At the end of last month I flew out to Nice on the Cote d’Azur to join an exceptional friend of mine who was spending part of her vacation there. The weather was perfect, around the mid-twenties.
We rented a car to go to Grasse for the day, which was only about 45 minutes from Nice. We both expected it to be a small, rather quaint town but it is much more built up than that and the main street was quite grand. Grasse is considered the world’s capital of perfume and produces over two-thirds of France’s natural aromas (for perfume and food flavourings). There are about 30 local perfume producers.
The main street in Grasse.
We didn’t need one of those umbrellas
View above Grasse
We visited Molinard on the outskirts of Grasse which houses the old factory/museum, laboratory and shop. All the operating factories had to be moved to an industrial estate outside the town.
Molinard opened the very first factory in Grasse in 1849 and had 300 employees which was a huge number for the time. The company has stayed in the family for five generations and the current owner is the first woman during that time.
It ddin’t seem like you needed to pre-book the free tour which seemed pretty informal (Galimard and Fragonard also do factory tours). That Sunday there were maybe ten of us including Canadians and Italians. Our tour guide, Paula, was a lovely lady though we raised our eyebrows at a couple of points. She told us that Molinard perfumes are made from all natural ingredients and that rose centifolia with its lemon and honey facets, only grows in Grasse.
The flowers for the perfumes can be obtained in Grasse but other ingredients come from across the globe.
The equipment used to be made out of copper but is now made of steel.
On weekdays two women make 600 soaps here by hand per day.
We tried their best selling Creme 24: a balm for face and body with a strong lemon scent which is intensely moisturising. Apparently they have tried to discontinue it a few times but its fans won’t let them.
Their most famous perfume Habanita (launched in 1921) happily still smells great and the only vetiver-heavy fragrance I really like.
While the production is now off-site, the lab where the perfumer composes fragrances is still at Molinard House.
A peek inside the modern perfume lab.
Some women in our group were greatly surprised to find out you shouldn’t keep bottles in your bathroom because of the three enemies of perfume: heat, light and humidity.
She went through the various concentrations.
You can take part in a perfume workshop here (prices from 189 euro) after which you come away with a bottle of your own custom fragrance. They can then send you re-fills anywhere in the world.
Of course the tour ended in the shop.
My friend bought a tube of the Crème 24 for her mother.
We nearly bought travel sprays of the original Habanita but managed to resist. It’s the kind of perfume I admire but never reach for.
We both bought a couple of the soaps.
From there we drove into the centre of Grasse to visit the International Museum of Perfumery which opened in 1989.
The International Museum of Perfumery
There were some interactive exhibits as well those in cases.
It seemed to be a very old building that had been renovated.
The ‘greenhouse’ had perfume plants such as vetiver and patchouli.
The outdoor garden had jasmine, geranium, labdanum, herbs and more.
Marie Antoinette’s modest travel case (one of two in existence).
My favourite bottle and perfume, Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit
Scented products including My Little Pony.
Finally, there was an extensive temporary exhibit about eau de cologne.
The museum’s gift shop was a treat. I picked up several gorgeous postcards and a Grasse tote bag, while my friend bought a pretty silk scarf.
It was a wonderful day and ticked another destination off my bucket list.
Have you been to Grasse? If not, would you like to go? Let me know in the comments and what you thought of the factory tour and perfume museum.