Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Without the advice of someone from the tourist office, my plans for the day are shaped by the train schedule. Where can I go that's close by and new for me? I still haven't done the local hikes around La Napoule, but today I want to do big things. There's plenty of sunshine and the temperatures are climbing. Aim high!

I decide on a trip to Grasse. It's so easy! A ten minute train ride to Cannes and change there for a twenty-two minute ride to Grasse. As a benefit, on the way back I can finally stick that toe in the city that I've avoided all these years. I don't know Cannes at all. I think I visited it when I was thirteen years old, but at this point, if you asked me what I associate with Cannes, I'll say -- the May film festival and glitzy shops, people and boats. To me, it represents "the Riviera" side of the shoreline here and I don't mean that as a complement.

The train that will connect to Grasse leaves Mandelieu-La Napoule at 9:47. That gives me plenty of time to get a good cafe breakfast.

But is that what I want? The sun is streaming into the apartment, the terrace looks so inviting!

I go out to the bakery, purchase a small croissant, a small pain au chocolat and a half a baguette...

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...and take my breakfast out to the balcony.

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The view is toward the marina across the street. I almost don't want to leave.

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Alright alright alright. Off I go!

Are you asking what's in Grasse? Okay, let me pump you with some basic information about the place. It's in the hills, away from the shore a bit. The hills protect it from prevailing winds and they create a micro climate that is extremely suitable for growing flowers. Grasse is known as the perfume capital of the world. It produces over two thirds of France's natural aromas used in perfume, body care products and foods (it's the food flavorings that saved the town from stagnation ofter many of the perfume companies were bought by international conglomerates, who then took the industry elsewhere and, too, began to rely on synthetic chemicals for many of the scents you'll now find at least in part and especially in the less expensive perfumes). Grasse has been in the business of creating natural scents for several centuries. If you deal in perfume, you'll know about Grasse.

A town with such a long history of scent production is going to be big: Grasse has a population of over 50,000. I have a mild interest in seeing this perfume aspect of Grasse and I know, too, that it has a very pretty medieval old town. Initially, I thought it may also offer some hikes into the hills, but that proved to be false, so I concentrated my walk on the old town.

I start, of course, at the train station. If there is one thing that has been elusive for me on this trip it's the reliable Tourist Office. I need maps! I need information! Can anyone tell me where it is? No they cannot. One person (wrongly) tells me it's in the center of the old town. Well great! It's where I'm heading! Which way is the old town?
Take the bus.
But I want to walk!
There are many steps.

Each time I asked for directions,  I hear the same words -- there are many steps.

On this point, everyone is so right.

I am the only one using them going up and I can so understand why. There are many steps!

But the old town is really pretty! Yes, much of it looks especially beautiful against that blue sky -- I'm in Provence after all and the building colors are a perfect match to it.

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I do still need my maps and information, but this part of the walk is already good!

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The Tourist Office seems to have moved fairly recently and so I cross virtually the whole old town before I find it and therefore I only half listen to the agent's explanation of where I should walk and how I should go about discovering Grasse. I feel I've already plenty discovered it. And I really like what I see.

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Still, the perfume aspect of it is eluding me so I decide to pause for a while at the museum of perfume.

I don't regret it, but nor do I especially benefit much from it. Yes, scent has been important for human development since ancient times. Yes, over the centuries aromas have contributed to everything from hiding body odor to creating religious rites and developing a sophisticated cuisine. But it's not until I reach the part of the exhibit that explains how Grasse's industry flourished that I really begin reading what's posted on the walls.

(On this particular wall there is a mirror. I put it to good use.)

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And I like the little terrace with the orange trees and the blooming rose.

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You would think that I'd be all museumed out after this, but less than a block away there is the museum of Fragonard - a leading perfume maker in France -- and that museum is free, so perhaps I should peek in there as well? Here's the building, against the panorama looking down to the sea. (It's funny: when you are in the hills and mountains, you relish the distant view of the sea. When you are by the sea, you get excited by the sight of mountains in the background.)

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I do an even faster walk through there and I skip the factory tour because I would have to wait quite a bit for it. (I do peek at the vats where the maceration of the flowers takes place. No photo needed: they look like big vats for processing wine or whiskey or any other liquid.)

And I do pause in their basement shop because it's fascinating to see this world of scents translated into the retailing of perfumes. I've stopped using any perfumes since I met Ed (though lotions are another story). Not even eau de toilette. He thinks that stuff is weird.  I don't necessarily agree, but it's not as if I have any use for it at all at the farmette. It just doesn't fit with planting flowers, tending chickens and looking after my granddaughter. Ah, but I have two daughters! And so I linger. And sure enough, I make the purchase. I am a sucker for a good sales pitch. All the images of jasmine (Fragonard's "flower of 2015")? Right to my head. Out comes the credit card.

After the second museum, I don't linger. I've seen the two interesting sides to Grasse. I can catch the train back to Cannes.

Ah, Cannes. Nothing like having low expectations to make you actually feel quite good about your visit to a place!

It start on the right foot: a poke into an exquisite patisserie, lured less by the sight of beautiful pastries...

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...and more by the sight of my beloved macarons. I purchase six.

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I also go to the Galeries Lafayette (France's leading department store) and purchase a pair of polka dot slippers  -- I need them for the apartment and will use them at the farmhouse -- and too, several delightful girlie things for my granddaughter back home. Think: summer in sundresses with strawberries and playsuits with orange poppies.

A bit loaded down with bags, I nonetheless persevere with a sight seeing agenda. I find the tourist office (finally! the requisite brochures, maps and schedules!) and I learn about hikes near La Napoule (there are plenty!). And I get directions for a walking tour of Cannes. I do "part one" this afternoon -- of the old town. I take few photos, in part because I'm loaded down and in part because I have the old town for you from Grasse and I feel there are only so many scenes of yellow shuttered buildings against blue skies that you can take in one sitting.

But I will put up one pic of a typical cafe scene along the grander boulevards.

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Lots of women with very yellow hair and expensive handbags, just as I imagined Cannes would have.

Still, the old town is quiet. The blocks wind up a steep hill and there are almost no people on them. Just the occasional person enjoying the warm air. In Wisconsin, he'd be in shorts. I've long discarded my jacket! Warm climate people get cold easily!

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The castle up on top is closed today (perhaps this explains the almost complete emptiness of the area),  but the views from here are magnificent! Of Cannes below...

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There's a stone wall, so I can do a time-release selfie!

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And facing west, you see the more hilly, rugged area just west of La Napoule.

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And now just a few more minutes of strolling the streets -- I have a 5:03 pm train to catch for the ten minute ride to La Napoule.

Dinner? I go back to my first night's place -- La Neapolis. Yes, there are other choices, but honestly, this one is just crowded with people and I like that. And the food is more than fine -- I take a pasta dish with gambas and thin slivers of zucchini. Delicious!

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At home, I open the bottle Jean-Paul and Martine left for me -- of an Alsatian Cremant (bubbly). It is superb, especially when paired with my macarons!

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I upped the walking hours today. I'm happily tired. And full of plans for the week ahead.


  1. I have been 'gone' for well over a week and didn't know you were off again!
    Must go back and catch-up.

  2. As I've said before, I'm not a pictures of people kind of person - but I really love the pic of the old man with his Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Nice! Oh, and all the brightly colored foods at the pastry shop. Works of art all on their own.

    What flavors of macarons did you end up getting, Nina?

    1. I think she got all of them ;)

    2. cassis (red currant), pistachio, champagne, cherry, salt and butter, and damn it, I can't remember the sixth one! Probably raspberry. :)

  3. Is it my imagination Nina or, all of a sudden, are you posing without a smile all the time these days? No smiles? The last few entries with selfies have all been straight-faced, almost angry looking? Is this a new trend? Before you always have smiled from ear to ear! Just my observation... otherwise, what another great day in France... thank you for taking us there!

    1. I hadn't liked a bunch of smiling pics, so I decided to stick for a short while with serious ones. Funny that you noticed. It is in fact quite intentional though no, I'm not at all grumpy! :) :)

    2. Oh good, glad you cleared that up! I didn't think you were grumpy... I mean, you ARE in the South of France after all!!!

  4. Oh, what a great day! Pain au chocolat, blues skies, the skyline, the water views, the people watching. Thanks for sharing this day.

    I adore people watching, and though I look upon these strangers with warmth, I must sometimes chuckle wryly ... at blonde ladies, all blonde, at least all the old chicks with their feet stuffed into pointy boots and heels. (Hope your other commenters know I'm just about in that same category, so am I allowed to poke fun just a little?). Of course there is a more charitable way to think about this - instead of vain, they have a positive self-image. Right? like my mom, who at 88 has never worn sweatpants or sneakers.

    Well, I do love my comfy Keens. And my Miraclebody jeans! :)
    See? Laughing at self too... and pass the macarons!

  5. Ahhh. You exactly had my breakfast, only I might not have restrained myself to the small croissant and pain au chocolate. I've been in Grasse, visiting the Fragonard factory several times. Since we went with a group in a bus, I don't think we had a lot of free time to look up the old town. We had a quick turn through Cannes in the high season, a ride through stop and go traffic to look at lines of vacation apartments on one side of the street, the harbor and all the boats on the other. Many good visits along the coast between Antibes and even into Italy. So many places to go..

    Have fun! You really get a good look at things with your style of travel.


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