Provence: Famous for its lavender, its painters and that one herb in the spice rack that smells really nice. Yet France's most southeasterly region has more to offer the world than timeless art and famous cuisine. Thanks to Olivier Baussan, who opened the first L'Occitane en Provence in 1980, the essence of the province has been preserved and bottled for those of us still chapped from a long winter.
This body care/fragrance boutique is all about authenticity, respect and pleasing the senses, and walking into the new location at Hilldale Mall, I got doses of all three. The older, aproned women working the floor offered to assist me before I even got a good look at the elegant space, and I was intoxicated by how wonderful everything smelled. From the olive body milk ($22) to the tin of honey incense sticks ($16), each product had a fresh, clean scent - the polar opposite of many a mall fragrance store, where I tend to walk out smelling like a fruit basket dunked in gin.
L'Occitane has products for men, women and home - not to mention a bear-shaped bar of honey soap ($7) that is perfect for the reluctant preteen bather. Now that bare legs are in season, women will love the Ruban d'Orange soft skin scrub ($34) that is made with sugar, sweet almond and apricot oil. Older dames may go for the Brightening Renewing Serum (1 oz/$50) as the Provenale answer to Botox.
Not to be left out, my boyfriend got a kick out of the 19th-century romanticism behind the traditional men's shaving kit ($90) with a beechwood brush that gives a good lather. Did he buy it? Of course not. But for a second he was transported across the Atlantic, to a time and place where he would use it in a blink. Boutique shopping that bends the space-time continuum - not a bad experience, indeed.
L'Occitane en Provence
Hilldale Mall, 638 N. Midvale Blvd., 608-233-1642
11 am-6 pm Sun., 10 am-9 pm Mon.-Sat.