Rolling hills, scented flowers, perfumed beads, medieval villages, and stunning views of the French Riviera.
We won’t be surprised if this mise-en-scène reminds you of the 2006 film Perfume: The Story of A Murderer because it was the exploits of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the protagonist of Perfume, that first got us interested in French perfumeries.*
A bit of research led us to Grasse. An idyllic medieval village, tucked away within the Maritime Alps, Grasse has been the perfume capital of the world for over two centuries. It took us a little under an hour to get there from Nice – the scenic drive offers breathtaking views of the Côte d’Azur and the French Riviera. Once there, we drove around looking for France’s premier perfumeries. Grasse is saturated with perfume shops, factories, and workshops. Some of the bigger perfumeries offer free guided tours in all languages. We opted for the English tours at Galimard Perfumeur and Fragonard Perfumeur.
The tours were fascinating but quite basic. The tour guides took us through the laboratory, distillation, and extraction rooms at Galimard and Fragonard. A step-by-step explanation of the painstaking process of extracting essences from flowers and plants was offered. We were bewildered when we found out that hundreds of flowers are needed for every drop of essential oil, which is then diluted into Eau de Toilettes (upto 10% essential oils in an alcohol/water base), Eau de Parfums (upto 15% essential oils in an alcohol/water base, and Perfumes (upto 40% essential oils in an alcohol/water base). We visited a number of perfumeries in Grasse, but most factories are similar – once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
The best part of the tour was the field-trip. Fields laden with flowers are a sight to behold – to us, these fields make Grasse special. Here the air is scented – you will smell roses one minute, orange blossoms the next, turn around and you’ll catch a whiff of lavender, look on the side and you’ll sense a trail of jasmine or mimosa.
The tours at each perfumery do not last more than 45 minutes, so we were done by the afternoon. We spent the rest of our day exploring this charming medieval village and its picturesque alleys whilst dreaming of a bygone era. Perfect.
The Galimard Perfumery with the French Alps in the background
Inside the extraction room
Incense Sticks at the perfumeries
Essential Oil being extracted from rose petals
The Noses’ (aka Perfumers) Corner – it’s where the magic happens
- Grasse is only 20 kms away from Cannes and 40 kms away from Nice.
- Entry to most perfumeries is free. Free guided tours are also available. The guided visit ended in the shop.
- You are not compelled to make a purchase at the end of the guided tour.
- Field trips are possible only during flowering months (usually May – September). Grasse is spectacular during the Rose festival in May, and Jasmine festival in August.
- Grasse’s perfumueries can get very crowded during summer, so missing the field trip has its advantages.
*If you haven’t watched Perfume: The Story of A Murderer, we suggest dropping everything else, renting it tonight, and watching it with insurmountable urgency – you can thank us later 😉