Up in the hills to the north of Nice, not far from Cannes, this lovely town (UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage) is an incredibly popular destination for those holidaying in the French Riviera region. Grasse has been synonymous with perfumery since the 16th century, and it is still home to around 30 makers, a few of which – like Fragonard, Molinard, and Galimard– offer guided tours of their factories, and the chance to hone your olfactory skills.
The art of making scents
From the production of the natural raw material to the manufacturing of extract – all the knowledge and technology of perfumery (as well as the best maisons) can be found here today.
Fragonard is the most conveniently and centrally located; an elegant, late 17th-century country house harbouring works by the famous painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard and his descendants, where you can learn everything about the art of making scents, attending interesting workshops and creating your own perfume, too. Molinard, based in a building designed by Gustave Eiffel is a short walk from the old town and offers a one-of-a-kind sensory experience. With the help of their experts, in a cocoon of creativity reserved for you alone, you can choose from nearly 100 essences to compose a personalized 90 ml bottle of your fragrance.
To visit Galimard – founded in 1747 and considered one of Europe’s oldest perfumeries -, you have to rent a car. Here, with the experienced guidance of their perfume specialists, you will be given a lively, entertaining and professional tour where you will discover their Antique Machinery Museum and their extraordinary collector’s pieces, as well as the secrets of the fragrance creative process.
To learn more about the history of perfume, you can then head to the International Perfume Museum (MIP), which explores the global history of perfume. There’s plenty to see and experience here: ancient artefacts, 4,000 perfume flacons, fragrance stations, and even Marie Antoinette’s travel case. What’s more, a rooftop garden introduces visitors to the Mediterranean flowers and plants.
Of course, Grasse life doesn’t revolve around perfumery only. When you’ve had enough of smelling amazing scents, take a stroll along the narrow streets of the old city boasting buildings from the 17th to the 18th century. Rue Jean Ossola is the main artery of Grasse, from which various alleys and stairways lead off, but don’t miss a walk from Place Aux Aires down the sloping Rue Amiral de Grasse where you can indulge in a little retail therapy at the artisan shops, antique dealers, and clothes stores. Stop at one of the outdoor cafés, boulangeries or restaurants and try the local speciality, la fougassette, the orange-scented pastry and one of the region’s specialities. If you need a quick rest, around the Notre Dame Du Pay Cathedral, you will find a small park with chairs and magazines.
The Jasmine Festival
Magnificent gardens and flowers are everywhere — from the osmanthus that grows on the hedges to streaming bougainvillaea dangling from provencal balconies, all the way to the occasional wayside rose shrub. However, Grasse owes a lot to the jasmine flower and expresses its thanks in ebullient style at the annual Jasmine Festival, held on the first weekend of August. The Festival opens with fireworks on a Friday night and builds to the flower parade on the Saturday evening when “Miss Grasse” and her “princesses”, throw flowers and spray jasmine water onto the crowds from one of 12 garishly decorated floats. Street artists, brass bands and folk dancing enliven the festivities.
Where to Sleep
Moulin Sainte Anne is one of Grasse’s most popular choices, this wonderfully restored B&B is set in an old olive mill. With large rooms (all with garden views) and a guest pool, it’s a perfect choice for lazy mornings or relaxing after a day’s exploring.
Where to Eat
For light lunch or an afternoon snack, pop into Les Delicatesses de Grasse (3 Place aux Aires). For a proper meal, head to the Michelin Restaurant Au Fil Du Temps (very creative and delicious cuisine).