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A Journey to Grasse: the Perfume Capital of the World

Category: Savoir Vivre | 06.9.2023

Nestled in the hills overlooking the French Riviera, Grasse offers a tranquil escape from the glitz and glamour of the coast. Here, cobbled towns and winding streets are the norm, and the air is refreshingly cool. The scenery is picturesque, with rolling hills and fields of flowers providing a feast for the senses. If you’re looking for a peaceful retreat that’s still within easy reach of the hustle and bustle of the coast, we invite you to take a journey to Grasse: the perfume capital of the world.

Grasse, once upon a time, was the capital of leather

In the 12th century, tanners established themselves in Grasse to exchange their leather and hides with Italian cities such as Genoa and Pisa. However, the leather had an unpleasant odor, which did not please the nobility. To address this issue, from the 16th to 17th centuries, gloves, a “must-have accessory” at the time, were scented with various natural essential oils and resins such as amber, musk, and rosemary.

During the 17th century, the Princess of Neroli (Catherine of Medicis) gave her name to the bitter orange flower essential oil, which her husband used to perfume his gloves. Perfumed gloves became widely known in Courts, and the French King even introduced the title of “Perfume and Glove-Maker Master.” This recognition propelled Grasse to become the center of perfume and glove making worldwide.

Before the French revolution, high taxes on leather and intense competition led to the extinction of the Community of Perfume and glove makers, leaving only perfumers as the sole industry. By the end of the 18th century, Grasse had become the center of the flower industry, and the perfume industry thrived.

The Rose de Mai: A Fragrant Flower of Great Beauty

The Rose de Mai, also known as the Rose Centifolia or “hundred leaf rose,” is a stunning flower that produces the precious essence of rose – a key component in the world of perfumery.

For over three centuries, this flower has been cultivated on the highlands of Grasse, thanks its location between the sea and mountains the region boasts fertile soil, perfect for growing perfume plants like jasmine, tuberose, iris, rose, and more. Though smaller than the common rose, the Rose de Mai, a member of the Rosaceae family, is much more fragrant. Its rare and delicate beauty, along with its elegant floral, rich, and sweet notes, have been captivating women for generations.

The Tradition of Rose Harvesting in the Middle Ages and Beyond

The Middle Ages were the genesis of the rose harvesting tradition that has persisted for centuries. In earlier times, tanneries filled the town with an unbearable smell of raw leather, and the collection of roses served as a countermeasure. Today, in the gardens of Rose Centifolia in Pays de Grasse, the age-old ritual of rose picking is still observed for four weeks in late April or May, depending on the weather. During the early hours, scores of hands are busy picking roses from the bushes. The reason for the early picking is to preserve the delicate fragrance and active ingredients present in the early morning dew. Only manual picking is allowed – no machines. A hat, basket or apron and a small, gentle hand gesture are all that are required to detach the rose head. Throughout the day, the edges of the fields are filled with a welcoming, celebratory atmosphere, and the fragrance of the roses permeates the air.

Highlights of Grasse: Must-Visit Locations

Visiting the International Museum of Perfumery

If you’re looking for an unforgettable sensory experience in Grasse, don’t miss out on the “Musée international de la Parfumerie.” The visit begins on a high note, offering a comprehensive overview ranging from the cultivation of perfume plants to marketing techniques. You’ll learn about the history of Grasse, the significance of Grasse flowers, engage in an olfactory quiz, and even personalize your own bottle. The tour continues with media areas (including videos and exhibitions), leading to the greenhouse and its beautiful olfactory garden, where you can explore some of the most commonly used raw materials in perfumery.

Touring the “Maisons du Parfum”

No trip to Grasse is complete without a visit to one of the three renowned perfume factories that offer tours of their historic production line, museum, workshops, and factory shops. These factories are:

Maison Fragonard

Maison Galimard

Maison Molinard

Creating your own perfume

Participating in a perfume creation workshop in Grasse is a unique and immersive experience. All of the “Maisons du Parfum” mentioned above offer a variety of perfume creation workshop. During those, participants are introduced to the history of perfume making and the different fragrance families. They then have the chance to blend their own signature scent using high-quality ingredients and professional guidance. The workshop is a sensory journey that allows participants to explore their creativity and leave with a personalized fragrance that captures their unique personality and style.

We had fun, we learned a lot…the perfume I created was made with tuberose, jasmine, vanilla, tiare flower, a hint of green tea….and now it will be challenging to let the perfume sit for a few weeks to allow the fragrances to blend and create a wonderful synergy of flowers and nature fragrances….

Where to eat: La Bastide Saint-Antoine, gastronomic restaurant

“The first thing you get is a feast for the eyes – an incredible view of the deep blue sea; a bright country house surrounded by bougainvillaea and trumpet vines; a rural terrace nestled in a floral garden with lime and chestnut trees providing a cool shaded refuge in the summer; harmonious lounges both welcoming and elegant.
Welcome to the refined setting of this attentive hotel where hosts Odette and Jacques Chibois invite their guests to feel right at home amid a relaxing environment.” La Bastide Saint-Antoine

Where to stay?

A day trip to Grasse can easily be done from any of our French Riviera properties, bowever, if you are looking at staying a villa in close proximity, here are few villas we selected for you:

Saint-Paul-de-Vence: For relaxation and tranquility in the French Riviera “arrière pays” stay at Villa St-Paul-de-Vence and delight in mountain views. The villa is located only 15 minutes from the beach, 30 minutes from Grasse or Nice and 40 minutes from Cannes.

Domaine de Saint-Jean: Suitable for large groups, the three villas of Domaine de St. Jean can comfortably accommodate 34 guests in 17 deluxe suites. The 70-acre property offers panoramic views, including the beautiful Bay of Cannes. At a mere 9 miles from Cannes and only 5 miles from the beach, it is easy to reach delightful destinations, including Grasse at only 20 minutes.

Villa Artemis: Watch the ships cruise by on the sea right in front of this exquisite villa near Cannes. With space for 14 guests divided between 2 houses, large groups can enjoy plenty of privacy. Only 20 minutes from Grasse.

If you liked “A Journey to Grasse: Perfume Capital of the World”, you might also like:

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French Savoir Vivre: the Art of Food and Drink


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