Chasing the Scents in Grasse, the World Capital of Perfumes

North of Cannes, Grasse, the world capital of perfumes, is the home of dozens of fragrance companies. It is a delightful place for the tourists to escape from the crowds on the French Riveria and to immerse themselves within the history of perfume factories, purchase the latest perfumes from traditional perfumeries, or make an own perfume by joining a private perfume workshop.

A decade ago, when I visited Grasse the first time, I joined a factory tour in Galimard, a perfumer established in 1747. At the end of the tour, I bought several bottles of Galimard perfumes. Since that day, whenever I put it on, I remember that sunshine day in the beautiful Grasse, the scent of Provence, and that first short trip to Provence with my lovely husband.

La Route des Perfums

I could not wait to visit the world capital of perfumes again and to buy its latest products. Having spent a few days on the French Riveria during our two weeks southern France road trip, wandered through one hilltop village to the other, our family decided to visit Grasse again. This time, we went to Fragonard historic factory as well as its modern factory, the Grasse Factory of Flowers. The plan of our perfume route was:

  • Fragonard Historical Factory Tour
  • Perfume products
  • Create own perfumes
  • The Flower Factory (La Fabrique des Fleurs)
  • Grasse, the world capital of perfumes

According to the receptionists, Fragonard only offered tours based on demand due to the corona situation. Therefore, we had to wait more than an hour for the next available tour. To utilize our time, we went to Chateauneuf-Grasse, a small village a few kilometres away from Grasse.

world capital of perfumes, a neighbourhood in Grasse
an art installation of pink umbrellas

Fragonard Historical Factory Tour

On the upper floor of the Fragonard historic factory (20 boulevard Fragonard, 06130 Grasse), there is a perfume museum and a salesroom. The factory tour starts on the lower floor of the building. In the production rooms, employees produce a small number of perfumes and soaps.

The old factory acts as a museum. The main production rooms are the distillery room, the bottling room, the maceration and filtering room, and the soap workshop. We had an inside view of the mysteries of traditional perfume making, from processing the raw materials to packaging the finished products. The machines used, from the copper stills to those in the soap workshops, provide an intriguing glimpse of the historical aspects of the techniques and working conditions.

Grasse, the world capital of perfumes
the distillery room in Fragonard historical factory

Perfume products

The exit of the tour is the salesroom. Our tour guide introduced several new perfumes to us. The Belle Cherie Perfume consists of a top note of tangerine and star fruit, a middle note of jasmine, heliotrope, lily-of-the-valley, a back note of sandalwood, tonka bean, and vanilla. Belle de Nuit is an original, deep rich harmony of flowers and fruit on a warm, velvety bottom note of musk. Both have a long-lasting romantic aroma that surged me to buy two 120ml sized bottles.

The soaps have a typical Provence colour combination. The Fragonard classic perfumes are also available. There is a type of solid perfume in small metal boxes that looks so cute. We could not resist the temptation of the aroma and the beautiful designs of other products. Soon, we filled up our shopping basket again with more products such as soaps and other cosmetics.

Fragonard perfume products
The Nose's laboratory; Le Nez

Create own perfumes

It is also possible to create own perfume by joining different workshops. Kids can also join a children workshop. At the end of a workshop you will get a self-mixed perfume included in the price. A further discount on the purchase in the salesroom is super bonus. Nothing would be more interesting than creating our perfumes. Perhaps, the result would not be applicable. But it would be an memorable thing from our trip. Unfortunately, we failed to book a creation workshop for the day. Nevertheless, we have a reason to go there again.

 

The Flower Factory (La Fabrique des Fleurs)

Located on the edge of Grasse, La Fabrique des Fleurs (Les 4 Chemins, Route de Cannes, 06130 Grasse) has an exquisite garden and rows of plants used for making perfumes. Inaugurated in 1986, the new factory uses state-of-the-art machines for manufacturing and packaging products. The factory manufactures many products which are filled and packaged there.

Plants used in the composition of perfumes come from all over the world. A map on the wall shows the origins of the many flowers and plants used to extract the essence. The main types of flowers used in Fragonard Perfume are such as Rose, Jasmine, Orange blossom, Lavender, and Tuberose, etc. Although cultivated internationally, Fragonard also uses some flowers picked in the fields around Grasse.

Fragonard selects plants based on quality, originality, and process method, from handpicking the blossoms to turning them into essence. To produce one kilo of Rose oil, known as the Queen of essential oils, it requires four tons of roses.No wonder rose oil is one of the most expansive essence.

the bottling room in Fragonard's modern factory;
filling room in the Flower Factory (La Fabrique des Fleurs); Fragonard

Grasse, the world capital of perfumes

Things did not always smell so good in Grasse. In the middle ages, Grasse was a center of leather tanning. As the leather had an unpleasant odour that did not match the nobility of wearing leather gloves, a tanner in Grasse came up with an idea of scented leather gloves. Soon, the fragranced leather became favoured by Royal Court and high society and thus brought a worldwide reputation to Grasse. With the decline of the leather industry due to the high taxes on leather and competition from Nice, the production of leather fragrance ceased in the seventeenth century. But the rare scents from the Grasse did win a new title for the city, the world capital of perfumes.

Fragonard, Galimard, and Molinard (all with strangely rhyming names) have factories open to the public. Their workshops highlight modern production methods and their museums evoke traditional techniques. The factory tour is just a quick view of the perfume production. However, if you want to know the historical roots of perfume, then visit the International Perfume Museum, which displays a one-of-a-kind collection containing over 2,500 objects retracing the origins of perfume.

The old town of Grasse has picture-postcard streets. But compared to several places in southern France, Grasse is a little shabby in some corners. But it looks charmed in its ordinary neighborhood. We entered the main shopping street that had an art installation of pink umbrellas. The pink umbrellas above the shopping street had blocked the dazzling summer sunlight, adding pink twilight to the ground. Artisan shops, antique dealers, and clothes stores dominate the old center. I discovered some perfume shops in the centre as well.

Visiting tips

Parking

  • The Indigo CRESP car park is just opposite the Garlimard old factory. To visit Grasse, you can also park your car there.
  • Garlimard’s new factory has parking spaces direct in front of the entrance.

How to get there

Grasse is easy to reach from Nice by bus, by train, or by car.

  • Take Bus LER 31 at Nice Gare Routière to Grasse. The journey take about one hour.
  • Take train from Nice train, it takes one hour and eleven minutes to Grasse.
  • Follow A8 and then change to D6185, it takes about 40 minutes to Grasse by car.

Where to stay

The following hotels are In the centre of Grasse and have good rates.

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