Just eleven miles north of Cannes and a really short twenty minute drive, we found Grasse to be a world away from the buzz of the coast. It is known as the capital of the world’s perfume industry and was once a famous resort attracting the likes of Queen Victoria, Napoleon’s sister and Edith Piaff. Nowadays three quarters of the world’s essences are produced here from thousands of tonnes of petals including violets, daffodils, wild lavender and jasmine.
Getting there was super easy and Grasse is still surrounded by jasmine, mimosa, orange blossom and violet fields. Coco Chanel first set up shop in Cannes but when she wanted to create her classic “No 5” fragrance she headed to Grasse – endorsement if ever it was needed.
We had wanted to take a factory tour of a perfumerie. There are over 30 in the little town and a few of the larger ones offer tours. We picked Fragonard, no other reason except it was the first we stumbled upon driving into Grasse.
The laboratories where the great blends are produced are off limits to visitors, Fragonard and the others though create simple blends and demonstrate some of the industry’s production techniques. You also get a peek into scent extraction and perfume and essential oil production.
We arrived at the same time as a bus tour of English pensioners. Actually this turned out to be a lucky thing, a tour was already arranged for them, we were asked to tag along. A very nice lady showed us round, but to our (and especially Son’s) disappointment nothing was actually being produced that day as it was a Bank Holiday.
We did get a great explanation of the process and how it all worked, just not quite the same as seeing it in action.
The desk of the “Nose” particularly intrigued me – look at the view beyond the window. The Nose is a special person who can recognise thousands of fragrances, apparently a normal person can only manage a couple of hundred at best. We heard about this job and the 9 year training process.
The old fashioned method of putting petals in wax daily to extract their scent was beautiful and fascinating.
Our tour, probably needless to say, ended up in the shop where our tour guide transformed into a sales person and attempted to sell us their fragrances. Not so much of a hard sell though I have to say and definitely worth it for the very interesting (and free) tour she provided.