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One Morning in Grasse

On Friday in Nice, Ryan and I ate the hostel breakfast supplemented with our truffle brie, foie gras pâté, ripe tomatoes, peaches, and cep sausage. We checked out and went to pick up our rental car from the train station. At the station, we saw more armed soldiers and security patrolling the station, as well as a poster explaining what to do in case of a terror attack (run away, tell others, barricade doors, hide).

We picked up our brand new blue Renault Megara that had quite a few dents in the door. I can see how it got banged up so quickly: the streets, alleys, and parking garages are all super narrow! It was also one of those crazy keyless cars, and even after a whole day of driving, I wasn’t used to it.

With Ryan navigating with his phone, we hit the road. First we drove along the water, marveling at giant yacht-shaped hotels and terrible French drivers. I wanted to go to Grasse, the ‘perfume capital,’ before we headed on to Aix-en-Provence, so Ryan got us there despite the winding roads, dead ends, and narrow alleyways. Grasse is built on a hill and was difficult to navigate by car. We originally had tried going to the Fragonard perfumerie, but then we couldn’t find any parking! Ryan and I ended up going to Molinard, since they had their own spacious carpark on the hillside. We arrived just before 1pm, which was perfect because we got to go on an English tour right away.

The tour was quick and easy, in French and English, and smelled really good! The guide told us how it is still a family company after five generations and almost 150 years in business. We got to see dioramas of the three extraction methods used in the past, from just laying flower petals on sheets of fat, to using liquid solvents, and finally steam extraction and distillation. In the current steam method, it takes 300 lbs of flowers to make just 1 kg of essence. They showed us samples of the raw ingredients, from rose, violet, tuberose, and jasmine from Grass (which enjoys 300 sunny days per year) to Florida oranges and some weird Brazilian root. We got to smell their famous unisex fragrance Habanita, which gained popularity in 1923. My favourites were jasmine (obviously) and orange blossom. One could alsopay €30.50 to get a lesson on how to mix perfumes and then mix your own 30 mL bottle – so cool! The company also makes Scented Soaps; waterless, moisturizing shaving cream; and a 24-hour moisturizing lotion that repels mosquitoes. Ryan and I each ended up buying a variety of scented soaps (for presents, I told myself), and a small bottle of eau de parfum for me.

By now it was about 2 pm, so we headed out to find lunch. Just at the cusp of the old city of Grasse, we found a little bistro with outdoor tables and a good menu. I ordered the salade au chevre chaud, which ended up being a bed of lightly dressed mixed greens, a pile of juicy lardons, and three toasts topped with melted chevre, fresh thyme, and honey. It was amazingly delectable and so satisfying!

Ryan had the most delicious, creamy risotto topped with prawns and seared scallops. This was quite filling so we ended up skipping dessert and coffee. During this lunch we discovered that to get a free jug of tap water to drink, one must order “une carafe d’eau.” If you just ask for “eau,” as we did, the server will bring and promptly open a €6.00 bottle of mineral water. We didn’t make this mistake again!

 Now nicely fed and watered, we headed downhill to the old town. Again, there were steep, winding paths and even though it was 31 C, it felt cooler because above the narrow streets were misters that shot out water that absorbed heat before evaporating – outdoor air conditioning! It was now around 3 pm and some of the shops and restaurants by the fountain were closed, while others were still buzzing. We found an artisinal chocolate shop where Ryan bought some chocolates as gifts and some chocolates for us. The chocolates were topped with local flavours like candied violets, candied rose petals, nuts, or dried fruit. After our brief stay in Grasse, we hit the road again and made our way to Aix-en-Provence.

Ryan and I only spent one morning in Grasse, but it was a charming town and I would have loved to have spent more time here.


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One Morning in Grasse

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