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Perfume workshop in Grasse: All about the art of French fragrance 

destinations tips | French culture | French holidays

The magical settings and heritage in Nice’s hinterland are simply scentsational. Grasse is the perfume world capital and a must-visit on our stays in Provence. France’s iconic perfume brands open their doors to visitors to dive into the fairytale world of fragrance and experience it for themselves at fascinating classes. 

Let’s join a perfume making class to learn what goes into creating the precious potion in a medieval town that oozes Provençal vibes. 

This article is about a trip with a group of students from Uzbekistan who came to explore the South of France and learn French on a language stay! 

Find out more: 

Visiting Grasse, the world capital of perfume

Grasse and the art of perfume, UNESCO World Heritage

The world-renowned region of Grasse in Provence and its perfume expertise have been recognised as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The award is based on centuries of expertise including:

  • Growing fragrant plants
  • Knowledge of natural ingredients and how to process them
  • The art of making perfume 

What better reason for overseas visitors to explore this scentsational world? It really is an artform: the Grasse region has been growing ingredients and designing artisan techniques to blend scents since the 16th century…

Grasse perfume: age-old artisan expertise

After visiting Nice, Antibes and the Mediterranean coast, it’s time to see what the hinterland has to offer. 

It’s no coincidence that Grasse became the homeland of French perfumery. The region has everything it needs to grow flowers and ingredients to make countless fragrances. Those same assets work for tourism too! Sunshine, relaxation, low rainfall plus fertile soil and artisan expertise that has been passed down through the generations and perfected during the Industrial Age. 

Famous fragrant landscapes 

Provençal villages are surrounded by iconic and idyllic landscapes: hills and fields vibrant with rows of lavender, roses, violets and many more aromatic plants used to make the most luxurious scents. Jasmine is the biggest bloom in Grasse and is picked at dawn to cast its wonderfully heady spell over artisans and locals. 

Grasse is also the birthplace for countless world-famous luxury perfumes: Chanel, Dior and Rochas are just some of the names that were inspired by this magical and creative town.  

A Provençal village with personality 

What a village! Grasse sits on a rocky headland over fragrant fields and is a classic Provençal gem. Soak up the South of France as you wander its narrow lanes sheltered from the shade, gaze at its ochre buildings, Romanesque chapels and shady squares! 

The traditional village is famous among bookworms and film buffs as the setting for Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrik Süskind. Grasse must have inspired the author when he studied medieval history here. 

Make memories at a perfume making class!

Most of the perfume brands lie in beautiful Provençal villas, which make a tour or creative workshop even more magical! 

Our young French students joined us for a perfume making class: the full-on immersive experience was a big hit! All the biggest names run perfume making workshops: Fragonard, Galimard, Molinard. It’s a great way for everyone to unleash their inner nez! You can’t help but admire such a talent, shrouded in mystery and awe! It introduces you to unique expertise and French cultural traditions, with its own lingo that’s taught with a sense of fun.

Perfumer tour

We kick off with a tour of the perfume company, ingredient storerooms and production laboratories: from the barrels to the stills, the tour is a real sensory experience. We see beautifully designed bottles in crystal made by famous names (Baccarat, Lalique) as well as vintage ads for the very first perfumes to gain international acclaim. 

Then the attendees learn the basics of olfactory work: how to smell and recognise essences and put them together to create a unique fragrance. With the help of an experienced perfumer, they learn the basics with specific terms and techniques for a craft that requires a delicate touch, care and focus. It’s a golden opportunity to explore this chapter of the French dictionary and encourage learners to get involved by sharing their feelings, scent preferences etc.

The class step by step:

Introducing ingredients

Before you can handle them, you have to get to know the ingredients and their wide range of aromas. Floral, fruity, spicy, woody… They give a perfume its personality depending on their features and concentration. It’s time to learn some specific terms: “essence de jasmin”, “absolue de rose”, “huile essentielle de bergamote”, “eau de parfum”, “eau de toilette”, “eau de Cologne”… a pot-pourri of scents and French vocabulary!

Pairing fragrance notes:

Next step: choose fragrance notes and rank them based on your own preferences: 

  • First a base note (the note that lasts for hours). 
  • Then a heart note (the note you can only smell for a few minutes)
  • Last but not least, a top note (the first note you smell in a perfume)

 Everyone can choose their favourites: floral, fruity, citrus, woody or Oriental to build their own olfactory pyramid! It gets the students thinking and sparks their curiosity with everyone asking each other: “Tu as choisi quoi toi?” To each their own! 

Making the formula

Once you’ve chosen your notes, it’s time to make your formula: getting the right dose of different notes based on their intensity and profile. Everyone turns into a chemist and starts talking about dilution, proportion and balance to achieve the combination we’ve all been waiting for! 

Blending

It’s time for our apprentice nez to get to work blending the ingredients. Based on the ratios they set themselves, they measure out the essences, collect them using appropriate equipment and blend them in a spray bottle.

The perfume’s ready: everyone spritzes their creation with pride and spots the notes they have carefully chosen at the start of class. 

The visitors go home with their apprentice perfumer certificate and a unique souvenir. A bespoke perfume that they made themselves in a unique setting imbued with the spirit of French perfume artisans.

All the teachers and attendees agree that this was a French lesson like no other! It’s so unique, immersive and exciting that it gives learners a thrilling insight into French heritage and Provence itself blending with language, culture and even science. 

All our visitors gave it a big thumbs up! 

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