The perfume industry in Grasse, renown for the production of luxury fragrances, evolved as leather tanneries began selling perfumed gloves. A visit to the recently renovated Musee International de la Parfumerie offers a look at the process of making perfume and the history behind fragrance’s role in the last four thousand years. From Roman slaves applying perfume by mouth to their mistress’ hair, to the use of incense to commune with the divine during the Middle Ages, to fragrance’s role as a disinfectant in the Age of Enlightenment, the displays make for interesting reading. My favorite part of the museum was sampling the constituents used in creating fragrances. With the push of a button, a chocolate, incense, rose or even cocaine-scented cloud was expelled. Though good fun, smelling them all left me feeling nauseous. Set aside a few hours to visit the perfume museum; it is well worth the time.
Several of the old perfumeries are still in production and offer free tours of their ateliers to drum up business. When in Grasse I like browsing the Fragonard boutique because in addition to perfume they stock beautiful, affordable gifts like embroidered laundry bags and colorful scarves.
For a more personalized approach, the sleepy village of Gourdon has a row of mom and pop perfume boutiques where merchants will concoct a scent just for you. After doing some winter shopping, my husband and I stopped for dinner in Valbonne at the Auberge Provincal and enjoyed warming up by the fireplace and filling our bellies with the hearty fare from their three-course menu.
The South of France still produces jasmine, rose, mimosa and lavender. The museum’s sister garden in Mougins, developed to educate and preserve native perfume plants, offers a look at the plants before they are distilled into perfume. While it lacks the majesty and old growth of more established gardens educative approach makes it a pleasant experience. You are actually encouraged to touch and smell and plants! In early spring blooms were sparse but I was advised May is the best time to visit.
|Candied Fruit at the Florian Confiserie|
Another way to enjoy the local flowers is in the candied variety. The Florian Confiserie beside the river in Tourettes-sur-Loup offers free tours and tastings. Meander through each room of the factory as the candy is being made and learn about the process. The lemons and clementines, rose petals and violet blossoms are almost too pretty to eat. After sampling your fill of candy, don’t leave without a stroll along the picturesque trail that follows the river. It doesn’t take more than fifteen minutes to walk and would be a nice place for a picnic or swim during the warmer parts of the year.
For more information on the logistics of planning a visit:
The Perfume Museum and Garden
Florian Candy Factory