on December 2, 2012
I pass through Grasse regularly on my way to play cricket in the mountain village of St Valier du Thiey. The only time I had ever stopped there were when I was waiting for a bus or waiting to meet friends who would give me a lift. I found that it had a rather nice market square, which was a nice place to stop for a coffee or a spot of antiquing and that there was a wonderful palm-lined avenue that ran from the modern city at the base of the hill on which Grasse is located to the old town higher up the mountain. This all seemed nice, but not for one minute had I considered Grasse as a primary tourist objective - it was always somewhere I stopped along the way.However, when my mother came to visit me recently, I found myself in something of a pickle. She had visited the Cote d'Azur before and had, therefore, seen many of your standard sights. We had done all the museums in Nice, we had been to Monaco and we had enjoyed the coastline and the extravagance of St Jean Cap Ferrat. I was just a little bit worried about how I could keep her entertained for a week. So, I thought about Grasse. I was not hugely optimistic that it would yield more than a pleasant hour wandering in the Old Town, but I figured it would be a bit different from Nice. To my surprise, though, a little internet research revealed that there was more to the little mountain town than I had first realised.A little research online revealed few places that could be interesting to visit. Top amongst these was the Fragonard Perfume Museum. Fragonard is a brand of perfume that was founded and is still produced in Grasse, but is now distributed around France and Europe. It's factory, which was originally built in the 1800s, is still in the centre of Grasse and remains open today. In the twentieth century not only does it produce some wonderful fragrances, but it is also open for tours and plays host to a small museum and rather large boutique.The Fragonard experience begins on the top floor of the building, which has been fitted out as the museum. In truth, the museum is less than fantastic. It features very little of great interest. There are a few old pieces of machinery, the odd portrait and some examples of glass perfume bottles. It is only when you head downstairs that things get more interesting. The first thing to note here is the aroma. The actual production takes place on the bottom floor (there are three in total). As you walk down the stairs, the smells from the production floor begin to drift up. This, in itself, is worth the visit. However, the third floor is also quite interesting as you can see the contrast between history and present day. On the left side of the floor, there is the old production system, which looks wonderfully antiquated - there are copper vats and brass handles and spouts everywhere. Then, on the right, there is the modern production floor, which can be seen behind a large glass screen. As you might expect, there is also an extremely large gift shop, which sells all manner of fragrances, potions and lotions. The majority of visitors seem to get almost lost in there. However, when you consider that the museum is free, the gift shop is not such an extravagance. And, many of the fragrances are really quite good and rather moderately priced.
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