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Memorable smells in Europe

During the C-19 lockdown there have been a lot of posts with visual and audible reminders of Europe (drone videos, links to musical and artistic events...). What about smells?

I was out with the dogs early this morning in the cool humid air, and the faint smell of yesterdays burnt grass reminded me of a similar smell in the rural parts of northern Romania in the Fall. I think the burning in Romania was actually from peat, so it had more of an earthy smokey smell. For some reason, I remember the oily smell of home heating oil in the stony courtyard of our rental in Vernazza years ago. Or the persistent sewage smell in the bathroom of our top floor room at a B&B in Betws-y-Coed, and - surprisingly - on the streets of some major European cities. Or the sharp acrid smell of coal fires, also in Romania. I don't know if this was from home or industrial use or power generation but the smoke in the air was blue. So, not all have been good.

What are your memories?

Posted by
5298 posts

Peter, I'm not saying I miss it, but the smell of diesel exhaust always makes me think of Europe. The smell of cold damp vegetation makes me think of England.

Posted by
4245 posts

Coal heating in Poland in the 70s and 80s. And the smell of diesel always sends me back to my trip to the Soviet Union in 1968, as well as my trips to Poland.

Most people wouldn't consider these good smells, but to me they're very evocative.

Posted by
6331 posts

Lemons, either in Capri or Sorrento (or both)
I also love the smell of the woods in Poland, where I grew up

Posted by
4062 posts

Sewage. The smell of sewage in many major European cities, particularly Southern European ones. That and fumes from vehicles.

Posted by
1930 posts

The sweet smell of orange blossoms in April along the Costa del Azahar (literally Orange Blossom Coast), just north of Valencia.

Posted by
2238 posts

Visiting wineries in France and Italy. Experiencing the process and then being rewarded with smell of the bouquet & taste of the end product. Also enjoying the smell of the Bruschetta with tomatoes and heavenly basil in Italy. Cheers!

Posted by
61 posts

I second the smell of diesel. Also the smell of those French cigarettes in every train station in Europe, Gitanes, I think. Very distinctive and very unlike American cigarettes. That's a memory from my first trip to Europe in 1976, when everyone was still smoking everywhere.

Posted by
7732 posts

Staying in a B&B in Bayeux where they also made Calvados. The aroma infused the entire house. Pretty unique.

The aroma at any Xmas market, it is a mix of the cloves used in Glühwein, the smell of roast chestnuts, and the smoke coming from the bratwurst stands and their swinging grills.

Posted by
1179 posts

Paris has a rather memorable smell, but not in a good way. Rather nicer is the blossom in Sevilla in early Spring and wafts from pizza ovens in Naples. Freshly mown grass reminds me of village cricket.

Posted by
24193 posts

The winter smell of coal smoke in small English villages and towns immediately transports me back to my childhood.

The smell of coal and steam from a steam engine take me back to my years of working on steam trains volunteering on the Severn Valley Railway.

If I smell wood smouldering and smoking from friction I get taken back to San Francisco and riding on the outside of cable cars which was my way to get to work for a few months many years ago.

Posted by
418 posts

We lived about 30 miles out of Frankfurt for 13 years. What smells? Driving to work in the summer with the top down on the Jeep and the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven of the local bakery. Walking through our neighborhood on a Sunday and smelling a melange of taste from all the meals in the numerous ovens. Finally a sound.....we walked on a ridge line above the Rhein valley and at about 1100 on a Sunday there was a Doppler effect that resulted in being able to hear dozens of bells ringing from churches for miles around. can find things like this anywhere, if you relax and search for it. Skip all the must do and don’t miss stops and sights and you can find those memories.

Posted by
4880 posts

I am with JC, wandering through ancient streets is not complete without a whiff of sewer gas here and there. It does not matter where I am at, one smell and I think of Europe.

Posted by
617 posts

Riding a scooter on Samos years ago (to and from a conference), in the morning especially there was the most wonderful smell of some kind of herb that apparently grows wild. That may be my dominant memory of the place, which was memorable in several (good) ways.

Posted by
31111 posts


Good topic! Where to begin.....

One experience that evokes memories of Europe is wandering about one part of downtown Vernon that has a number of restaurants in close proximity. The potpourri of odours reminds me of wandering through the streets of Italian cities in the morning as Chefs start to prepare their daily fare.

Another memory is the freshness of the morning air here on some occasions, especially just after a rainfall. It reminds me of the air in the Berner Oberland in the morning, which sometimes prompts me to start looking at flight schedules. Of course the morning air I'm referring to is that which exists under normal circumstances and not during a bad fire year.

Posted by
1674 posts

Yes, diesel. Our first trip was 1972, and many, many years later I was in stalled traffic behind a bus and was instantly transported back decades. It’s said smell is our oldest sense, and perhaps most closely associated with memory. So stop and smell the roses, too.

Posted by
1018 posts

The smell of fresh baked bread from my local (currently closed) bakery and the smell of roasted chicken from a local small shop (luckily still open) bring me back to Paris every time.

Posted by
3360 posts

Diesel: I barely notice it, probably because we have a diesel truck.

Bad smells:
1. The sherry vats (?) at the factory on the Best of Spain in 14 Days tour. I don't know why it bothered me so, but I found it intolerable. I had to leave the group in the first room of the factory, go outside and sit in the fresh air, then join them in the tasting room. The smell there wasn't bad. I don't drink and I've been to a variety of alcohol producing and tasting venues on RS tours, but none stank like that one.
2. Sewer gas, of course.

Good smells:
1. Coffee in Italy. After the RS Village Italy tour I bought a Bialetti Moka Express pot and I make coffee in it every day.
2. Coffee in France.
3. Coffee (Jacobs) in Germany. The best drip coffee I've ever had.
4. Roasting Nürnberger bratwurst in Nürnberg.
5. Cheese in the Netherlands.
6. Roasting chickens in Paris.
7. Croissants fresh out of the oven at 0:dark:30 in a tiny bakery across the road from the train station in Hendaye, France.
8. One non-food one. Incense at midnight mass Christmas Eve 1977, St. Peter's Basilica. Anytime I'm at a place where incense is burning, I'm transported back to that absolutely unforgettable experience.

Posted by
11 posts

The intoxicating fragrance of leather emanating from all the small shops in Venice on my first trip there.
And yes, I did purchase a belt, seldom worn but still conjures up that memory.
Hoping for a trip back next year.

Posted by
96 posts

Piss and vomit - Paris subway. That’s from 10 yrs ago so I’m hoping that’s changed.

Most recently (last month), the acrid scent of marijuana in Amsterdam. Many people associate cheese with the Netherlands but I always think of weed, esp when I remember our walks.

Posted by
195 posts

Fresh fish in the street markets of Paris; that rare and heavenly aroma of warm, freshly baked croissants in a small French bakery; the deep all-enveloping smell of rich cocoa as you enter a chocolate shop; the moist-musty aroma that strengthens as you walk deeper into a 300-plus-year-old cathedral; the heady perfume smell that grabs you every time you walk past a flower shop with its blooms crowding the sidewalk.

Posted by
3542 posts

Rosebud, i’m not certain about Paris these days, but urine and vomit are definitely present if you’re in Dublin’s Temple Bar at the wrong time - after 10 pm in summer.

Much more pleasant, Lavender = Provence, France !

Posted by
7732 posts

Staying in Agadir in Morocco for 2 weeks, we hired a taxi to drive us around for the day. He took us out to a workshop where they made items out of cedarwood. Walking into this place was like heaven for me. I adore the smell of cedarwood and here I was, completely surrounded and immersed in it. One of the highlights of our trip there, and every time I open one of my little cedar boxes, the aroma wafting out reminds me of the fun we had.

Posted by
872 posts

I once did a cycling tour through Tuscany in June...... the smells of the countryside while cycling are still vivid. The hay fields, the forests, even the horse poop all smelled fantastic! 😂

Posted by
1865 posts

Roasting chestnuts everywhere (even though I don't particularly care for them) and Italian food in nearly any Italian city or village. These aromas always make me feel happy!

Posted by
420 posts

Wow - interesting thread. I had to think about this a bit. Outdoor smells include diesel fumes in cities and towns throughout Europe, coal fires in southern Germany, peat fires in Ireland, the smell of cold, clean air on glaciers in Austria. Indoor smells include baked bread from all the wonderful bakeries everywhere, the smell of beer in pubs and taverns, wonderful melted cheese from raclette in Austria and Bavaria.

Posted by
1436 posts

One very special to me is the smell of Trabant motors (Zweitakter) because that was the first impression on Nov 9 1989 when I was coming out of an Italian restaurant and recognising that there is something different. Few moments later I saw Trabants with GDR car plates driving on Kurfürstendamm and could not believe it. This smell brings tears into my eyes remebering unforgettable days of opening the Berlin Wall. And it still worked 30 years later: Last November they made a car demo in East Berlin and only by smelling it my eyes had tears.

I like to add also the smell of salt in the air at very windy days along the North Sea shore in Denmark and Norway. You will never forget that one.

Very much liked in northern Germany is the beautiful smell of yellow flowering rape in May.

There are even more coming to my mind but these are the mos remarkable for me.

Posted by
1150 posts

This maybe more of a state of air than a small, though it did smell.

I'll never forget the beautiful fresh cool air in Switzerland as we boarded a train to Italy. When we stepped off the train in Milan we thought we had entered a pollution sauna.

Posted by
136 posts

The smell of mint brings me back to the leather tanneries in Fez, Morocco. As we entered the tannery and climbed the stairs to the observation deck we were handed a generous supply of mint. We stuffed our nostrils with the mint leaves to lessen the putrid smell of the tanning pits (where they use urine as part of the process). Mint also reminds me of the tea ceremony in a Berber family’s home.

Posted by
397 posts

Thanks for all of the interesting "smell" memories. I share some of them, but had forgotten about them; orange blossom, diesel exhaust, the curious mix of French cigarettes and perfume, fresh pizza from a wood oven, coffee (how could I forget to include THAT one??).

I've always wanted to experience the smell (and sight) of the Lavender fields in Provence but the timing for being there for that is poor at the moment (C-19 notwithstanding!) as my Summer business doesn't allow me the freedom to get away.

I'm thinking of starting a new post titled "Smells in Europe You Could Live Without". My first entry would be "...the putrid smell of the tanning pits (where they use urine as part of the process)" at tanneries in Morocco.

Posted by
24193 posts

My entry for the new topic would be the very “special” odour in Paris Metro Station tunnels, especially around Montparnasse. I see a theme developing here and it all has to do with certain bodily fluids.