There is nothing that takes you back in time like a scent. While I have always been a loyalist to my go-to perfume year-round (Gucci Bloom, a white floral) and even bought a baby-sized one to stash in my toiletry bag, a friend of mine once told me she always tries a new fragrance when she embarks on a new vacation. She reasons that every time she smells it, she’s reminded of that time. On my first-ever trip to Tuscany, Italy I decided to try out her method of memory-keeping, in the form of a new fragrance inspired by the very region I was going to: Acqua di Parma’s Cipresso di Toscana.
The newly launched eau de toilette borrows from the Tuscan landscape, with green base notes of cypress trees (which line all the winding roads to homes atop vineyards), fir balsam, and pine needles. Top notes of orange, star anise, and elemi are meant to capture the refreshing breeze that hits the Tuscan hills while heart notes of lavender and sage add a floral aroma. I wore it everyday on my five-day adventure, which included pasta-making in a farm, exploring the hidden streets of walled, ancient cities like Siena and San Gimignano, roaming through wineries (and gulping Super Tuscans), dipping in infinity pools a la Priyanka Chopra, and finding peace in endless views of all the rolling hills.
It’s been over a month since I was in Tuscany, but I still wear Cipresso di Toscana (and, in fact, have multiple iterations of the scent like hand soap and shower gel. I really can’t get enough). Every time I catch of whiff of cypress, I’m brought back to my brief Diane Lane/Under the Tuscan Sun moment and I can’t help but be happy.
With that in mind, I decided to ask fragrance experts Matthew Milèo and Mindy Yang for their recommendations on how best to pair your fragrance to your travel destination. Going somewhere tropical? Yachting in the Mediterranean? Hiking up on a remote mountain? We cover it all.
Skip to your destination: Tropical | Mountains | Mediterranean | Big City | Wine Country | The Desert | New England
Location: The Caribbean, French Polynesia, Tulum, Hawaii
Activities include: Beach bumming, cocktails by the pool, watching the sunset
“When I think of vacationing in the tropics I always look for a fragrance that finds the perfect balance between something fresh and something sweet,” says Matthew Milèo, founder of Milèo and former in-house beauty and fragrance expert at Chanel. “One that will also hold up well to the heat and humidity—you’re probably gonna sweat, but that doesn’t mean you want to stink. The fragrance needs to be strong enough to banish BO, and still remain breezy fresh throughout the beach bumming vacay.”
He suggests looking for notes of ylang ylang, jasmine, may rose, yellow mandarin, monarda flower, and magnolia blossom for “a sweetly lush, exquisitely fresh, and exotic fragrance.”
Mindy Yang, founder and CEO of Perfumarie, also suggests florals. Her pick for this type of locale is L’Arc Balade Tiare de Tahiti Eau de Parfum, which “captures the spell of the incredibly fragrant tiaré or gardenia in the magical island of Tahiti. Tangerine with hints of honeysuckle and a whiff of rose are escorted by jasmine and peony to augment this feminine concoction to take it to a level rarely touched,” she says.
Location: Banff/Canadian Rockies, Yellowstone, Peru
Activities include: Adventure sports, hiking, and lots of nature
“The open mountain air should inspire one to wear a relaxing earthy scent that may also double as a protectant—woody notes are highly meditative during nature walks while keeping the insects at bay,” Milèo says. Think sandalwood, agarwood, greenheart wood, cypress, and cedarwood as well as green notes like violet leaf, geranium absolute, and zdravets flower. These “zen” notes tend to be found in unisex fragrances and “can be shared with the ones around you regardless of gender.”
Yang also suggests to go for something woody and outdoorsy, like Zoologist Beaver, because it will “transport you to a cozy, family lodge. Leathery hints of musky castoreum mingle with moist, woody notes of freshly hewn timber, resulting in an elegant, dapper fragrance inspired by nature and the rugged outdoors,” she explains. The fragrance also has notes of leather, amber, heavy musk, damp air, wood shavings, and wild vegetation.
Location: French Riviera (St Tropez, Antibes), Italian Riviera (Capri), Greek Islands (Mykonos, Santorini)
Activities include: Gorgeous blue seas, cliffside sunsets, yachting through grottos
Milèo emphasizes that the Mediterranean is known for its deep blue oceans, white architecture, colorful sunsets, and fresh, salty air. “There is a chic casualness about it—maybe because it’s a destination for friends and lovers. I don’t think anyone goes here alone, and if they did, they certainly aren’t leaving alone,” he says. “I find wearing a scent that is fresh yet captivating works best here. Nothing florally intense or heady.” He suggests aquatic florals like white lotus, pink lotus, sweet woods like blue cypress and siam wood, and herbaceous notes like blue tansy and yarrow flower with a bit of citrus like bergamot.
“My friends over at Nobile 1942 are competitive sailors that live in Genoa and Monaco. This multi-generation perfumer family created a great unisex scent called Acqua Nobile,” Yang says, describing the fragrance as “sporty, fresh, olfactive of another level.” She continues, “It takes me back to a happy week in Cannes, sipping gin and tonics al fresco by the sea.”
Location: Paris, New York, London, Mexico City
Activities include: Lots of sightseeing, rooftop bars, and late nights out
Miléo says he always brings multiple fragrances because you never know what to expect in a big city, but if you have to choose one he suggests a gourmand fragrance. “Thick, big city air is more polluted and humid than the open air destinations on this list,” he says. “There is also huge olfactory competition when it comes the amount of restaurants, bakeries, and candy stores that there are in such a small amount of space, so your fragrance has to compete with all of that, among other people’s fragrances, and nothing does it better than a sweet and spicy oriental floral.”
He also suggests base notes of saffron, vanilla, immortelle flower, vetiver, and tonka bean. Tuberose, genet flower, frangipani, fresh ginger, and pink pepper are other notes to keep an eye out for.
Yang picked out a fragrance that pays homage to one city in particular: New York. In the ’90s, specifically. Times Square by Masque Milano is meant to capture pre-Giuliani era NYC. “Inspired by glossy neon-light lipstick, street food, tuberose, and hot rubber, this eccentric nuanced scent is inspired by “smells of the city” of a decade gone by. It contains hazelnut, osmanthus, tuberose, sandalwood, gajacwood, styrax, and something called a “glossy lipstick accord.”
Locations: Napa, Sonoma
Activities include: Vineyard hopping, indulgent meals
Miléo grew up in Northern California and made frequent visits to Napa and Sonoma Valley, so if anyone knows what wine country smells like, it’s him. “I’ll never forget that perfect environment of humid-less air with morning fog that dissipates in the never too-hot shimmering sun. I think the reason why people flock to Napa is because there is a perfect duo of dry weather and rich scenery, so why not replicate that combination into a fragrance bottle,” he suggests. “A sweet, fruity floral with notes of crisp cognac and honeyed apricot are ideal here to create a dry and fatty duality in a fragrance.” He suggests also looking for green cognac, osmanthus blossom, aglaia flower, and neroli flower.
Yang’s go-to fragrance for this type of trip is a “boozy and beachy blend of pink wine and warm sandy beaches,” Rosé by Dandy Parfums. It is an “airy, pure grassy scent with subtle spicy nuances reminiscent of a summer day in Fire Island” (where they also have vineyards). Other notes in the scent are rose, geranium, neroli, green pomegranate, and apple.
Locations: Marrakech, Palm Springs, Atacama, Jordan
Activities include: Meditating, pool-side yoga, reading
“Glorious and promising like the sunset, Ambre Nomade by Elisire is a prismatic and endlessly ambrosial scent reminiscent of an exotic journey to the orient,” Yang says of her desert fragrance pick. “Exotic ylang ylang from Madagascar glistens amid a radiant combination of apple, apricot, ginger and natural aromatics, rosemary, lavender and sage.”
Milèo says when he thinks of wearing a scent in the desert, he thinks of wearing something “cool.” Translation: “mostly mossy woods, smooth florals with a delicate mintiness.”
“Selecting a dewy fragrance can really add a sense of balance to an already extremely arid environment,” he says. “You also want something that can transition from the daytime heat to a cozy evening.” Other notes he recommends are oakmoss, patchouli, ambrette, narcissus flower, lavender, orange blossom, and plai root.
Location: Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod
Activities include: Boating, fishing, clambakes
Go preppy from head to toe—including your scent. Yang suggests Cotton by Borelli, the “snowy white shirt” of fragrances. It evokes both luxury and comfort with clary sage, anise, and a woody-amber base. Other notes include bergamot, rose, lavender, oakmoss, musk, vanilla, and vetiver. “The universal fabric is at the very root of the Luigi Borrelli brand’s DNA is reinterpreted into an all-purpose scent that wears gently on the skin,” she adds.
“The thing with New England is that there are a lot of different things to do, from lakes to beaches and boating to fishing, so you want to wear a very versatile scent that you can take along for any type of ride,” Milèo says. “The air is also a little stickier being more humid, so I find that soft, powdery florals with nuances of citrus work best here; mimosa flower is the perfect balance of powdery floral meets freshly cut grass scent.”
Ginger lily, sweet cassie, pink champaca, orris root, palo santo wood, and resins of elemi and frankincense (both contain balsamic citrus notes) are Milèo’s other suggestions. Lemon balm is also a good pick because it lasts a lot longer and can “come in handy on those fishy boating trips,” he says.