavy on citrus with lemon, bergamot and tangerine giving an immediate cool blast that you would expect of a Mediterranean perfume.
I wouldn’t quite call Ô d’Azur a flanker though its name suggests that. It starts with citrus but is angled to a more delicate, soft woodsy heart with a hint of pink pepper to up the pizzazz. The gentler, lighter, warm rosiness of this fragrance makes it particularly suited to day to night wear. No need to take two fragances on holiday with this in your case.
Lancôme’s World of Ô includes a third French Riviera-inspired fragrance Ô de l’Orangerie. All three are gorgeous, light, easy-go-happy Mediterranean perfumes. What’s not to like?
There is the classic first edition of this, and now the re-issued version of Sicily, the Perfume. Which of course means there are aficionados of the original and scepticism about the newly-arrived edition. Laced with aldehydes and sporting a citrus, heliotrope, banana, orange blossom and honeysuckle opening and jasmine-rose heart, Sicily embodies core scents that denote the island itself. In contrast to the two Ô de Lancôme fragrances, Sicily is a classier act and more suited, baggage allowing, to sultry Mediterranean summer evenings. I can’t quite understand why D&G would have ever discontinued this fragrance as it’s made for summer and can push to autumnal wear as it captures Mediterranean scents in a headier, more powerful sillage.
It is hard to choose a favourite cologne from Aqua di Parma, whose Blu edition scents and regular ‘colonia’ are all easy-going, relaxed options to accompany a Mediterranean vacation. I guess I still love the first I ever bought especially as I’d just visited the chic and secluded Aeolian island of Panarea off Sicily’s north-eastern coast. The fragrance opens with traditional bergamot- and myrtle-laced top notes, followed by a no-surprises rose and jasmine heart and leaning to a cedarwood, amber base. There is nothing more evocative of a Mediterranean shoreline and nothing to offend or startle with this fragrance nor with most of the Blu range. But, summer is for relaxed scent spritzing and Aqua di Parma fulfills that on my holiday scent wishlist. Aqua do handy travel sizes too.
“A fruity fougere reminiscent of seaside air” is how Miller Harris bill this one. However, I don’t detect it the same way. It eschews the habitual citrus (the MH range also has Citron-Citron you can try) but the scent is based more on aromatic, woody-herbal combination of accords which for some, veer on the masculine. If the typical citrus into floral heart is getting a little too predictable in summer scents, then give L’Eau Magnetic a try. Its dry down of bourbon vanilla, tonka and tobacco might seem more winter-oriental scent but with some skin heat in summer, those base notes take a different turn, and help anchor the top-notes of citrus that feature in this fragrance.
Jo Malone is an airport duty-free staple these days and much the same could be said for the signature cologne in the range – Lime, Basil & Mandarin. If you are lost among the testers and time is pressing, you can’t go wrong with this choice among Jo Malone colognes. Most of the range sport two key notes on the scent name, such as Wood Sage & Sea Salt or Oud & Bergamot. But this aromatic-citrus threesome, while seeming a pedestrian combination of notes, is really well put together and effortless to wear in a hot climate. Scent critic and scientist Luca Turin has been less effusive about Jo Malone colognes in recent years, but Lime, Basil & Mandarin has a special place in his heart; he describes it as “Simply wonderful. A bracing, rich citrus accord with the intriguing grass-and-mint smell of basil, clear and bright as a morning after rain”. As I said, a clear winner in the suitcase on a hot summer vacay.
I am a huge fan of Jean-Claude Ellena’s work as resident in-house perfumer at Hermès in the noughties. I adore watery, ozonic fragrances and he excelled in creating them with a twist. We aren’t talking Eau d’Issey clones here. Some critics said he perhaps became too typecast in creating these elusive, ephemeral scents (some didn’t have great lasting power). The Jardin series has its highs and lows and Un Jardin en Méditerranée – along with Un Jardin en Nil are my two go-to’s for a Mediterranean summer irrespective of the marketing ploy in the names.
Based on notions of a Tunisian Mediterranean garden of a friend of the perfumer, the scent is fig and citrus with a waft of oleander; the latter grows in profusion in even the hottest, driest Mediterranean climates and flowers in abundance. This is of course a total fantasy accord as fig is not available in naturals and oleander is actually a poisonous plant! But, they conjure up the idea of gentle green sweetness and archetypal Mediterranean landscapes. They are the only plants to actually thrive in drought, as I can attest to from 25 years gardening in Malta.
As to its scent, well, I don’t really detect fig, or rather fig leaf which is impossible to smell unless you are eating overripe fruit or crumple up a really fresh leaf. But there is a salty-citrus accord in there and also a gentle floral note. It is perfect as a watery, light, comforting summer scent that you can throw on and go anywhere. With its woody drydown, it might make a warm autumn fragrance choice too.