City of Perfume
Alpes-Maritimes (06130) Population: 41,388 Altitude: 333 m
Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, is a gateway town to Beyond. To the south, only 15 km away, is the city of Cannes with its yachts, fine-sand beaches and luxury shopping. To the east, about a 30-minute drive away, is Nice, with its international airport, pebble beaches and the bustle of a busy city. Turning inland from Grasse, at zero distance, you have the hills and forests and canyons and rivers of Beyond. Market day Sat.
Grasse has been a popular tourist town for several centuries, with the smell of flowers and clear air. The altitude of the town, from 300-400 m, and the hills behind give Grasse a fresher climate than the beach during the heat of the summer.
Princess Pauline Bonaparte, the Emperor's sister, spent the winter of 1807-08 in Grasse, recuperating her mental and physical strength. Queen Victoria vacationed through several winters in Grasse, staying at the Rothschild's or at the Grand Hotel.
The old town ("vieille ville") is large, old, and extremely interesting. Tiny streets wind forever between the 17th and 18th century buildings, up and down ancient steps, passing through arched tunnels and sometimes opening out onto large squares. Many of the streets aren't as clean as they should be, but still worth a wander.
The principal square near the top of the old town is the Place aux Aires. A pretty, three-tiered fountain splashes in the center and arcades line one long side. Until recently (2004) this was the site of the daily market of flowers and regional foods, now sadly gone. The nearby shops (butchers, bakers, etc.) are still in business.
Somewhere down in the old village a narrow street comes out onto the Place du Petit Puy (and through the archway into Place Godeau) with the 10-11th-century Notre Dame du Puy cathedral (rebuilt in the 17th c.) and its huge 18th century clock tower. Inside the cathedral are three paintings by Rubens, commissioned from the then-unknown artist in 1601 by the Archduke Albert for the Santa Croce di Gerusalemme in Rome, and offered to Grasse in the 19th century. There's also the 1754 painting Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Also in the Place Godeau is 12th-century "Tour de Guet" (watch tower) at the Mairie, which was the Bishop's Palace.
The French perfume industry began in Grasse in the 16th century. Have a look at our Perfume page.
An historical walking tour of Grasse (about 90 minutes) has been laid out by the Office de Tourisme. A free map has information about each numbered site, and numbered panels are located at the appropriate points throughout the old town. Optionally, you can rent a portable CD with an audio description of the tour.
In the porous limestone hills north of Grasse there are a number of holes and grottos for visiting or exploring (with the local spelunking clubs).
Many of the holes are on the Plateau de la Malle, about 4 km north of Grasse, which rises up to the Plateau de Caussols
- The "Trou du Curé goes down 60 meters.
- The Grotte de la Cascade de St. Sauveur has 150 m of cave developed for exploring.