In Marseille, they’ve been making hard soap for 600 years. It’s fair to say no place is more obsessed with crafting perfect bars than France’s ‘second city’ on the Med. With eco-conscious consumers swapping plastic bottles for blocks of soap, Marseille’s love affair with suds has never been more on-trend.
For those interesting in its squeaky clean history, The Marseille Soap Museum chronicles the history of soap in Provence going back to the Middle Ages. Visitors are invited to slip into the shoes of an artisan soapmaker, learning about the manufacturing process, the tools of the trade and early advertising campaigns.
Best bar none
To continue your clean break, there’s also a guided tour of the world famous Marius Fabre factory where you can watch the company make soap and stamp your own bar before taking a few blocks home.
So what makes Savon de Marseille so special? It’s all down to the ingredients. The iconic cubes imprinted with the ‘Savon de Marseille’ name are pH neutral, have no additives, are naturally biodegradable and a wonder remedy for dry and sensitive skin.
“To be classified as Savon de Marseille, it should contain only vegetable oil, no animal fats or synthetic detergents, and no colours, fragrances or chemicals,” confirms Julie Bousquet Fabre, co-director of the Marius Fabre soapworks, where bars are made in a traditional way using a copper cauldron.
A family affair
Marius Fabre has been making soap the same way since 1900, when the company was founded by Fabre’s great, great grandfather, using the same huge cauldrons in its Salon-de-Provence factory.
Oil and soda are cooked for 10 days before being repeatedly washed, making it ‘extra-pure’, in Julie’s words, and resulting in a patented, ultra-moisturising olive-oil soap.
Oh, and it smells pretty great too.