Museum of Naval History - Admiral de Grasse
This museum is in the old 18th century Hôtel Pontevès-Morel, and dedicated to the career of the Amiral de Grasse. In the late 1780's de Grasse led a crucial force that converged on Yorktown and defeated the largest concentration of British soldiers in America's War of Independence. Soon after the Yorktown defeat, Britain recognized the United States of America and withdrew its forces.
Defeating the Perfidious Albion would be an immense source of national pride to the French. However being midwife to the birth of America must indeed be a cause of nearly daily recriminations. "Why did we didn't we go in, Grasse, eh ? We'd beaten the redcoats. All of America could now be French-speaking, instead of a couple of poxy provinces of eastern Canada. The United States of France was in our grasp." Perhaps Amiral de Grasse, having defeated the English, in the best French tradition, then shut up shop and closed for a very very long lunch.
None of this was known to me at the time as the Museum failed to re-open after lunch.
The old town of Grasse
From Place du Cours one can start a walkthrough the narrow and winding streets and stairs of the "Vieille Ville", the old town. Don;t be surprised when you loose the road once or twice, as this part of Grasse is truely a maze of alleys, paths, cosy little squares and stairways. The medieval spirit waeres around still and the small shops are sometimes selling the strangest things. A walk through old Grasse is a joy for the eyes and ears, as well as for your nose. Flowery and parfum scents are changed by food and fish. A dazzling world of senses. Some places at the border of the old town offer spectacular views over the surroundings hills and landscape.
Grasse, not at sea, but a great admiral
The town of Grasse also brought forward a great French military men: admiral de Grasse. Yes, he had the same name as the town itself. He was leader of the French fleet in difficult times and knew to response rapidly towards various attacks on French harbours and coastal defences.
Grasse: Perfume, Napoleon, and Madame Guillotine
Grasse is the capital of the French perfume industry , and home to the House of Fragonard, who in 1926 purloined the name from a famous French painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard. The artist was born in Grasse and produced, as well as landscape and portraiture, erotic pictures and of mythology in the Rococo style of excess, well suited to an association with perfume.
The Fragonard factory and laboratory is located in Eze village, but Grasse is their showroom and their museum of perfume-making and accessories. Here you can marvel at how many trillion flower petals have to be crushed to make just one squoosh of the stinky stuff, and understand why it costs so much.
Many of the famous designer label perfumes are manufactured here on their behalf , and the main ingredients of rose and jasmine are grown in the surrounding area. Other large perfume houses in Grasse include Molinard, Galimard, and Mane, so, if you wish, you can go on a "perfume crawl" - and arrive home smelling like Turkish brothel (whatever that smells like - how would I know?)
"House of Fragonard"
Perfume, perfume and yet more perfume. Grasse's main tourist attraction is the perfume houses. You can sample and smell and buy, and even have your own unique concoction made up exclusively for yourself. ("Yes, ladies. He's wearing Trubshaw. Trubshaw for men"- cut to wild stallions pounding through the surf - "Because he's worth it."
The bottles are probably the most attractive part of this smelly business. Somewhere among the chemists and "noses" are the designers of these lavish bottles. The art is the way you shape the glass to seductively hold the precious liquid.
But if you really want to take the romance out of perfume, study how its made.(You may want to skip this section) In spring and summer, roses and jasmine are picked and rapidly transferred to large vats, where they are washed in solvent to capture the essential oils, resins and waxes from the petals. The solvent evaporates to leave behind a solid 'concrete'. When the essential oils are required, alcohol is used to extract them from 'concrete', leaving behind the purest form of floral scent - known as 'absolute'. These are then blended to create perfumes to which the marketing industry adds "branding and packaging" to transform it into "Dior Addict" or "Chanel No 5"
Perfume is Grasse's trump card but a few interesting historical features apart from that are to be found within the confines of old Grasse, mostly related to Napoleon, his relatives, his generals and his admirals.
The best way to see Grasse is from a distance. Wander up and away to see the signature cathedral tower on the crest of the town, which rises 350 metres above sea level, and out 15 km east to Cannes and the mediterranean beyond.
Closer inspection finds a town a little down at heel,doing its best to smarten up but still some way to go.