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The tannoy crackled, and a voice began to speak quickly in French. The passengers around me began to gather up with belongings; seeing my confusion, the woman next to me translated: ‘This train is stopping,’ she explained. ‘We will have to change.’
As we hurried to the right platform, it became clear we were both heading to Grasse. Luckily, the woman’s English was a lot better than my French, and we chatted for the rest of our journey. She told me her name was Sabine, and that she travelled to Grasse every weekend to visit her boyfriend. ‘You will love it there,’ she explained, ‘it’s a very relaxed and friendly place.’
Even after we arrived at the station she insisted on dropping me at my accommodation, farewelling me with two kisses and a loud, ‘Au revoir!’ out of the window.
A warm and welcoming start to my weekend in the perfume capital of the world.
Grasse is set in the hills of the Provence region, nestled between the lower French Alps and the Cote d’Azur – or the French Riviera, as it is known in the UK. The views are stunning – pastel-painted buildings dotted against blue-hued hills, sloping down towards the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.
I’d dreamed of travelling here since I was a little girl growing up in New Zealand: walking through the parfumeries, watching as master ‘noses’ (a nickname for master parfumers) created exotic scents with glass pipettes and the finest essential oils.
And now, here I was – standing at the gate of the revered Molinard Parfumeries, where some of the world’s most famous figures – including Queen Victoria – have travelled to get their bespoke fragrance blends.
Walking through the doors is like stepping back in time – apart from the modern accoutrements, the salon and factory stands just as it did in 1849, when the store was first opened by Hyacinthe Molinard, distilling roses, jasmine and local flowers.
Since then the perfumery has been passed down through five generations, and to this day is a family-owned business, still using traditional techniques from last century, in perfume stills designed by Gustave Eiffel – yes, the same man who created the Eiffel Tower.
But I wasn’t just going to admire the history, I was also at Parfums Molinard to join their perfume workshop and create my very own unique signature scent in their perfume laboratory. I opted for the L’Atelier des Parfums – a €69 one-hour course allowing me access to 90 essences, under the professional guidance of one of their master parfumers.
I was in heaven.
My first task was to smell every one of the essences, which are grouped by base, middle and top notes, and put aside the ones that appealed to me. Next, I had to find the scents that blended well together, which I did by dipping a strip of cardboard into each essence, then mix and matching them until I found the perfect complement of scents.
After running it past the master parfumer, and getting her nod of approval, it was time to capture my bespoke scent. Her finely tuned nose knew exactly what ratios I needed to create my perfectly balanced mix (majority base notes, slight less middle notes and the smallest amount of top notes).
Next I used the pipette to decant exactly the right amounts into my bottle, while the parfumer jotted down my formula. ‘We keep this on file,’ she explained, ‘so when you run out we can prepare another bottle of your personalised perfume for you.’
Proudly clutching my bespoke bottle, I spent another hour touring the salon, picking up some gifts to take home and drinking in the beauty and history of Maison Molinard.
A truly unique experience, and one I will remember forever.
Want to read more about the perfume capital of the world? Read my post on ‘What to See and Do in Grasse‘.