The wonderfully pretty French town of Grasse, just north of Cannes and an easy drive from Nice, is an incredibly popular day-trip destination for those holidaying in the French Riviera region. The reason?
It makes things smell divine.
Unofficially regarded as the perfume capital of the world and the birthplace of many a fragrance, Grasse offers an opportunity for visitors to challenge and develop one of the most under-rated of our senses and to, quite literally, wake up and smell the roses.
Arriving by rental car, we spent a full day exploring its picturesque medieval streets, whiffing the scents of its famous parfumeries, enjoying the atmosphere of small town France, and even making our own perfume; here are our favourite things to do in Grasse (which we think you’ll love too!)
Thing To Do in Grasse
Learn All About Perfume
Things didn’t always smell so good in Grasse. In fact, until the 18th century, the town was a hub for tanneries and leather goods - and any of you who have been in close proximity to one of these will know they don’t give off the most pleasant odour. Leather was however a popular clothing material, and Jean de Galimard came up with the creative idea to make the products more appealing for his noble clients by masking them with the fragrance of the flowers which grow so well around the town (and continue to thrive).
And the rest, as they say is history.
Perfume became the central industry in town, and one which employs thousands to this day across various large and small parfumeries. Visitors to town are able to learn more about the process - from the incredible cost of creating a single litre of rose essence, the global supply chains for botanicals, evolving techniques, and the artistry and chemistry involved in creating a scent, with the free tours on offer at each of Grasse’s most famous perfume houses: Fragonard, Molinard, and Galimard. If you aren’t a large group, simply turn up and join the next one (they leave several times an hour). You can also do a perfume-making workshop to create your own scent.
Fragonard (20 Boulevard Fragonard) is the most conveniently and centrally located, housed over several floors in its glorious old yellow walled factory at the entrance to the historic part of Grasse. Molinard (60, boulevard Victor Hugo), based in a building designed by Gustave Eiffel (he of the tower fame), is a short walk from the old town. One of Europe’s oldest perfumeries - Gallimard - was founded in 1747 and provided fragrance to the court of Louis XV, but its factory tour is likely only going to be on your itinerary if you have your own vehicle due to its location (73 route de Cannes).
Guided group tours last 30 minutes to an hour, and are a real olfactory treat.
To learn more about the history of perfume, you can then head to the International Perfume Museum which, unsurprisingly, is about all things perfume. The museum charts the history of scent through the ages and its role in various civilisations, as well as France’s pivotal role in the industry. Entry is €4 per person, and it can be found on 2 Boulevard du Jeu de Ballon. The museum also has botanical gardens outside of town which are open to visitors (we didn’t visit these, but we thought you should know just in case).
Get Lost in the Old Town
When the essence of jasmine, may roses, and lavender are becoming a little too much, then it’s a sign that you should take the opportunity to wander around the picture postcard streets of Grasse. In comparison to some places in the south of France, Grasse’s old town is a little shabby in parts, but this simply adds to its charm.
Long time readers of Along Dusty Roads will know how much we adore finding little nooks and elements to photograph, and Grasse was a real treat; there were so many quintessentially French notes in the architecture, signage, and the little boutiques scattered around.
As ever in any small historic centre in an old European town, our best advice is to simply get lost and see where you end up. Rue Jean Ossola is the main artery of the old town, from which various alleys and stairways lead off, but don't miss a walk from Place Aux Aires down the sloping Rue Amiral de Grasse. It's also difficult to avoid indulging in a little retail therapy at the quirky artisan shops, antique dealers, and clothes stores.
It makes sense to pair your old town strolls with a leisurely lunch (you are in France after all). We ate at Café des Musées, which had a small lunch menu and did the best vegetarian food we found during our short break in France; it was excellent value.
Further into the old town, Les Délicatesses de Grasse (7 Rue Marcel Journet) provides a wonderfully French ambience with local cheese, meat and wine platters. If on a budget, then Le Croissant Rose (24 Rue Jean Ossola) is your best bet for something more basic but filling.
If you want to dine out in style, then consider the Michelin-starred La Bastide St-Antoine, which is also a luxury hotel.
See Notre Dame De Puy
One essential stop whilst in Grasse is Notre Dame De Puy, the town's 12th century cathedral set in a historic part of town which feels like a movie set. Although the exterior looks a little mundane, its belies a more opulent interior which houses three paintings by the great Baroque artist Rubens (hailing from our favourite Belgian city), as well as one by Fragonard.
Afterwards, stroll to the little patch of grass with deckchairs at Traverse St Martin to relax in the shade (there was a great little coffee truck there when we visited), and then enjoy the view over the rooftops of old and new Grasse from the viewpoint opposite.
Make Your Own Perfume
One of the most uniques experiences we’ve had on all our European travels took place in Grasse.
In a class led by an accomplished ‘nez’ - a professional perfumer - we had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the creative process and make our very own perfume (ok, it was actually an eau de toilette, but still!)
We’ve written more about our Grasse perfume making experience, but we genuinely recommend a perfume workshop to everyone visiting Grasse. Aside from the fantastic opportunity to get up close and personal with the savoir-faire of a person who designs perfumes for individuals and brands, it was incredible fun and everyone takes home a good-sized bottle of their own creation!
A perfume class can be done at any of the three perfumeries in Grasse, but it is highly recommended that you book your class well in advance as they are very popular and slots at each of the perfumeries are limited to 16 or so people per class. The best options in town are:
| Fragonard Perfume Workshop: This is the class that we joined, where you are making the perfume for 90 minutes and then join a guided tour for 30 minutes. It costs £58 per person, and you take home a 100 ml bottle of your scent. Note that children under 12 not permitted. Book here.
| Molinard Design Your Own Fragrance: A one hour workshop, costing £62 per person. You receive a 50 ml bottle of of your own creation and a 10% discount on any perfume purchased at the gift shop. Book here.
| A Private Perfume Creation Class: A more intimate and personalised perfume making experience with Molinard, including a private class and champagne. You will take home a 75 ml bottle. Check prices and availability here.
| Le Petit Parfumeur: The above classes do not cater fore children under 12, so 'little perfumeurs are best to go to the 30 minute classes aimed at 3-10 year olds at Molinard. 10 ml bottle. Check prices and availability here.
If you are short on time, or your budget doesn't permit any of the above classes, then both Fragonard and Molinard offer much shorter and cheaper classes for £26 per person. This includes a guided visit and 20-30 minutes to create a fragrance (12 mls or 30 mls). Book the Fragonard experience here, or the Molinard experience here.
We must note that our bespoke scents do not compare at all to the two bottles of perfume and eau de toilette made by the experts which we purchased for ourselves later at the Fragonard gift shop!
The Paintings of Jean-Honoré Fragonard
The namesake for the famous perfumerie was born in Grasse in 1732, and would later return to the town whilst Paris was in the throes of the French Revolution. Although many would, understandably, assume that he also had something to do with the perfume factory and company, they'd be mistaken. It actually simply named after him by the founder Eugène Fuchs, to recognise the artist's connection to the town (and possibly looking to get some free publicity off the association!)
Twelve of Fragonard's works (the largest collection of his art outside the Louvre in Paris) can be seen at the Jean-Honoré Fragonard Villa-Museum, housed in a beautiful 17th century house just a few minutes from the Fragonard Perfume Factory.
Entrance costs €2, with the ticket also providing you entry to the nearby Museum of the Art and History of Provence.
Is one day enough?
To be honest, a morning and an afternoon in Grasse will be perfect for the majority of visitors.
We arrived at 10 a.m., had a leisurely lunch, several strolls around the old town, popped into the museums, procrastinated in the gift shop, joined our perfume workshop, and that felt sufficient for us. If you have a real passion for perfume, then you may wish to base yourself here for a night or two so that you can sample all of the parfumeries and perhaps visit more of the surrounding countryside.
Our main advice though is to either arrive here earlier in the morning (i.e. before 10.30 a.m.) or to stay around until after 3 p.m. There are a number of French Riviera tour groups and buses stopping off for a few hours in Grasse, and so things can become really quite busy at between 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. When the streets had cleared out by around 4 p.m., we felt like we were experiencing a completely different place.
And, if you hadn’t realised this by now, if you are not at all curious about the history and art of perfume creation, then you’re unlikely to have much reason to venture to Grasse!
Absolutely Don’t Miss…
One of Andrew’s favourite books - ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ by Patrick Suskind - is actually partly set in Grasse. It’s a very dark tale, which weaves in the atmosphere of 18th century France and where, unsurprisingly, scent and perfume, play a key role in murder. If you’re looking for a great read for your visit to Grasse, then this is it.
How To Get to Grasse
A key driver in the popularity of Grasse is its proximity to several key locations in the south-east of France. Those based in Cannes (20kms), Antibes (23 kms), and Nice (44 kms), can easily make their way to the town by car, train or bus for a day-trip.
Note that, in France, public transport is less frequent on Saturdays and Sundays, so double-check departure times for buses and trains if travelling on those days. The train station in Grasse is 1.6 kms from the town centre, so requires a decent uphill walk. You can however jump on a regular shuttle bus to take you to the town centre, costing €1.50 per person and departing every 15 minutes. If arriving by bus, you’re then only a 500 metre walk to the main attractions in the old town.
Cannes to Grasse
Trains run hourly between the two, with a travel time of 30 minutes and a single ticket costing €4.60 per person.
A Cannes to Grasse bus service also runs several times an hour during the week. You can take either the 600 or 610 bus, departing from the train station in Cannes several times each hour. It takes an hour (sometimes a smidge more) to get to Grasse for the bargain bucket price of €1.50 per person.
Nice to Grasse
Trains run hourly from Nice to Grasse, with a journey time of just over an hour and a single ticket costing €9.60 per person.
Alternatively, you can take the Nice Grasse bus service (the #500) departing from the Albert 1er / Verdun bus station. Travel time is around 90 minutes, costing €1.50 for a single ticket - check the full timetable here.
Read Next | The Day We Made Our Own Perfume
Antibes to Grasse
The 45 minutes train service from Antibes costs €9 per person for a single ticket. There is no bus between the two, so you would have to make your way to Cannes to catch either the 600 or 601 service (so we recommend you just take the train!)
For real-time departure information and online ticket booking for public transport in Europe, visit GoEuro.
Arriving in Grasse by Car
If you have your own vehicle or a rental car (like we did), navigating your way in and around Grasse is quite simple. Your best bet for parking is to follow the large signs towards ‘Fragonard’ and you will find a secure multi-storey underground carpark close on Cours Honoré Cresp, which is two minutes walk from the Fragonard Museum - it cost us around €12 for eight hours parking. Don’t try to find free parking in the old town as it’s an impossible task.
If you are looking to rent a car for your French holiday, we recommend checking out and booking via AutoEurope - it’s the site we always use to find the best deals and availability for local car rental online.
Where to Stay in Grasse
If you would prefer to spend a night or two in Grasse, then note that few options are located within the historic centre. Instead, with the very best hotels in Grasse are best reached with your own vehicle or a taxi from the train station.
Here are our pick of hotels in Grasse:
La Bellaudiere | For a romantic, traditional French experience, this is a great option. Enjoy breakfast with a view on a sun-soaked balcony, whilst there are wonderful little touches throughout this 16th century house to reflect the history of Grasse.
Double rooms begin at £81 - check prices and availability.
Best Western PLUS Elixir | Just under 2 miles from the old town, this comfortable modern hotel boasts a pool and excellent facilities throughout.
Double rooms start from £107 - check availability here.
Moulin Sainte Anne | One of Grasse's most popular choices, this wonderfully restored B&B is set in an old olive mill. With large rooms (all with garden views) and a guest pool, it's a perfect choice for lazy mornings or relaxing after a day's exploring.
Doubles start from £131 - check availability here.
Les Palmiers | The ideal option if you are looking for a clean and comfortable, but more basic room in the historic centre spot for a night or two. With breakfast included and a free-of-charge communal kitchen available to guests, alongside excellent views over the historic centre, it's a sensible choice for those who prefer to cook their own meals, and don't have a car
A double room is £89 per night, with discounts available for stays of 3+ nights. A family room is also available - check prices and availability.
Note that, in the summer months, accommodation in Grasse is in high demand so booking in advance is essential. The Grasse Jasmine Festival takes place in the first weekend of August, so availability will be particularly limited at that time.
To see more accommodation options and availability for your own dates in Grasse, click here.