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VISIT: the subtle pursuit of scent

VISIT: the subtle pursuit of scent

Nice Sunday morning 02

would you travel abroad for the weekend without luggage? it’s been fascinating to see so many people on twitter shudder at the words hand baggage only, let alone the idea of traveling sans bagage for a few days!

i must say, i baulked slightly at the idea when moneysupermarket.com first challenged me to spend the weekend in nice with nothing but my passport, wallet and camera, but it truly was a fantastic experience. despite the fact the challenge was designed to highlight how many travel insurance claims relate to the loss or damage of luggage (nearly a quarter – shocking, right?) the trip ended up making me think about just how much needless stuff we carry around on a day-to-day basis.

naturally if i’d actually lost my luggage on a trip i’d be far less philosophical about the experience, and of course it helped that i was prepared in advance to spend time (and money) buying a few essentials when i arrived, but the whole experience of travelling light was a wonderfully liberating one. and of course, not having to fight my way on the plane first to stake my overhead baggage compartment made the journey all that much sweeter!

Nice morning 01

Nice morning 02

Nice morning 03

day two in nice held just as much promise as the first. we awoke to glorious sunshine and immediately decamped to our balcony, coffee in hand, to take in the views of the rolling hillsides surrounding nice and acclimatise to the balmy warmth.

i mentioned in yesterday’s post that we’d been set a number of “challenges” to complete during the weekend but i’d hardly call any of them challenging: visit the cours saleya market, buy a picnic and head to the port to watch the boats? uhh, challenge accepted!

Nice Port 02

Nice Port 03

one of my favourite things to do in any coastal town is seek out the marina and gawk at the boats, so i was certainly in my element in nice!

port de nice is home to an eclectic mix of traditional fishing boats, luxury yachts and larger cruise liners making it an entirely pleasant place to spend a morning indulging in a leisurely breakfast picnic of.. caramel au beurre sale macarons! (again: when in france..)

Nice Port 07

Nice Port 04

Nice Port 01

after our decadent morning at the marina we hopped aboard the coastal train through antibes and cannes, and an hour later were up in the luscious hillside surrounding grasse, the world’s capital of perfume.

Grasse 01

a bracing climb up steep staircases and sharply inclined alleyways later, we came upon the town centre and took a moment to catch our breath and take in the magnificent views across the valley, then set quickly off to explore the myriad of narrow cobblestoned streets.

at each turn there was something new to grab the attention, from colourful stalls selling everything from fruit ‘n’ veg to artisan crafts, and a multitude of intriguing architectural details to note in the 17th and 18th century buildings.

Grasse 02

Grasse 03

Grasse 04

Grasse 05

but its beauty aside, the real reason we were in grasse was to discover the town’s deeply scented roots. i’ve been fascinated with the intricacies of scent since reading partick süskid’s perfume: the story of a murderer several years ago and indeed, grenouille’s pursuit of the “perfect scent” in the novel leads him to grasse where he stumbles upon the intoxicating perfume of his young muse, laure.

we were there to visit the fragonard perfume factory – located in a historic perfume factory built in 1782 – which offers free guided tours regularly throughout the day in several languages, as well as boasting an extensive gift shop and museum that details 3,000 years of perfume making.

Fragonard Parfum Workshop Grasse 01

we were booked on a 2 hour fragrance workshop, teaching not only the origins of eau de cologne and how to identify the various essential oils a fragrance is based upon, but also giving us the chance to create our very our take-home scent.

eau de cologne is a light spirit-citrus perfume that originates from cologne, defined by its typical concentration of roughly 7% essential oils. conceived in 1709 by italian perfumer giovanni maria farina, eau de cologne contains a mixture of citrus oils including oils of lemon, orange, tangerine, bergamot and neroli, often enhanced with oils of lavender, rosemary, thyme, petitgrain and jasmine.

Fragonard Parfum Workshop Grasse 02

Fragonard Parfum Workshop Grasse 03

our instructer michelle, who has over 30 years experience in the fragrance industry, showed us how to ‘smell’ each essential oil by dipping a test strip and holding it directly under our nose for 3-4 minutes. the immediate scent comes from the top note of the fragrance, then as time passes the middle, then base notes of the oil are released.

for example, the initial scent i detected in tunisian neroli oil was similar to that of turpentine but within seconds that had dissipated leaving the fragrance of orange blossom which in turn became jasmine, then a musky aniseed a few minutes later. likewise, the acidic citrusy scent of verbena quickly became a ‘fizzy’ ginger before settling into a clean and energising musk.

Fragonard Parfum Workshop Grasse 04

after we’d put our noses through their paces and smelt our way through all nine essential oils, we were tasked with creating our very own eau de cologne. to 20ml equal parts of brazilian orange, italian lemon and bergamot we added a single pipette measure of each of the other oils to form a base, then set about adding in further measures to our own chosen recipe.

Fragonard Parfum Workshop Grasse 05

i opted for the further addition of red italian mandarin, tunisian neroli, verbena and rosemary to create a scent that was fresh and energising with a underlying hint of woody sweetness. it’s certainly an interesting scent and one that has shades of what i wanted to achieve in it, but sadly didn’t quite match up to my expectations.

oh well, guess i’ll just have to plan another trip to grasse to try my luck again..!

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all flights, accommodation & spending money while in nice was covered by moneysupermarket.com, but all opinions, experiences & photography are my own. 


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  1. Jessica

    6 August

    What a wonderful day! That perfume workshop looks and sounds fantastic – how do I book?

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