Monday, January 26, 2015

Grasse, France

Train Station in Grasse
The journey from Nice to Grasse was somewhat awkward, and further complicated by rain and the fact that we went there on a Sunday, when many things were not open. The train didn't leave until noon and it took about 90 minutes for us to arrive in Grasse. Though the distance was not that great, it was necessary to take one train to Cannes, then another to Grasse, with many stops along the way. And from the station in Grasse, we had a long walk up to the city center, following a winding path up hundreds of stairs, as the shuttle buses were not running that day.

part of the walk to the village center
Once in the village, we headed towards the Fragonard Parfumerie, one of the leading perfume factories in France, which also has a small historical museum.  The streets of Grasse were eerily empty, and shops were closed, so there was not much to distract us from our goal.

the empty streets of Grasse
Just as we arrived at Fragonard, it started pouring rain, so we were content to peruse the Fragonard complex for several hours.
Parfumerie Fragonard Museum
Tours of the factory were given in several languages. Since the tour in Italian was getting ready to start, we decided to go along with that group, instead of waiting for the English-speaking tour guide.

An explanation of one method used to make perfume.
I could understand most of the tour, and there were also written explanations in English to fill in the blanks. However, it didn't seem like a working factory, since everything was so pristine. It left me wondering where the real work was being done, but I was too intimidated to ask.

A display of the mixing room
How cold extraction is performed.
Here's where you get enticed to buy their products.
And of course, there were several sales rooms. There were so many lovely scents, it was hard to choose, but I knew that I wanted to splurge a bit. I ended up buying a small 1.7 ounce bottle of eau de parfum, called Jasmin - Perle de Thé, which has notes of lemon, bergamot, jasmine, honeysuckle, green tea, white cedar, guaiac wood and white amber. So subtle and lovely! I was told that the scent of eau de parfum will linger for up to 5 hours, while the scent of parfum (perfume) will last up to 8 hours, or longer.  I also bought a smaller bottle of perfume, (.5 oz), for twice the cost of the eau de parfum, in a similar scent, strong on jasmine. (Oddly enough, I recently discovered that I can get the same bottle of Jasmin - Perle de Thé on Amazon! It's a lot more expensive, but at least it would save a trip to Grasse.)

Some  antique perfume bottles in the museum
The museum had a large selection of antique perfume bottles that were attractively displayed.
More uniquely shaped antique perfume bottles.
Though there were several other perfume factories in Grasse, we didn't get to see them. We walked around in the rain trying to find the International Perfume Museum, but kept getting lost, and when I stopped to ask for directions, I only got annoyed responses from the locals, who didn't seem to know what I was talking about. I know enough French to ask simple questions, but could not always understand complicated responses to those questions. And many locals either didn't speak English or they didn't want to.

I loved the decor of this cafe!
Once we left Fragonard, we were pressed for time, knowing there was only one more bus (no more trains!) that would take us back to Cannes, but we stopped to get out of the rain and have a snack before we made the long trek back down to the station. There was a clever little cafe across from Fragonard, and even though the waiter was surly when we asked how to get back to the station (he refused to tell us!), he made wonderful crepes. My crepe was simple yet exquisite, with a dusting of powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.

The best crepe ever, and yet so simple: crepe au sucre et citron.

On the way back to the train station, I asked a local man if we were headed in the right direction, and he was kind enough to lead us to a shortcut that saved us some time. I was disappointed that we'd seen so little of the town, and wished we had planned it better. If we'd come earlier, on a weekday, we'd have had more time to see what Grasse has to offer. As it is, due to the rain and the hassles we'd encountered, we were tired eager to get back to Nice.

About those crepes: when I returned to Florence, I went to several creperies, hoping to find a crepe made with sugar and lemon like the one I'd had in Grasse. Yes, they had them, but they were not the same. The crepe in Florence was thick, and covered with granulated sugar (instead of powdered), which made it  heavy, gritty, and sickeningly sweet. However, back in the States a friend invited me to take a crepe-making class at our favorite health food store, and now I can make them myself!

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