One of my favorite things about visiting new places is the scent. Elba Island smells like basil and jasmine. Downtown Vicenza is espresso and brioche. Salzburg is wood smoke and coffee. Istanbul is pipe smoke and spices. Yes, there’s some stench, too, but I prefer to focus upon the good. Based on this fact, it’s probably not surprising that one of the destinations topping my to-do list in France was Fragonard Parfumeur. I’ll be totally up front and tell you that the kids hated it. Eddie wound up taking them out to play near the giant tree out front before we made it halfway. I, on the other hand, had a great time and actually learned so much about fragrance.
The Fragonard building has housed perfume-making since 1782. Parfumerie Fragonard is relatively recent, originating in 1926. Open every single day–Sundays and holidays included–Fragonard is the more popular out of three perfumeries in Grasse (Galinard and Molinard are the other two). Free tours are available in many languages and take about 20 minutes.
After hearing about Fragonard’s history, our tour guide took us through room after room of holding tanks and bottles. Some held single scent notes (like the amber-colored bottles above), others held perfume blends (like the silver vats). She also talked about scent extraction methods. Today, floral fragrance is captured much the same way alcohol distilleries make bourbon and whiskey. Many years ago, single flowers were layered on animal fat (see the middle image above) and kept for weeks until the tallow had absorbed the sweet scent. And then there are other scents that are non-floral like my favorite: amber. I think I could have gone my whole life without learning that fragrance amber is actually the squid-laden vomit of a sperm whale. Thank god it’s all synthetic now. I’m not sure I could stomach wearing whale puke.
Probably my least favorite portion of the tour was (surprisingly) the sniffing portion of the tour. As much as I loved Fragonard, I was not a fan of their proprietary scents. It was all, well, too perfume-y. I skipped out to shop on my own part-way through the “testing” and found my own goodies. The Eau de Toilette scent varieties were by far my favorites, and I wound up buying a bottle of Violette, a mix of orange, blackberry, violet, raspberry, musk and amber.
The home fragrance section was divine, too. Only because I had arbitrarily budgeted less than $100, I picked up a single candle. There were fragrance oil rods, candles, and soaps, all of which were less than $50 each. The Coriander Lemongrass begged to come home, so I had to oblige.
If you remotely like fragrance, or if you just need some luxurious gifts to bring home, I highly recommend Fragonard. Maybe leave the kids back at the hotel room, but there’s a great yard and tree for them to play under otherwise. For great directions, hours, and visitor information about Fragonard, visit the link fragonard factory. Given that it was a Sunday when we visited, most of Grasse was closed. If you can visit on a weekday, I’ve heard the quaint town is absolutely divine.