7 August 2001
We decided to venture away from Cannes one day and headed by train to Grasse, one of the perfume capitals. It was an easy train ride once we got to the station. It always seems closer on the map than it is in reality. But we were late for the train, but wait! This is France and things are not always on time. Of course the train was thirty minutes late so we were actually early.
Great little train ride to Grasse and then grabbed a bus to the town up a large hill. This town was formed or actually exists today because of perfume. Big tourist site and actually interesting tours of the “factories” to see the process. Very much like visiting winery. What is interesting is that the number of flowers they need to make just a small amount of extract for the various perfumes. The one we visited specialized in orange scents.
The science behind the process is simple. Alcohol and water extractions, distillation and condensation. Simple old science with lots of newer equipment to improve the process and of course the “nose” to select the blends. Like a winery there is someone who smells everything and determines the proper blends. The “nose” is a person who spend years learning different scents and can distinguish thousands over time. Supposedly they are not allowed to drink alcohol or smoke in order to preserve their abilities. Maybe true.
Walking around the rest of the town was nice. Great views down below and several old buildings and churches to see. As expected lunch was not great and poorly served, half the menu was not available, typical tourist place.
We walked down to the train station, actually ran a bit when we saw the train at the station. But alas this is France and the train schedule is a suggestion. The train was again 30 minutes late for departure. Once we got going it was fine. Clean cars with air conditioning, never an option in Switzerland. Swiss trains are clean but never anything but hot in the summer.
Aluminum bottles holding the scents. Light will destroy the fragrance in a short time so it is kept inside these light proof bottles.
Making scented soaps. The machine in the foreground extrudes round tubes. The guy cuts off sections and uses the press to squash out bars of soap that solidify once they cool. Pretty primitive process but it works.
Old style distillation process to concentrate the scents. Simple boiling point distillation with some oils added to aid in the extraction. Bottom line is that the process is very simple, it is the volume required to make one once or milliliter of perfume that demands some of the cost. Thousands of flowers are required. Actually I bet China will find a way to mass produce the stuff soon and crater the market just like they are doing with freshwater pearls and others things.
Nice picture in the center of town.