Grasse is for perfume lovers. Perched on a verdant hilltop, the sleepy village on the French Riviera holds a special place in fragrance history. Since the 17th century, the old medieval city, which began dabbling in fragrance in order to mask the unpleasant odour of its leather goods industry, has been considered the perfume capital of the world. Its highly prized May roses and jasmine are bottled up in the iconic Chanel No 5. Other luxury fragrances houses like Dior, Hermès and Louis Vuitton also source their ingredients from Grasse, while major fragrance companies like Robertet and IFF, who are behind some of the world’s most memorable scents, also call Grasse their home.
Despite being held in such high esteem, there’s considerably less happening in Grasse compared to its glamorous counterparts. The tourists pass through slow and steady, but the numbers don’t compare to the throngs that descend elsewhere upon the French Riviera. From the outside, Grasse appears to be like any other village in France. But for the fragrance lover, it’s a magical, mystical place. And if you do decide to make the perfume lover’s pilgrimage, these are the places you need to add to your itinerary.
Musée international de la parfumerie de Grasse
This museum is a must-see for a million different reasons. It’s an immersive and interactive olfactory experience brimming with a mind-boggling amount of sights and smells, enough to make you feel like a child in a candy store. You get an excellent history lesson on everything from how gloves were fragranced (the leather’s odour was removed using orange blossom or rose water, then they were placed in flower-filled boxes for at least eight hours and replaced every twelve hours) to how the bottles themselves were as coveted as the scents they held (fun fact: the museum’s founder, François Carnot introduced the perfumer François Coty to glassmaker René Lalique). You’ll also find OG fragrances preening from behind the glass belonging to everyone from Guerlain to Nina Ricci.
Remember to save some time – and money – for perusing the gift shop. You’ll walk out with bric-a-brac that you didn’t think you’d want but are convinced you need (hope you have enough room in your suitcase).
2 Boulevard du Jeu de Ballon
Three major perfumeries hold court in Grasse – Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard. Fragonard, with its cheery, buttery yellow facade, sits overlooking the rest of the town. Founded in 1926 by Eugène Fuchs, it was named after the renowned French painter, Jean-Honore Fragonard.
Sign up for a free guided tour of the fragrance house (available in several languages, including English), which begins with the origins of perfumery in Grasse near the entrance and conveniently ends inside its boutique. You learn everything from how fragrances are made from the harvest to the distillation process and bottling. You even get to see how the are soaps are made, right in front of your eyes. Once you land in the gift shop, it’s impossible to tear yourself away from the egg-shaped soaps with its pretty pastel shades and notes of mimosa, honeysuckle and lavender, and all the diffusers, body lotions and perfumes you could want. Fragonard doesn’t just specialize in fragrance, it’s a full-fledged lifestyle brand. In town, you’ll find Fragonard‘s boutique showcasing lifestyle items like ceramics and clothing in its signature vivid colours.
20 Boulevard Fragonard
Old Town of Grasse
Follow your nose into the old town and the twisting, winding streets will bring you to to all sorts of shops selling souvenirs like lavender sachets, candles and fragrance bottles. Champ D’Arome sells oils and perfumes, while Parfumerie Ambiance Nature is crowded with candles, soaps fragrances and more from brands like Panier Des Sens. Floral notes aren’t just reserved for beauty products, either – you can get scoops of sweetly-scented rose, jasmine and lavender at ice cream shops (one of each, please).
Galimard’s Le Studio des Fragrances
Galimard has two locations in Grasse: the first is a museum, and the other is a perfume workshop where you can play perfumer for the day and create your own fragrance. If you’re looking to master the science of scent, you’re out of luck because the experience focuses chiefly on creating your perfect bespoke scent rather than learning the 101 of being a perfumer (but there are classes for that too in Grasse!). A two-hour workshop gives you access to over 127 notes and ample time to meticulously nose your way through each one. You choose your top notes, heart notes and base notes for your one-of-a-kind eau. Come prepared with a name for your scent, which they’ll print on a personalized label. The studio keeps your unique formula on file for at least a year in case you decide that your fragrance is the next Chanel No. 5 and must be shared with others.
Note: Fragonard and Molinard also offer perfume workshops and a chance to take home your own eau but Galimard gives you the most bang for your buck.
5 route de Pégomas