Grasse & Biot

In the Middle Ages, Grasse was a centre of excellence for leather making. Unfortunately the process to stop rawhide from putrefying created the most putrefying of smells. And so the world’s perfume capital was born!

We’ve been doing a lot of day trips from our tiny village of Pignans in Var on the Cote D’Azur. This weekend we visited the hillside villages of Grasse and Biot to learn more about perfume making and glass blowing.

Several hundred years ago Grasse had a reputation for making good quality leather. Unfortunately the use of dog feces, goat urine and human excrement to stop rawhide from decomposing did not create the nicest smelling products.

Luckily a solution was at hand when tanners turned to the abundance of jasmine, rose and tuberose flowers in the region. The Galimard tannery was the first to introduce perfume into the tanning process, and its sweet smelling gloves became a hit!

The modern perfume industry begin in force in the 19th century. Today there are more than 30 factories in the Grasse area, and in the summertime you can smell the flower fields from a few kilometres away. The factories create some of the best known perfumes in the world, including Chanel No.5.

Claire smells soap and tries to guess the flower

Claire smells soap and tries to guess the flower

We toured the Fragonard factory to learn more about perfume making (much less disgusting than Middle Age tanneries). We smelled different soaps and perfumes to figure out what fruit/flower/wood/spice was used in its fabrication.

Sadly none of us will ever become a “Nez” or “Nose”, the term used for a top perfume chef. There are approximately 3,000 fragrances in the world, but most people can’t distinguish one from another (which begs to ask, why do we buy them?)

The girls thought the tour was fun, but we all left with mild headaches.

After eating lunch in a park with beautiful views towards the Mediterranean, we hopped back in the car and made our way to Biot. The girls loved learning about the history of this village. At one point during the Middle Ages, Biot became deserted due to war and the plague. Thieves and robbers moved in to use it as a base for illicit activities. The thought of a robber’s hangout was intriguing!

Towards the end of the 15th century, Biot was repopulated with regular folks and became a centre for pottery. Today, Biot is known more for glass blowing, and we went to the “Verrerie de Biot” to see glass blowers in action.

A glass blower works on a goblet

A glass blower works on a goblet

Glassblowing is a technique that involves inflating molten glass into a bubble using a blowpipe. The process exploits the expansion properties of glass that allow it to be shaped. When small amounts of air are introduced, the molten glass can be shaped into products like glasses, vases and plates.

It was interesting to watch the glassblowers at work. I had an urge to ask them how many times they had burned themselves, but thought maybe that’s an answer I didn’t want to know!

We ended up wandering through the gift shop (the girls know that around the world, if they ever get lost, the exit is always at the other end). We bought a small globe with phosphorous in the glass that makes it glow in the dark. We probably could have used the globe during power cuts in Africa!

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