Santal Nabataea by Mona di Orio

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. – Rumi

Notes: Black Pepper, Blackcurrant Leaf, Dried Apricot, Oleander, Opoponax, Clay, Sandalwood, Tonka Bean and Coffee Absolute,

Santal Nabataea captured me the moment I sprayed it. I’m grateful to Val the Cookie Queen for sharing her sample with me.

santal nab

Santal Nabataea is the last 2018 release from Mona di Orio. The perfumer is Fredrik Dalman who also composed Bohea Boheme and Suede de Suede for the same house. The fragrance was inspired by the ancient kingdom of Nabataea and its capital Petra, with its striking sandstone architecture.


This is not the sweetened, creamy Samsara-style sandalwood perfume you may be used to: it is something much more desiccated.

The blend of Australian and Indian sandalwood is the golden glow at its core. This is overlaid by cooling incense which is resinous rather than smoky, with a nice bite of bitter green astringency to it. This is enhanced by the presence of dusty black pepper – forever a favourite note of mine.

There is no clichéd spice market on display here or the heavy blanket of amber that is often used to underpin this kind of fragrance. The foundation is actually a savoury base of roasted coffee beans which works beautifully. Multi-layered like the various coloured strata of sandstone, it is a thoughtfully crafted composition which doesn’t use shortcuts to achieve its aim.

I hugely admire and own a bottle of Bois des Iles but I find Mona di Orio’s offering more to my current mood. Santal Nabataea is transporting and produces a meditative effect. In contrast to the plush, velvet effect of the Chanel, it’s sun-baked with a sandy texture that echoes the landscape of Petra. The aridity of it feels cleansing and it does possess an air of antiquity. While its approach to sandalwood is more pared down, it is no less luxurious.

Projection is moderate and lasting power is excellent for an EdP. Unlike a lot of traditional sandalwood fragrances which have a tendency to lean masculine, I find it completely gender neutral.


The Sufi order of Mevlevi was founded by the followers of the 13th century Persian poet and mystic, Rumi. The initiates are commonly known as Whirling Dervishes and are devoted to a life of austerity. Their whirling is part of a ceremony that puts them in a profound state of spiritual euphoria. Santal Nabataea is a whirling dervish in a bottle, spinning an aura on the skin that is not a little transcendent.

How do you feel about sandalwood fragrances? Do you like the sound of Santal Nabataea?



Filed under Perfume Reviews

29 responses to “Santal Nabataea by Mona di Orio

  1. Wow! This really sounds amazing. 🙂
    When it comes to sandalwood, I’m ambivalent, sometimes it suits me perfectly, sometimes it smells awful on me.
    But I’m a fan of MdO perfumes and enjoy them so I think this one would work for me beautifully (and those coffee beans you mention? yummy).


  2. Bloody Hell. I thought I had all the sandalwood I need. Tara you temptress. Wanting a bucket load of it right now.
    My other problem is still the bottle. I know they’re here to stay and that Russia loves them but I’m still not convinced.
    Portia xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love sandalwood perfumes and I do like the sound of Santal Nabataea! And I am very drawn to that temple in Petra and all the aspects it connotes which it seems this perfume perfectly captures. The perhaps odd reason being that it features in the Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, which I must have enjoyed. 😉


    • I would say it would equally suit someone drawn to incense perfumes, V.
      I love that reason! Really need to read some Agatha Christie this year. Let me know where to start.


    • crikey

      Ha! I just re-read that over the holidays. Also, one of Lindsey Davis’s hugely entertaining Falco novels is also set in Petra (and Palmyra)…have you read those?


  4. Tara C

    My feelings about sandalwood are similar to Ines, but as a lover of incense, I loved Santal Nabataea instantly and bought a bottle. Wish it projected more, but at least the longevity is good.


  5. Maya

    I keep thinking that sandalwood smelled so much better when I was a lot younger. Then I realized it did. It was Mysore. LOL. I went on a sandalwood perfume hunt recently and tried a lot. Some had a dill-like smell to them and others were boring. Finally found Fragrance du Bois Santal Complet and fell in love! I tried several MdO fragrances and sadly they left me cold.
    PS I always love seeing pictures of Petra.


  6. Maya

    Hi again. I forgot that I recently tried Goldfield and Banks White Sandalwood and it is very good – very different from Santal Complet so there is room for both. Yay! I have been having some great luck with perfume samples these last several months and I am extremely picky so most samples are fails.


    • Thanks for sharing your other sandalwood success. I’m very wary of buying sanples these days because of the high fail rate. Good to hear you’ve had a positive run.


  7. Tara, that sounds magnificent! I’m a fan of Mona Di Orio and I really can’t wait to try this one. Thanks for the great review!

    Tina G xx


  8. Beautiful review!

    I like sandalwood perfumes, and enjoyed testing this recent MdO’s one though I’m not sure I’d want to wear it often: I do prefer my perfumes a little more feminine. And you’re completely right about SN’d gender neutrality.


    • Thanks, Undina! I can see that it wouldn’t fit your usual style but good to hear you enjoyed testing it. The Mona di Orio collection is such high quality and stand out in the slew of often unexceptional niche houses.


  9. crikey

    I’ve been meaning to try this, but haven’t encountered it yet. Now I really want to! You lemming inducer, you!

    (It’s nice to see the image of the Monastery here, rather than Treasury–fewer people make it up there, as it’s about an hour’s walk from the main city, mostly up hill and up stairs, but more than worth the effort. I was lucky enough to get to spend three days exploring some of Petra a while back, as part of a longish wander around Syria and Jordan. Petra more than lived up to all the expectations I had piled up on it, since first deciding to visit since I was very young. )


  10. Loved reading your thoughts on this new addition to Maison MdO, Tara. It sounds like an original sandalwood creation so I will have to try this. There is a lovely Mona di Orio shop in Amsterdam so this would be a good reason to visit if one needs one. Nice addition, the devishes, I saw them many years ago, ravishing which makes me even more curious of Santal N.


  11. Hopefully,mother interwebs won’t swallow up this comment. Like you, I was smitten from the first sniff (from a split decant). I now have a FB! Your picture of Petra reminds me of Ephesus, another ancient kingdom.


  12. Amy

    I’ve been wearing this *a lot* so am with you all the way. I’m also a huge fan of Suede de Suede.


  13. Late but never mind …… I love your thoughts on this. It is a most unusual and enticing perfume. It smells so good on Chris, and he likes it. That goodness, he has been showing an unhealthy like for some weird oudy stuff, and I cannot bear it. SN is a lesson in sandalwood. Great stuff. xxxx


  14. Pingback: Meet the Perfumers: Photo Essay | A Bottled Rose

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