My Favorite Souvenir from New Orleans Is a Smell

If you can’t move into a hotel, you can at least smell like one.

Hotel Peter & Paul Elysian Bar Lounge
Photo: Cedric Angeles

Walking into Hotel Peter & Paul in New Orleans’ Marigny neighborhood, it’s hard to not be overtaken by the beauty and grandness of the place, which is a beautifully restored 19th-century Catholic church, schoolhouse, convent, and rectory. There’s a stunning pair of wood staircases, a parlor swathed in yards of gingham fabric, a tiny jewel box of a bar that feels like discovering a wonderful surprise. But the main thought that went through my mind was: “This place smells GOOD.”

For the entire weekend I stayed there, I inhaled deeply and often—in the lobby, my room, the café, the bathroom. I probably looked like I was hyperventilating, but I couldn’t get enough of that incredible aroma. It was peppery and warm, but with deep wood and clean floral notes—a complex scent that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Maybe it had something to do with the age of the building? Layers of incense in the walls from decades of Catholic mass?

I had to find out, so I headed to the little boutique just outside the hotel. Owned by artist and New Orleans native Candais Smith, Iris 1956 is mostly a showcase for her exquisite hand-crafted necklaces, rings, earrings, and other types of jewelry. There’s also a small rack of clothing and a few thoughtfully chosen items for sale, like face oils and books. The store, which Candais named after her mother, has a welcoming, personal feel, even to an out-of-towner like me.

I spied two glass bottles of perfume on the counter. “Excuse me? Do either of these smell like the hotel?” I asked, hoping she couldn’t see the desperation in my eyes. To my delight, one of them was a very close match: Cactus Flower, by Philadelphia-based company Dilo. The elements of the fragrance were listed on the packaging: Agave, Black Pepper, Yuzu, Cactus Flower, Jade, Moringa, Patchouli and Redwood. Heavenly. One spritz, and I handed over my credit card.

My entire stay at Hotel Peter and Paul felt dreamy. And now I can easily transport to New Orleans and that vacation state of mind.

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