Jacqui Paterson is a lifestyle and travel writer, and mum of two young girls. She blogs at: www.mummyslittlemonkey.com. Today she tells us what to see and do in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world.
It’s the fragrance that hits you first: the most heavenly floral perfume – the kind that makes you stop in your tracks, and close your eyes and breathe until your lungs are filled up.
Next, it’s the sight – thousands, no, tens of thousands, of roses everywhere you look, and in every colour you can imagine. It’s as if you’ve stepped into a Monet painting.
This is the annual Rose Expo, when the classic bloom is celebrated each May in the perfume capital of the world, Grasse.
Nestled in Provence, in the hills just inland from the French Riviera, Grasse may not be as widely known as its famous coastal neighbour, Cannes, but this modest town has been the epicentre of the French perfume industry since the late 18th century.
It is here that some of the world’s most famous perfumeries are located, and where some of the most iconic scents have been created (movie buffs might also recognise it as one of the setting of the novel and movie, Perfume).
The Rose Expo
It was purely by chance that I booked my visit to coincide with the Rose Expo, and I couldn’t have timed it better. I arrived off the train to find the Grasse transformed into a magical floral land: roses were entwined about street signs, statues were ringed with garlands, and fountains filled with petals.
I woke to a perfect Provencal morning, enjoying a breakfast of croissants and coffee under bright blue skies and silver-leaved olive trees.
It was a short taxi ride to my first stop – Parfums Molinard. Founded in 1849 by Hyacinthe Molinard, the company has since been passed down through five generations, eager to preserve the history and craftmanship of the original store, which once boasted Queen Victoria as a client.
In the early 1900’s the parfumerie opened its doors, welcoming visitors and giving them a peek into the glamorous world fragrance making. Today you can still explore the original salon and factory, and immerse yourself in centuries of art and tradition.
Stunning views of the city
After my tour I spent the afternoon exploring the expo – wandering through aisles of rose bushes, buying bottles of rose perfume to take home to the girls, and admiring the stunning views across Grasse, past the Cote d’Azur and out to the sapphire-blue Mediterranean Sea.
In the afternoon I took refuge from the heat in the picturesque Place aux Aires, where the fountain had been entwined in blooms, and filled with pink rose petals. It was like a scene straight out of a romantic movie.
Parfumerie Fragonard is another must-see. As well as the salon and factory it also contains a free museum, which gives a fascinating insight into the the history of perfume all over the world – from ancient Egypt, to modern France.
As dusk fell, I found myself a charming little bistro, its courtyard sparkling with fairy lights. The perfect end to a magical day.
The following morning I reluctantly bid au revoir to Grasse, taking my sweet-smelling memories with me, and already dreaming of when I could return.