Fragrances have a very special effect. They evoke images in the mind’s eye and trigger memories: The smell of sunscreen wafting through the air can make us feel the warmth of summer on our skin, and the fragrance of roses conjures up memories of a garden bench where, as children, we once loved to sit on grandpa’s lap.
Odors are unique, emotional and evocative. They can transport us to another world. Or even to another country. “I decided to use aromas that remind us of alpine air and pure glacier water,” says Brigitte Schulthess, the biologist and fragrance expert who developed a special scent for the Swiss Hotel Group Swissôtel to evoke a distinctive alpine atmosphere in all of its hotels and resorts from Amsterdam to Istanbul.
Of course, all of the essences that go into that fragrance come directly from Switzerland, where nine highly motivated farmers from the Berne region grows herbs and trees from which they extract the essential oils – to date, a unique project for the hotel industry. The idea came to the men one night when they were sitting together in the sauna discussing the future of Swiss agriculture. They reasoned that in addition to cultivating crops and fattening pigs, they should attempt something new. The fragrant sauna infusion inspired them to try growing herbs. And why not do their own distilling and produce the essential oils themselves, too? They dreamed of flowering landscapes with fragrant fields of lavender and beds of herbs – of creating a Swiss Provence, in fact.
So they researched the best ways to cultivate lemon balm, yarrow, hyssop and clary sage and started to grow them in 2005. In addition, they bought a small distillation unit and step by step, taught themselves how to get the best results. They called their small local company “Suissessences.”
“I was very surprised when I first heard about it,” says Brigitte Schulthess, who has supported Suissessences from the beginning and is still responsible for blending its essential oils today. “Essential oils from Switzerland – no one had done that before.” The economic conditions and the climate were really not in their favor, though. “Switzerland’s natural resources are limited,” Schulthess explains. “We don’t have any of the typical scented plants, such as roses and citrus fruits, here.” An alpine climate supports the growth of softwoods like spruce, Douglas fir and white pine, as well as clary sage, Elsie’s lavender and lemon balm, so the focus tends to be on fragrances that are fresh, light, clear and tangy. According to Schulthess, “they embody Switzerland’s down-to-earth mentality, cleanliness and love of nature.” The Swissôtel fragrance is extremely popular in Asian and Arab countries. Swissôtel guests in Singapore and Istanbul are delighted when a faint breath of alpine air and timber chalets wafts through the rooms, and when their shampoo smells of mountain herbs, instead of the heavy, floral scents that general surround them.
Fragrances that are fresh, light, clear and tangy embody Switzerland’s down-to-earth mentality, cleanliness and love of nature.
Swissôtel heard about the innovative farmers’ cooperative back in 2010, and the two have been collaborating ever since. But Suissessences’ blends of essential oils don’t just feature in the room fragrance but under the name of “Pürovel,” (loosely translated from Switzerland’s fourth language, Romansh, as “calmly flowing mountain stream,” are also used in the complimentary soaps, shampoos, shower gels and lotions provided in the rooms. Spa guests, too, can relax with a signature massage treatment using herb and timber extracts grown in Switzerland’s alpine garden. What’s more, the products are themed by the seasons and their characteristics: Spring stands for renewal, summer for activity, fall for relaxation, and winter for tranquility.
The nine Swiss farmers have now been pursuing their project with the utmost care for more than ten years, weeding by hand rather than using herbicides. They also wait for the plants to reach full bloom and their full aromatic intensity before picking them and taking them to Christoph Hess, the member of the cooperative responsible for distillation. Christoph, 28, a young man with a soft smile and strong hands, only recently took over the farm from his father, who was a member of the original group of farmer’s in the sauna, who came up with the idea for Suissessences. Christoph now shares his father’s enthusiasm for the innovative company. He regards Suissessences as an example of how farmers can shape a positive and innovative future for themselves: “I find it fascinating that we are producing essential oils from Switzerland, all organically grown and processed. It’s the right way to go: back to nature.”