Touring the South of France? Thinking of spending one day in Grasse? Here’s how I spent my time in this wonderfully fragrant city – and how you’ll want to spend yours.
Daytrip to Grasse, France
I was sitting on the train in Nice Ville Station waiting for it to depart for Grasse when a policeman came tearing down the aisle. “Bark bark bark tickets bark,” he said in French.
Getting to Grasse
“That’s the first time anyone has asked to see my train ticket since I’ve been in the South of France,” I said to the 3 young Chinese women sitting by me in my four-seater section. I’d been doing day trips from Nice for two weeks now, taking the TER, the French Regional Railway, so far I’d spent one day in Monaco, one day in Antibes, went to the Cannes Film Festival and spent one day in Menton. That’s one reason the South of France is so popular, there are so many things to do.
“They’re not asking for tickets,” said one of the women. “They’re saying a pickpocket is on the train and that you should watch your belongings.”
“Oh!” Clutching my purse to my chest, I considered that my French language skills could use some improvement and also that it was good to know train security was on the job. “You understand French really well,” I said to the Chinese woman.
“I’ve been living in Nice for four years,” she said. It turns out she worked for a language institute in Nice and that the two girls she was travelling with were from Tsing Tao. Since I’ve been to Tsing Tao an immediate and lasting friendship was established – at least it lasted for the duration of our 40-minute train journey to Grasse from Nice, which – in travel years – is equal to being friends all through college.
It also meant that when we arrived at the Grasse Train Station I didn’t have to figure out how to get to the town centre on my own.
Tip for taking the train to Grasse: When arriving in Grasse by train, you need to catch a bus across the street from the Grasse Train Station to the Old Town, otherwise it’s a long steep climb.
And for more tips on how to spend one day in Grasse, read on.
Where is Grasse?
Grasse is a lovely small city of about 50,000 in the South of France, slightly off the trodden Côte d’Azur track because it’s inland from the Mediterranean.
Grasse is about 20 km from Cannes and 40 km from Nice – and makes an ideal day trip. With a perfume industry that dates back centuries, and a microclimate ideal for growing flowers, it’s become the perfume capital of the world. (And possibly the universe – that’s how many flowers are grown there.)
What to see in Grasse – or should that be what to smell? Perfume, of course!
Grasse’s top sights are undoubtedly its perfume factories. Think jasmine, roses, lavender and mimosa. Ah, now breathe deep and get to visit perfume factories. If you’re spending only one day in Grasse, and have time to visit just one factory, the Fragonard Perfume Factory is one of the most popular.
It’s also easy to find because if you take the bus from the train station you’ll pass the perfume factory en route. Ask the bus driver to drop you off at the Parfumerie Fragonard; it’s just at the edge of Grasse’s Old Town. (20 Boulevard Fragonard, 06130 Grasse, France.)
Two others perfume factories to visit are Galimard, the oldest parfumerie in Grasse, which dates back to 1747, and Molinard established in 1849.
What do you do at the Fragonard Perfume Factory in Grasse?
You will exercise your nose sniffing lots of Fragonard perfume. Located in a historic perfume factory built in 1782, the Fragonard Perfume Factory, established in 1926, has free guided tours, an extensive gift shop and a museum that details 3,000 years of perfume making (which I whizzed through very fast, and in doing so left behind my new Chinese friends, but I couldn’t wait another minute to start sniffing samples in the gift shop.)
The gift shop at the Fragonard Perfume Factory
After your free tour of the Fragonard perfume factory you must beeline immediately to the gift shop. Visiting the gift shop is like being let loose in a great huge floral meadow filled with daffodils and woodsy twigs and roses, and where you can run and skip and spray every type of perfume on all your limbs until you, yourself, become a walking floral bouquet.
Perfumes are the superheroes of the sweet-scented world, being made of up to 40% aromatic essences, as opposed to eau de toilette which is about 10%. It takes hundreds and hundreds of petals to make a drop of essential oil, so don’t take fragrance for granted. Many many roses died to make you smell divine.
Now indulge me. I am going to tell you a wee bit about some of the perfumes that Fragonard creates because their descriptions are as flowery as the scents and truly irresistible, and if you’re spending a day in Grasse, you’ll want to smell them, too:
Leave a “luminous trail of desire” with Diamant, a sweet oriental fragrance with mandarin, orange and pepper. Luminous trail of desire? In my head this conjures a picture of the little trail of slime a snail leaves behind as it makes its way through the garden.
Hm, disagree with my colourful imagery? Okay. What about toilet paper trailing from your foot? NO? Fine. How about a white silk scarf flowing on a light breeze behind you as you walk? Good? Good. Yes, that makes a luminous trail of desire appear much better.
Juste un Baiser
Juste un Baiser (Just one Kiss) is a sweet, fruity, voluptuous, charming impertinent fragrance “poised between innocence and a bewildering femininity.” Bewildering femininity? Oh my god, I’m always bewildered. Juste un Baiser is me.
I just can’t recommend the gift shop at the Fragonard Perfume Factory enough. If you can have this much fun with the descriptions, just think how much fun you’ll have with the testers!
A nod to Violette
My favourite scent, and the one I’m slapping my thighs in frustration about because I didn’t buy, is the eau de toilette Violette, a “sumptuous violet middle note combined with rose and jasmine on a sensual background of fruity raspberry musk.”
I wanted to buy Violette. I wanted to smell of violets and float on a sensual background of raspberry musk, but after spending too much time in the gift shop, there were so many battling scents wafting up at me from my wrists, forearms, elbows, knuckles, neck and any other spare bare body part I’d been able to spritz that I couldn’t think straight and had to leave in feminine bewilderment.
Travel tip for the Fragonard Perfume Factory in Grasse, France: Buy something. Anything. You will be happier.
Grasse’s other attractions
While perfume is undoubtedly Grasse’s top attraction, it wasn’t my top attraction. The artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard was. And I can’t understand why more travel articles and travel blogs about Grasse don’t mention him.
I’m a devoted fan (well, not that devoted. It’s not as if I have an altar in my bedroom or anything) of this 18th century artist, and one of my top reasons for visiting Grasse was to find out just what Fragonard the painter has to do with the town, and why a famous perfume factory is named after him.
The art of Jean-Honoré Fragonard
I will now describe the art of Jean-Honoré Fragonard in 4 simple fragonardments, I mean, fragments:
- Delightfully pretty aristocratic women in natural flowery bowers.
- Undercurrent of danger. (Possibly the only person who agrees with me about this is my mother.)
- Romantic, sensual and slightly erotic (after all, the period just before the French Revolution, the ancien regime, when Fragonard was at his peak was a scandalously hedonistic time in history).
Fragonard’s The Swing
Of course I’m hugely generalizing when I describe the art of Fragonard, and it’s all because of his painting The Swing, which he painted in 1767, and which is etched in my mind like graffiti on a garage.
Look at the painting. Just look at it. It’s a Rococo masterpiece. Aren’t you a devoted Fragonard fan now, too? (And yes, that French nobleman can see up the woman’s skirt. I told you, these were scandalous times. In real life the woman on the swing was reportedly the man’s mistress, who no doubt spends scads of money to commission this painting.)
What is Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s connection with Grasse, France?
I’m so glad you asked. The painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard was born in Grasse before moving to Paris at a young age. He later retreated (wisely, I’m sure) to Grasse during the French Revolution. For one thing – and I’m not trying to make light of this – due to the revolution there were far fewer aristocrats to buy paintings. Remember, if you will, the tragic fate of Marie Antoinette.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s connection to Fragonard perfume
The father of Jean-Honoré Fragonard was a perfumer and glove maker in Grasse. Perfumed gloves were all the rage in the 17th century, the perfume helped mask the stench of tanned leather – and that’s why you need this One Day in Grasse blog post, to tell you important smelly details like that.
Visiting the Fragonard Museum – Hélène & Jean-François Costa Collection in Grasse
It might have been this connection to perfume that triggered the interest of the owner of the Parfumerie Fragonard, Jean-François Costa and his wife Hélène, became they became avid collectors of Fragonard’s work, as was Costa’s father before him.
And because the Costa family admired Fragonard so much, they named their perfume factory after him. (And if I had a perfume factory I’d do exactly the same.)
The Costas own the Fragonard paintings on display at the museum, and the 17th-century building, the Hôtel de Villeneuve, which houses the Fragonard Museum is owned by the Parfumerie Fragonard. (Hôtel de Villeneuve 14, rue Jean Ossola, Grasse, France)
What to see at the Fragonard Museum
Fragonards, of course! And also paintings done by Fragonard’s sister-in-law, Marguerite Gerard and another artist born in Grasse, Jean-Baptiste Mallet.
(And if, at this point, you start thinking that every male in Grasse is named Jean something or other, you would be not be blamed.)
Travel tip for visiting the Fragonard Museum: Entrance is free and it’s not too far from the Fragonard Perfume Factory. (23, Boulevard Fragonard, Grasse, France)
More sights for your one day in Grasse itinerary
If you have, like I had, only one day in Grasse, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Here are some other top sights in Grasse:
The 13th century Notre Dame du Puy’s Cathedral – go here to see 3 paintings by Rubens: The Thorn Coronation, Sainte Helene and The Foundation of the Cross, and a Fragonard painting, The Washing of the Feet.
The International Perfume Museum – Opened in 1989, the perfume museum is dedicated to “safeguarding and promoting the international heritage of scents.” In this sleek modern building you can delve into 3,000 years of perfume history, and smell a few petals in the rooftop garden.
Look for: Marie Antoinette’s travel toiletry set and perfume bottles from ancient Egypt. (2 Boulevard du Jeu-de-Ballon, Grasse, France)
If you have any energy after that you can visit the Museum of Provencal Clothing and Jewelry or the Museum of Art and History of Provence, which is conveniently free and just around the corner from the Parfumerie de Fragonard (2, rue Mirabeau, Grasse, France)
One day in Grasse: Where to eat
For fine Provençal cuisine try the Michelin-starred La Bastide St-Antoine in the 5-star La Bastide St-Antoine Hotel. And if you’re thinking of spending the night, La Bastide St-Antoine is the only 5-star hotel in Grasse. (48 av. Henri-Dunant, Grasse, France.)
Sadly, I did not dine at La Bastide St-Antoine because I was too late for lunch and too early for dinner. If this happens to you, and I hope it doesn’t, you can do what I did, which is to grab a piece of pizza in the Old Town.
One day in Grasse: train or bus?
It’s hard to know which is a better way to get to Grasse, the train or the bus. NO, IT’S NOT! THE TRAIN IS ALWAYS BETTER. I love trains and hate buses, so I’m biased. However, the problem with the train from the station you then have to take a bus from the bottom of the hill.
In its favour, the bus to Grasse is obscenely cheap. Even if you travel from Nice to Grasse the bus is only 1.5 Euros. But Holy Hannah, on the way back to Nice I decided to take the bus from Grasse as far as Cannes and it was so slow I was ready to chew my arm off.
If only I could have spritzed on some Violette to calm me down and soothe my feminine bewilderment about why it was taking so long.
For more information on making a day trip to Grasse, France, visit the Grasse Tourism website.
Read more on the sexy South of France: Visit my travel blog post Things to do in the South of France for plenty of ideas on where to go, why to go and what to do there.