Most people travel to a destination in hopes of viewing interesting sights, but in Grasse, France, it is beautiful and intriguing scents that are the big attraction. This centuries old village in Provence is the perfume capital of the world. Not only is this charming town home to approximately 30 perfume factories, it is also surrounded by fields of sweet-smelling flowers, including jasmine, roses lavender and tuberoses. In fact, Grasse is known for producing approximately two-thirds of the aromas that France uses in the making of its perfumes and the manufacturing of flavorings for food.
Not surprisingly, Grasse is a lovely place to visit. Its location on a hill, about 300 meters above sea level, means that it enjoys a pleasant and relatively mild climate, even in the summer. In fact, Grasse's comfortable temperatures are part of the reason why it developed into the flower and citrus tree growing center for France's perfume industry and also why it is the site of a number of olive oil mills.
Grasse is also perfectly located for quick day trips from either Cannes, which is 15 kilometers to the south, or Nice, which is approximately 40 kilometers to the east. In 2005, a train line opened between France's coastal cities and Grasse, making it even easier for travelers to reach this quaint town of winding cobblestone streets and lovely old 17th- and 18th-century buildings. Of course, many travelers will probably want to linger here for longer than a day, as there is plenty to see, smell and do while in Grasse.
One of the most popular attractions in Grasse is a tour of a perfume factory. Several of this town's perfumeries, including Fragonard and Galimard, offer these interesting peeks behind the fragrance making scene. Guests on these factory tours are shown how scents are extracted from flowers and other raw materials and also how perfumes are created and composed.
Some of these perfumeries also offer hands-on workshops on the delicate art of perfume making. During these special classes, visitors can compose their own signature scents, which they can then take home in personalized bottles as fragrant and lovely reminders of their visit to Grasse. Even better, each personalized creation is kept on file so that they can be reordered in the future.
In addition to its famed perfumeries, Grasse is also home to several museums, including the Museum of Art and History of the Provence (Musee d'Art et d'Histoire de Provence), which is filled with artifacts from the local area, and the Perfumery Museum (Musee International de la Parfumerie) that is devoted to the history of perfumes making.
There is also more to Grasse than just its scent-sational perfumes and fragrant fields of flowers. A number of historical attractions can be found here, as well, including the Notre Dame du Puy Cathedral. This magnificent cathedral, which is a national monument, features three spectacular paintings by Rubens.
Visitors can also peruse the Navy Museum (Musee de la Marine), which is located in the 18th-century Hotel Ponteves. This museum showcases the career of the Amiral de Grasse, who in 1781 helped America win its war for independence from Britain. Another popular tourist attraction in Grasse is the Villa Musee Fragonard. This museum is located in an old townhouse and features the work of the artist Fragonard.
While there are plenty of attractions to visit in Grasse, this is a city that can also be enjoyed simply by strolling through its narrow, meandering streets and alleys and admiring the interesting architecture or by finding that perfect small restaurant to grab a bite to eat.
On the other hand, travelers with a more adventurous streak may want to take a trip out to the limestone hills just north of Grasse, where they can explore this area's interesting caves and grottos. Some brave visitors may even want to try their hand at Park Mouliere's via ferrata souterrata, which is billed as the world's only underground via ferrata, or climbing route.
With its beautiful climate and charming sights and scents, it is no wonder that Grasse has been drawing visitors, including royalty, for centuries. It is an interesting stop that is the perfect addition to any France travel itinerary.
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