Situated just north of the French Riviera’s playground for the rich, Cannes, the inland town of Grasse is most famous for one thing and one thing only: perfume. It is internationally renowned as the world’s perfume capital, an industry for which the town rose to prominence in the 18th century.
Whilst perfume is the main reason many visitors head to the town, there are many other things to do in Grasse that make a day trip to Grasse from Cannes or Nice worthwhile.
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The history of perfume in Grasse
Trade with the Moors in the 16th century gave the town jasmine, and the location of Grasse meant it was perfectly placed to grow these fragrant flowers. It enjoyed warm conditions, was inland enough to protect the plants from the sea air, and was well irrigated from the surrounding hills.
Eventually the surrounding countryside was cultivating fields of flowers that offered rare scents like lavender, rose, myrtle, orange blossom and wild mimosa, all of which are still grown in the fields surrounding Grasse today.
By 1747 the oldest parfumerie in France – and the third oldest in Europe – Galimard had been established, first selling scented leather gloves, which won fame across the influential European elite.
But it was to be the scents and not the tanning that made Grasse so famous.
Even today, many perfumers or ‘noses’ (Les nez in French), spend time in Grasse to train or hone their sense of smell, and their ability allows them to distinguish between over 2,000 scents.
Learn about perfume in Grasse
If you do plan a visit to Grasse, France, perfume is likely to play a part in your visit in some shape or form. Perfume is definitely what put this town on the map and there are plenty of places where you can find out about its illustrious past.
There are three historic perfumeries that still operate in Grasse: Galimard, Molinard and Fragonard, though there are many other less well known perfumers all over town.
The three main perfumeries are open to the public and let you see for yourself how the scents of nature become sought-after cosmetics and perfume.
The third oldest perfumery of Europe – after Johann Maria Farina gegenüber dem Jülichs-Platz (1709) and Floris of London (1730) – launched its Studio des Fragrances in 1997.
Here you can make your own perfume with help from the resident ‘nose’ who will teach you to discover the different scents and aromas for a perfume that is uniquely you.
Founded in 1849, Molinard caught everybody’s eye at the time because of its beautiful Lalique glass and Baccarat crystal bottles.
Stroll around the Molinard Grasse perfume factory and learn about this perfumery’s history, discover the raw materials for which it is famous, and check out their savonnerie – soap workshop – where they’ve been producing beautifully perfumed soap since the 1920s.
The collection of glass and crystal-ware is quite impressive.
Fragonard Perfume, Grasse
Founded later than the others, in 1926, Fragonard was named after the famous French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a native of Grasse.
Probably one of the most interesting perfume-related things to do in Grasse is to take a tour of their Grasse Fragonard Perfume Factory, set in the oldest factory in town, which was already producing perfume when it was built 1782.
Grasse Perfume Museum
Once an 18th century mansion, the International Perfume Museum opened in 1989. Ten years ago it underwent significant renovations and doubled in size, which is all the better for this comprehensive museum.
Dedicated, of course, to all things perfume, it takes you on a 5,000-year journey through the history of perfume, including sections on how Grasse and the surrounding area has made an impact on that history.
As you can see, when you visit Grasse, perfume making is at the heart of the town.
Other things to do in Grasse
Grasse Jasmine Festival
The importance of Grasse and the flowers that it grows cannot be understated. In fact, the jasmine and May roses that go into making the world famous Chanel No. 5 only ever come from Grasse – no other flowers from anywhere else in the world are allowed.
Jasmine, as you would imagine, is a much celebrated flower of the town. So much so that every year, for three days in summer, the town puts on the Fete Jasmin or La Jasminade, symbolic of the traditional beginning of the plucking of this fragranced flower.
Up until only a few decades ago picking jasmine was a labour-intensive process. The flowers had to be picked at dawn and immediately treated in cold enfleurage (odorless fat used for capturing and preserving scents).
Parades, flower stalls, dancing, and more, make up the jasmine festival which started back in 1946 and is usually held at the beginning of August.
History and Culture in Grasse
Being an old town with a rich history in such a specific world-renowned field, many of the things to do in Grasse revolve around its status as a world centre for perfume. But Grasse is not a town solely made for the purpose of producing perfumes and as there are many other sights throughout the town that display the grandeur of ages gone by.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard Villa-Museum
From one Fragonard to another, this museum is somewhat dedicated to the perfumer’s namesake, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a late Rococo-style painter born at Grasse in 1732.
The museum itself is set in a magnificent 18th century mansion and houses twelve works by the eminent painter himself – the largest collection of his work outside of the Louvre.
Two more Grasse-born painters – Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837) and Jean-Baptiste Mallet (1759-1835) – also have some of their works on display here.
Museum of Art and History of Provence
More general than the Fragonard Museum, the Museum of Art and History of Provence offers up a history not just of art but of the everyday lives of Provençal people.
Set on the Boulevard du Jeu de Ballon – walking along which is a destination in itself with all the beautiful historical buildings on show – this museum is also set in an 18th century building, built by one of the oldest families of medieval Provençal nobility, the Grasse family (which gives the town its name).
Objects from throughout the ages – everyday items, luxury items, musical instruments – illustrate the history of this fascinating area of France.
Built in the 12th century, this former cathedral – officially known as Cathedrale Notre Dame du Puy – is a stunning example of Romanesque architecture, with the relatively plain stone of the exterior betraying an extravagant baroque interior. A beautiful chapel was added in 1740.
Here you’ll also find three paintings by the great Rubens, as well as one by the famous Grasse painter, Fragonard.
Attached to the cathedral is the 30-metre Saracen tower, an iconic landmark of the city and visible from some distance.
Palais du Congres
The Grasse Convention Centre isn’t like any convention centre you’ve ever seen. That’s probably because it’s only since 1950 that it has been used for conventions and events.
Colloquially known as the ancien casino (old casino), it was originally built in 1895, designed by Nice native Alban Gaillandre, who was inspired by the richly ornamental Belle Époque style of the time.
It previously housed a casino, a concert hall, private party rooms, a restaurant, and a café.
Converted into a hotel in 1908 and abandoned some years after, it was reborn thanks to the opening of a Baccarat room in 1919 and a 600-seat cinema in 1927.
No matter the history, this building is a true stunner.
The Old Town of Grasse
Most of the sites mentioned above are located in the Grasse ‘Old Town’, but really there’s so many more things to see and do in Grasse’s historical quarter.
Start by wandering around the tiny ancient backstreets, marvel at the multi-storeyed buildings, sit outside a café and enjoy the warm feeling of being somewhere beautiful.
Look out for Place des Herbes, a square featuring market stalls, the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall in English) with an exquisite entrance gate and – in its courtyard – an equally exquisite fountain by Grasse-born sculptor Camille Rabuis.
It’s best to wander around here with no time limit or schedule – just walk and admire the opulence that was afforded this town by perfume.
Visit the village of Plascassier
Seven kilometres (around twenty minutes) to the southeast of Grasse is the village of Plascassier. This is famous as being the place where French singer Edith Piaf died (on 10 October, 1963; though she was only pronounced dead the next day, in Paris).
As you would expect, Plascassier has a close relationship with Grasse, supplying the perfumers with jasmine – there are six growers of jasmine in this village alone; Domaine de Manon, just outside the village, is open to visitors.
Pascassier’s 17th century church is definitely worth a visit, next to which you’ll find a lovely fountain built in 1891.
Being more in the countryside than Grasse, there are several pleasant walks – one to Castellaras, passing manicured gardens and amazing views, and another that skirts fields of roses and jasmine, and olive groves, en route to Le Roure de la Gâche.
Plascassier is just one of the many small towns and villages near Grasse that are nestled in the typically Mediterranean hills that surround this beautiful area. Each one with as much history as the centre of Grasse itself – and with more serene natural beauty too!
As well as offering an interesting range of things to see and do, Grasse also makes a great base for a holiday in Provence. If you prefer to stay by the beach, it’s easy to take a day trip to Grasse from Cannes, Nice or elsewhere in the French Riviera.
Where is Grasse, France?
Grasse is situated in the south of France, 22 kilometres north of Cannes and 46 kilometres south west of Nice.
How to get to Grasse
If you have your own vehicle, the drive from Nice will take you around 40 minutes. The Nice – Grasse train departs hourly and takes just over an hour.
Two Nice to Grasse bus services operate, with at least four services each.
You can also join a day tour from Nice to Grasse, Antibes and Cannes. Click here for current prices.
By car, allow about 25 minutes for the trip from Cannes to Grasse. Hourly rail services operate between the two towns. Journey time on the TER train Grasse – Cannes (and vice versa) is around 25 minutes.
Department Des Alpes Maritimes runs a bus Cannes – Grasse (and vice versa) every 30 minutes.
Join an organised small group day tour which visits Grasse, Gourdon and Valbonne. Click here to check prices.
Where to stay in Grasse
There are a good selection of hotels in Grasse but for a relaxing stay in your own villa, South France Villas offer a fantastic selection of self-catering accommodation in Grasse and throughout Provence and the French Riviera. Click here to browse villas in Grasse and surrounds.
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