Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Making soap in Marseille

Make your own soap at this tiny shop near the Old Port of Marseille, where soapmaking has been a tradition for hundreds of years.

The mistral, which roars across the south of France, is credited for the clear and sunny climate of Provence and the magical quality of light that has long been appreciated and captured by generations of artists.
It’s typically a weather phenomenon of fall and winter, but when we experienced it in September we were told it can happen any time. High pressure over the mountains to the north funnels down the Rhone River valley to the Mediterranean creating cooler 45 t0 60 mph northwest mistral winds.

When Van Gogh worked in Arles he depicted the wind by showing closely planted cypress trees protecting farmers’ fields from the mistral’s fury. He was said to love painting outdoors, even during the mistral. He put his canvases on the ground so he could work while holding them in place with his knees and defeat the wind.
The mistral also is credited with Marseille becoming known for its soap making — begun when it supplied soap to the soldiers of the Crusades.

"The wind makes our skin dry so we have always made soap from olive oil,” said Jean-Baptiste Jaussaud, as he welcomed our small group into his La Grande Savonnerie, a small shop near the old port of Marseille. By 1786 the city had 48 soap makers producing 76,000 tons of soap and sending it all over the world.

As we learned about the history of soap making here, we each had the opportunity to press out our own bar of soap with the city’s name “MARSEILLE” impressed into its surface. The shop also gives classes in natural cleaning products and natural cosmetic products.
Most of us also bought colorful soaps to scent our luggage and take home as gifts.
Details: La Grand, Savonnerie,  36 Grand Rue 13002 Marseille, France. Book a workshop at 339-5063-8035 or email

I'm now working on  the Nov. 10 Travel section, much of which will be framed around my rail trip from Paris to Provence. This and other blogs will give you some of the back story.


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