Podcast Parfum Essence Cote Azur France
©CRT Côte d'Azur France

Fragrances and the Côte d’Azur

Hello and welcome to the French Riviera! Nested between mountains and the sea, this unique corner of the world will never cease to surprise and enchant you. Under the soft gaze of this magnificent sun, we are about to discover some real treasures… and today, I invite you to explore the Pays de Grasse and its surroundings. Grasse is a city known above all for its impeccable expertise in the field of perfumery. It’s an adventure for all the senses!


Fragrances intoxicate us and question us about our sensitivity… they have something to tell us that reaches the deepest core of our being, and speaks to us beyond words… They take us on a journey through time, from the creation of Chanel N°5, born in Cannes on the French Riviera, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021, to the young Côte d’Azur company Okaia and its “Eau Bleue”, the official perfume of the French football team.

To better understand the world of perfumery on the French Riviera, I will start by going back to its historical roots. Then, we will go into the fields to see where the flowers and perfume plants are grown and harvested, selected and processed to design perfumes. I will take you to visit a “nose”, or perfumer, if you prefer, before we discover the three great houses of Grasse perfumery: Fragonard, Molinard and Galimard.

Are you ready to follow me ? Take a deep breath and… off we go ! Let’s dive into a world of scents and travel together through time …


A brief history of perfume

Since the beginning of time, smells have surrounded us… From the most exquisite flowers to the least pleasant odours, our nose appreciates or tolerates a wide range of scents. The substances released into the air by the Earth and its inhabitants form in every place “a kind of frightening broth”, in the words of author Alain Corbin.

In antiquity, the first perfumery processes made life more pleasant, more sensual… embellished with subtle mixtures of scents that help us stand out. This comfort will be greatly amplified during the 18th century, with the development of hygiene in our societies and the elimination of bad smells.

At that time, on the Côte d’Azur, perfume was immediately welcomed in the tanneries of the small town of Grasse, where the smell of leather was unbearable. To hide it, natural essences from the region were used, instigating the birth of a new corporation, the Glovers Perfumers. Later, when the glove industry began to decline, the tanners of Grasse completely abandoned glove making and turned to the perfume industry.

This territory is particularly adapted to the emerging perfume trade. Many fragrant plants are cultivated here, such as orange blossom, black currant, myrtle or pistachio mastic tree, as well as jasmine, imported from the East, Centifolia rose and the delicate tuberose of Mexico.

Thus, from plant cultivation to the art of perfume composition, not to mention the knowledge of raw materials and their transformation, Grasse and its region gradually acquired all the know-how of perfumery. Its fame quickly spread beyond the borders of France, to such an extent that it was once called the perfume capital of the world. What a unique and exciting place to discover during your next visit to France Côte d’Azur!

For now, let me invite you to take a stroll together in this magnificent Pays de Grasse, to discover its fragrant plants, areas of cultivation and the people who work there… Let’s go!


Flowers of Grasse

We are in Mouans-Sartoux, in the gardens of the International Perfume Museum, an essential place to start our sensory journey. Here, we meet head gardener Christophe Mège, who explains the singularity of this site.

In a way, we are an open-air museum, we are ultimately a botanical garden, where visitors are invited to discover perfume plants, and therefore all the perfume plants that have contributed to Grasse’s industry. In the open field, we are going to discover the Centifolia roses, the roses of Grasse, and jasmine Grandiflorum, which is the jasmine of Grasse. We cultivate the tuberose, the Rosa geranium, all these plants that have made the history of this country, and then we have another part of the garden, on the right, which is in fact an olfactory path where the plants are grouped together by olfactory notes. We took up the vocabulary of perfumery to describe these scents, so we have woody notes, spicy notes, floral, fruity, white flowers, citrus… aromatic notes. For woody notes, we have things like vetiver, patchouli, cypress, all the plants that can be used in perfumery for this note. And the particularity of this path is that we have not only perfume plants, but also fragrant plants, which are plants that are not transformed in perfumery but are used to illustrate these notes. And the idea, in fact, is for the visitor to come and wander in the garden, touch the plants, smell, discover… Indeed, this part is a sensory experience, where we really want people to have fun, but it’s also didactic because we present information about the different plants and notes. Visitors can wander on their own, they will find information panels in the garden, there are labels with plants’ names, and the walk continues like that to the top of the garden… and then we go to that famous open field I was talking about earlier, which is almost on the scale of a Grasse agricultural landscape.

These gardens are therefore intended to present all the perfume plants of the Pays de Grasse… plants that are often delicate and fragile, but essential for the production of the greatest perfumes. But beyond that, it’s important to know that the Pays de Grasse is strongly attached to its history and heritage. That’s why in 2018, perfume know-how and expertise in the Pays de Grasse was classified as “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” by Unesco. This recognition has helped to protect the region, among other things, but also to energise it, as new horticulturalists are now settling there with confidence, ready to produce the most refined scents in the world.

A few production sites have however been here for several generations, such as that of the Mul family. It is very well known and produces exclusively for a major Parisian brand. Jasmine and Centifolia rose as far as the eye can see, fragrances of a rare sweetness, all under a bright blue sky in the soft light of Côte d’Azur… (inspiration…) Ahhhhh…

These two flowers are essential ingredients in the production of N°5, the famous Chanel perfume, and in order for this production to be sustainable, in 1987, Chanel started an unprecedented partnership with the Mul family. This involves securing both the quantity and quality of the flowers needed, but also preserving the cultivation of plants in the country of Grasse… and with them, a knowledge dating back three centuries! This winning collaboration continues to this day.

Jasmine and Centifolia rose are also picked in the south of Grasse by Pierre Charliat, producer of perfume plants across generations, who organises tours of his farm… We go there with our lungs wide open to breathe in this delicious air (inhalation)… All our senses are awakened… in a rustic setting of pink, white, green and blue, an old Provençal building reminds us of the site’s authenticity and its horticultural activities. Do you hear the peculiar noise of jasmine flowers being cut? (sound effect)


Picking is done exclusively by hand. In other words, no machine can replace human dexterity to pick the jasmine flower. This type of work takes a lot of time and requires patience, because to harvest 1 kg of jasmine flowers you must have manually picked between seven thousand and ten thousand flowers by hand. Tuberose is a very powerful and heady scent, as the flowers can be smelled several hundred metres away when there is spray or drafts. This scent carries quite a distance and comes from a fairly fleshy flower compared to jasmine. Tuberose is a stem that rises up with buds on the end of the stem, and they flower one by one, so we pick them every day. The flower opens every evening at dusk, and this is when the scent is the most uplifting.

So it’s something else, another atmosphere, another perfume, it’s different from jasmine, each flower has its own peculiarities, for example the rose that we also grow on site, the May rose, its scents are definitely not the same, it has nothing to do with a regular rose that you might have in your garden. It’s very subtle, you can have slightly lemony notes at the end for example. The May rose is the queen of roses in Grasse and it is very coveted, since it only blooms for 4 weeks every year, in May. So here is the queen of roses, she is long-awaited in Grasse. Everything I pick is brought to the factory each morning, to undergo extraction. And after that, we use it as a basis for the perfumes, which is called the concrete, and is subsequently put into alcohol to make the absolute, which will end up in minute quantities in the greatest fragrances that we know.

Flowering plants are also grown in a few other places across the region of Grasse. First, le Domaine de Manon, also specialising in rose and jasmine. Carole Biancalana practices flower picking with passion, under the watchful eye of her elders, while bringing her own dimension: cultivating the land while protecting the environment.

There is also the Domaine du Mas de l’Olivine, in Peymeinade, which can be discovered during guided tours. Its particularity is that it’s located on terraced land. Nested amongst 300 trees, you will find jasmines, roses, but also irises and lilies. Once picked, these flowers are turned into delicious sweets that you can taste and purchase to your heart’s content. Besides, the owners offer workshops for the general public where you can participate in the picking and processing of these flowers, so… if you’d like to try, don’t hesitate to join!

Still in Grasse, we visit the Bastide Isnard through a journey of the senses… In addition to the fragrant flowers, we navigate between Mediterranean fruit trees such as bitter orange trees, fig trees, lemon trees and olive trees. The terraces are magnificent and we take a break to contemplate the panorama… a breathtaking view of the sea from the heights of the middle-country! (breathing, relaxation)… How beautiful !!!!!

Then we set off a few kilometres to the east to reach the Bastide aux Violettes in the village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup… come with me! There is an agricultural holding as well as a museum dedicated to the famous Victoria violet. Let’s follow the guided tour and taste some violet-flavoured delicacies. Huuummmmm! What a feast for the senses, with such aroma and subtle taste!

Finally, we climb a little higher towards Gourdon, a magnificent village perched above the Gorges du Loup. Here, the Lavanderaie de Marie is a picturesque place not to be missed on your journey. Between sea and mountain, there are of course fields of lavender but also various aromatic plants.

At La Source Parfumée, in the village, there is an old period distillery and an eco-museum with tools from yesteryear… Before concluding this fascinating travel through time, let’s not forget to buy a lovely candle-flower as a traditional souvenir.

Back to the centre of Grasse, we’re going to learn a little bit more about the perfume production process with Guy Serano, expert in the transformation of perfume plants.

Essential, concrete, and absolute oil are all used to develop the most prestigious perfumes… But what secrets lie behind these terms? What is their manufacturing process?


Depending on what you want, whether it is an essential oil or a concrete one, the devices will be quite different (…) If it is an essential oil then it will be done in stills, under agitation which means that the process only uses water and the essential oils are naturally carried by the steam. Now, with concrete, we are going to work with extractors and solvents… We are going to put our flowers in baskets with holes, we are going to drown these flowers, let them macerate for less than an hour, an hour or an hour and a half depending on the product, and we are going to do washes. Concretes cannot be used as they are, since there are waxes inside them called insolubles. Once the concrete is ready, we will use other devices, send them to an absolute room and the concrete will only be treated with alcohol.