Stephan Matthews leads us by the nose on a scented tour of his favourite French fragrance destination…
The town of Grasse in the south of France has long been considered the cultural centre of the perfumery world. Visitors descend on the area every year in their thousands and its scented trail is well-known. However, just 17 miles east of Grasse is the wonderful city of Nice and, whilst there might not be extraction or enfleurage to learn about and see first-hand, there is a wealth of perfume-inspired shopping to explore.
Nice became a fashionable holiday destination for the British way back in the mid eighteenth century, which is one of the reasons for the construction of the four-mile-long Promenade des Anglais (and explains how it got its name). This was a particularly popular destination in winter, when we were encouraged to spend ‘l’Hiver à Nice’ (winter in Nice). My 10-year love affair with the city has seen me explore every side street in search of fantastic fragrances and so I think that it’s time to share a few of its scented secrets.
No visit to the south of France would be complete without a stop at Fragonard – and you’re in luck. The Nice boutique is to be found alongside the town’s beautiful flower market and is the perfect setting to discover everything from their classic Belle de Nuit right through to the mouth-watering Eau des Vacances, my regular scent of summer. You can find them at 11 Cours Saleya or at fragonard.com.
The other famous perfumery located in the south of France is Molinard, who also have a boutique in Nice. You will find the full range of fragrances from Patchouli through to the new Bel Air and – if you ask very nicely – they also have the extrait of legendary scents Habanita and Molinard de Molinard. The boutique also hosts the company’s perfume workshops, although you do need to book for this in advance. Their address is 20 Rue Saint-François de Paule or online at molinard.com.
If you’re looking for something a little more unusual then top of your list should be Trésors Publics. This store celebrates French manufacturing, which is why everything in the boutique is produced in France, and their perfume range offers Piver, Le Galion, État Libre d’Orange and Cadentia. The whole store is to die for and your hardest decision will be what to leave behind. You can find them at 11 rue du Pont Vieux or at tresorspublics.com.
One of the newest additions to my list of recommendations, meanwhile, is l’Imaginarium. This independently-owned boutique stocks Margot Elena’s Tokyo Milk range, which sits perfectly amongst the rest of the vintage-style candles, diffusers, and general household gorgeousness. Happily, this escape from the tourist trail is also within touching distance of the many amazing bistros, located at 20 rue Bonaparte (or you can follow them on Instagram, here).
If you’re a bottle collector then l’Insolite has to be on your list of places to visit. The store is a collaboration between numerous vintage sellers, not just perfume-related, which means that there is always something new to be discovered. From Guerlain’s golden Habit de Fête to a bottle of Heliotropine by Jean Bouis , I’ve never managed to escape without buying something. Hop along to 84 rue de France or visit virtually at insolite-depot-vente.com.
In addition, unmissable, every Monday between 7:30am and 6pm the Cours Saleya in the centre of Nice is turned into the Brocante Antique Market. This is where you’ll find vintage fragrances, perfume miniatures, and the most beautiful flacons. If you’re happy to haggle then there are real bargains to be had but I advise you to visit early for the rich pickings and also at the end of the day for the final reductions. I’ve bagged Guerlain, Weil and Worth in the past (as well as a lot of French linen)!
The store that has a permanent space in my return luggage, though, is Nice Bear. Not technically perfume, but they offer canisters of shower gel that can be refilled into your own bottles or one of theirs. (With sustainability an important topic at the moment, many companies could learn a lesson from this.) Also, check out their Leather Bear candle if you’re looking for a big dose of birch tar! You can find them at 9 rue Macoinat and also at nicebear.fr.
Finally, no Provençal vacation would be complete without visiting the most famous ice cream parlour of them all, Fenocchio. The reason I’m including this is because their range of flavours includes fleur d’oranger, violette, vervaine and even poppy. So, if you fancy ‘tasting’ your scent instead of smelling it then you simply have to visit. Their refreshing address is 2 place Rossetti (fenocchio.fr).
The south of France is a wonderful place to holiday – but most especially so for the perfume-lover. Because whether in summer or winter, you’ll be greeted with the exquisite fragrances of Provence. (And can take them home with you…)
Visit Stephan’s blog at stephanmatthews.com