Probably the most famous son of Grasse was François Joseph Paul (1722-1788), Comte de Grasse. He was an admiral in the French Royal Navy and he cleared the seas of the British fleet, while the French and American armies besieged the British forces under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781. This was the decisive battle in the American War of Independence against Britain. Thus, Comte de Grasse played a crucial role in the emergence of the great nation we now know as the United States of America.
Grasse is a town steeped in history, even Napoleon graced it with his presence for a single day on his escape from exile on Elba. Grasse has the appearance of a well lived in town, which is centuries old. The rust orange, bright yellow and pink painted buildings with pastel coloured shutters give the place a real old world feel. In the old town, you can find the International Perfume Museum, the Fragonard museum and the Jewellery and Costume museum. Wander the winding streets to find little gift and clothes shops, cafes and restaurants. To the front of the International Perfume Museum, there is a small park where you can relax and admire the views of the surrounding countryside.
A 20 minute bus ride from Gare Routière, you can find Gallimard’s Studio des Fragrances. Here you can become a master perfumer for the day, creating your own 100ml scent. The process takes about two hours. First you choose your base notes, then your heart notes and finally your top notes. I decided to name my perfume La Perle du Pacifique as I wanted it to transport me back to Tahiti and her Islands. I included tiare flower (native to Tahiti), vanilla and magnolia as just some of the components of my perfume. You must allow three weeks before spraying your perfume to allow it to mature. At the end of this workshop, you are also awarded with a certificate which was a very pleasant surprise. They keep your perfume on file so you can order it again online, as well as the option to order it as shower gel and body cream.
Getting there: 5 route de Pégomas. Take bus no. 600 from Gare Routière to the bus stop called “les 4 chemins.” You will see McDonald’s on one side and a pharmacy on the other. Le Studio des Fragrances is behind the pharmacy.
A five minute walk from Le Studio des Fragrances, you will find the Parfumerie Gallimard which was founded by Jean de Gallimard, Lord of Seranon in 1747. To this day, the Gallimard family are still producing high quality perfume. This is a free tour and here you can learn all about the manufacturing of perfume.
Getting there: 73 route de Cannes. Take bus no. 600 to bus stop “les 4 chemins.”
Les Jardins du MIP are a must see when in Grasse. You can wander around the gardens and admire the different family of roses, jasmin (when in season), lavender, citrus plants and water features. Admission is €4. Watch your step as I nearly stepped on a 4ft snake while walking around.
Getting there: Take bus no. 600 to bus stop “les gourettes.” Walk to the roundabout and take a left. The entrance to the garden is straight ahead.
Grasse is also famous for its olives and olive oil. You can visit Royrie Domain, an olive grove in the hills of Grasse. You can learn about the olive trees, AOC oil, the varieties and size of olives and there is a tasting session at the end of the tour.
Getting there: 88 Chemin des Hautes Ribes
Getting to Grasse: Grasse is only a two / two and a half hour journey by bus from Nice. Take the bus no. 500 from the bus terminal in Nice to the bus terminal (gare routière) in Grasse. It is pretty handy that the tourist office is located here too. All buses cost €1.50 each way. You do not need exact change, you can hand in anything up to a €20 note and get change back from the driver. Hold onto your ticket for the duration of the journey as there are bus inspectors that pop on every now and again to check tickets.
When I touched down on the runway, I had never seen so many private jets lined up in a row. Flying in, I got a lovely birds eye view of the famous Negresco Hotel and then saw it up close and personal while driving along the promenade with my friend Claire and her beau Swan. My seventh trip to France but my first time to the south, I was pleasantly shocked at how different it was to the other parts of France that I had ventured to before. The swaying palm trees, the contrasting blue hues of the sea, the bright pink and orange coloured buildings, a mix of Italian and French architecture, the cathedrals from different periods and the open squares where locals and tourists enjoyed their morning coffee and ice creams in the heat of the day…I was wondering to myself why I hadn’t traveled here sooner!!
The thing I like about Nice is the mix of modern and old. The centre of Nice is small enough that you can walk around it or you can hop on the tram or buses. The old town has lovely traditional French restaurants where you can feast on Niçoise delicacies. In the summertime, there is a real buzz about the place.
Claire and I walked from Place Masséna to the promenade, and from there, up the towering steps beside Hotel Suisse (where James Joyce spent time writing) to Le Château de Nice – a park with old castle ruins and lovely lookout points across the harbour, promenade and town. We came back through the old town, admiring the waterfall on the way down and stopped off at Fenocchio’s for an ice cream. They have endless amounts of flavours. Some that caught my attention included Beer flavour, Tomato and Basil, Violet, Jasmin, Lavender, Cactus, Olive, Thyme, Avocado and Irish Coffee. I decided to try Mojito sorbet with Fraise Pagada (a type of Haribo sweet) ice-cream. Claire went with a scoop of Apple sorbet. I have to say, it was delicious and refreshing, exactly what was needed as the sun was beaming down. We sat in the square, enjoying our sweet treat and watched as the line grew bigger and bigger in front of Fenocchio’s. Afterwards, we wandered into the old cathedral in the square and stood in awe of its finesse. It is a true work of art. The other thing you notice is the calm and quiet, a complete change in atmosphere to the hustle and bustle right outside its door.
Leaving the old town, we went to see Place Garibaldi, where there is a monument to the man himself. Garibaldi was one of the greatest Italian patriots who lived during the 19th century. He was central to the project to unify Italy, which at that time, was a collection of minor kingdoms and foreign occupied provinces. He was central to the process of the national unification of Italy and is regarded there with the same hero status that the Irish give to General Michael Collins.
We walked on towards the park, where kids were splashing about in the fountain. Just in front, there is a UEFA Euro’s Fan Zone set up so the community can gather and watch the matches together. Place Masséna is like the international hub of Nice, a mix of tourists and locals meeting and greeting each other. The streets just off it are lined with restaurants to suit everyones taste.
From Gare de Nice-Ville, we took the train to Cannes. Maybe I didn’t give enough time to explore it thoroughly but it was a bit of a let down. It’s good if you’re there to shop but otherwise, I prefer the buzz of Nice, the seaside town of St. Tropez and the old world charm of Grasse.
The best thing about traveling to the French Riviera is the endless possibilities to travel. You can go somewhere new everyday and the transport services available make it so easy and budget friendly. A new adventure awaits you everyday. I would love to spend more time exploring the Côte d’Azur, it really took me by surprise and was an absolute joy to visit!!