Travel

This Tiny French Town Grows the World's Best-Smelling Flowers

Take a trip to the perfume capital of the world.

Roger Hutchings/Corbis Historical/Getty Images
Roger Hutchings/Corbis Historical/Getty Images
Roger Hutchings/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

Alexia P. Hammonds has strong opinions about perfume. 

“Women shouldn’t have signature scents,” declares the founder and CEO of the Eat, Sweat, Undress wellness and hair fragrance line. It’s a philosophy in direct opposition to her fragrance-filled upbringing, with a mother and grandmother who both swore by Chanel No. 5. But the self-proclaimed perfume nerd takes her stance seriously, going so far as to calibrate her day through the nose. Sniff her in the morning and you may find something floral and bright; for bedtime, it’s a musky tobacco.

When she set about launching her own line of hair fragrances (including the obligatory flirty musk, Carnal 4), Hammonds turned to the experts in Grasse, France. “Everyone wants their fragrance to say ‘Made in France.'”

Known as the perfume capital of the world and home to some of the oldest perfumeries in Europe, the Provençal town of Grasse produces exquisite flowers that are blended into offerings from the likes of Louis Vuitton, Tom Ford, Dior, Hermès, and Chanel. When she launched her line in October 2020, Hammonds became the first Black female founder to join the ranks of the luxury houses in Grasse.  

“The perfumers choose you,” she explains of the prestigious perfume industry here. “It’s more if they want to take you on as a client. You don’t choose them.”

Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images
Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images
Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Not too far from the glitz and glamour of Cannes on the French Riviera, Grasse sees two million visitors in a regular year.  Its unique topography, nestled between mountains and the sea, produces heavenly scented fields of jasmine, orange blossoms, mimosa, and lavender. Some of the fields are accessible for careful frolicking and photo ops; others are strictly protected by the perfumeries, much like vineyards to a winery. And like grapes that produce specific wine varietals, the blooms in Grasse have their own distinct scent, owing to the terroir. 

The rose, specifically the Centifola or May rose, has brought particular prestige to the region. Blooming only in May and only in Grasse, its sweet and spicy essence is key for sought-after fragrances from Le Labo’s Rose 31 (Le Labo’s tagline is “Born in Grasse, Raised in New York”)  to Chanel No. 5, a cult classic since 1921. (When asked what she wore to bed, Marilyn Monroe famously answered “five drops of Chanel No. 5,” and nothing else. Sales skyrocketed.)

Michael Maas/Shutterstock
Michael Maas/Shutterstock
Michael Maas/Shutterstock

Grasse has always been a smelly town. But in the beginning the smells weren’t all that… pleasant. In medieval times the town dabbled in the leather business, but a pungent odor lingered on the merchandise, putting off the noses of the Italian nobility meant to wear it-until a local leather tanner made a pair of scented gloves using the roses and spices from the surrounding hillside. He gifted them to Catherine de Medici, and soon all the well-to-do donned leather accessories that smelled like flowers. Eventually, production shifted from leather to fragrance. 

Today the town is home to the prestigious Grasse Institute of Perfumery, which offers short-term perfume instruction as well as an 18-month immersive program that only accepts 12 students at a time, for those whose higher calling is to smell.

Veniamin Kraskov/Shutterstock
Veniamin Kraskov/Shutterstock
Veniamin Kraskov/Shutterstock

A visit to Grasse should include a tour of some of the oldest perfumeries in France. There’s Galimard, founded in 1747 and provider of fragrances to the court of Louis XV; Molinard, established in 1849, whose factory features structures designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame; and Fragonard, established in 1926, in the center of the city. 

“I loved browsing Fragonard,” says Hammonds. “It was just a cool thing to walk around and see how people experience fragrance. Because fragrance is so subjective.”

In the heart of the old city is the Musée International de la Parfumerie (International Perfume Museum), with adjoining conservatory gardens. Objects on display trace 3,000 years of perfume history and the many uses of fragrance, from magic to seduction to hygiene.

And a walk down the medieval town’s cobblestone streets presents you with orange villas, picturesque squares with shops and gurgling fountains, and other non-perfume activities: the Museum of Art and History of Provence houses three canvases by Rubens in an 18th century building.

ArTono/Shutterstock
ArTono/Shutterstock
ArTono/Shutterstock

But of course you can’t leave Grasse without trying your hand at making your own signature scent. Options for perfume classes abound; Hammonds opted for one at Molinard, where a two-hour session runs about 199 Euros, or $237, and introduces you to a wonderland of 100 building block essences to find your own smell. 

“You choose from different base notes, middle, or heart notes, and top notes and they blend it for you,” says Hammond. “And while you’re doing that they give you the town’s history and pour you Champagne. I was like,  ‘We need more like this in the States!'” 

After you name your scent Molinard then bottles it, labels it, and adds your unique fragrance recipe to their files. “If you want to come back in and re-order, or email them, you can always do that,” says Hammond. “I love that.”

And if you decide to launch your own line, you’ll already have one scent down.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. She wouldn’t mind if you smelled like a tobacco musk.

Travel

8 Suburbs Near Phoenix You Should Absolutely Visit

You could use a little space.

Discover Gilbert AZ
Discover Gilbert AZ
Discover Gilbert AZ

Phoenix is pretty great. There’s the burgeoning culinary scene, the diverse culture, the arts, of course, the sports, the great outdoors, and don’t forget about the more than 300 days of annual sunshine. We could really go on, and on, about how great this place is, but all of that greatness can blind you to all the excellence just outside it. The suburbs across The Valley are not to be missed. To encourage you to actually explore them, here’s what the best of ‘em have to offer.

Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism
Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism
Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism

Tempe

Notably, Tempe is recognized as home to one of the largest universities in the country, Arizona State. But this Phoenix suburb is so much more than a college town, although it does add to its undeniable magic. Downtown Tempe plays hosts to epic arts festivals, dragon boat races, marathons and triathlons, and dozens of other events that all take place a short-distance from Tempe Town Lake, a two-mile long perennial reservoir and urban park that attracts cylicts, rowers, and active types. Break a sweat with a hike to the top of A Mountain and take in a panoramic sunset view. Or, just belly-up to the bar at one of Tempe’s innumerable craft breweries. Both are solid choices. And both can get you acquainted with this laidback Phoenix suburb.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho
Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho
Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho

Scottsdale

Nearly half of Scottsdale’s land area is dedicated to open spaces and untamed desert. Outdoor activities like mountain biking, hiking, road cycling, horseback riding, and kayaking reign supreme here, and the city certainly leans toward an active, wellness-centered lifestyle. And while there’s no shortage of desert to explore, Scottsdale also claims some of the best spas in the world, award-winning restaurants, world-class golf courses, it’s the center stage for major events like luxury car auctions and sporting events, and it’s even got a bustling arts scene. This Phoenix suburb checks all of the boxes, really.

Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert
Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert
Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert

Gilbert

Not too long ago Gilbert was a sort of sleepy, far-away farm town. That’s certainly not the case anymore. Gilbert has grown exponentially, but its agricultural roots are still readily present in its personality and charm. Downtown Gilbert is home to dozens of restaurants and bars, most of which have a local, farm-to-table approach, naturally. And then there’s Agritopia, a friendly neighborhood with its very own shared garden and community spaces that include Epicenter and BARNONE, where you can order a wood-fired pizza, a can of experimental natural wine, and camp out under a canopy of trees in the open-air. It’s practically a utopia.

Mike Boening Photography
Mike Boening Photography
Mike Boening Photography

Cave Creek

A gateway to Horseshoe and Bartlett Lakes, Cave Creek’s position on the outskirts of Tonto National Forest makes it a primo spot for outdoor activities like biking and hiking and adventure by way of air balloon or horseback. Modern cowboys and gals can mosey over to The Buffalo Chip Saloon where bull riding and swing dancing are just part of a typical day. Additionally, Cave Creek has its own botanical garden, raptor rescue, and a gallery packed with person-sized crystals. And it’s all yours to discover.

Ade Russell/Flickr
Ade Russell/Flickr
Ade Russell/Flickr

Mesa

Point your GPS east and you’ll arrive in Mesa, Arizona’s third largest city. Whether you’re after outdoor adventure, looking to explore the arts and culture scene, or searching for locally made ciders and craft beer, Mesa has it all. There’s a hip, growing downtown area lined with storefronts, restaurants, theaters, and tasting rooms. And if you’re game for a little outdoor recreation, Mesa is your jumping-off point to scenic Sonoran Desert trails including Usery Mountain Regional Park, Lost Dutchman State Park, and San Tan Regional Park. Mesa is also just a short distance from The Salt River where you can cruise by wild horses and native wildlife via paddle board and Saguaro Lake is just up the road.

Experience Fountain Hills
Experience Fountain Hills
Experience Fountain Hills

Fountain Hills

At the center of this Phoenix suburb is an expansive urban park and monumental water fountain that tops out at 560-feet. The fountain in Fountain Hills is larger than the Washington Monument, and it’s three times as high as Old Faithful. Pack a picnic and spread out in the park for an afternoon where you can traverse the walkable paths, cycle around the waterway, or play a competitive bout of frisbee golf. If you swing more towards traditional golf, there’s a shortlist of premier golf courses to tee-off at. And like many of the Phoenix suburbs here, Fountain Hills is surrounded by wide-open desert and scenic vistas just waiting to be explored.

Camelback Ranch - Glendale
Camelback Ranch – Glendale
Camelback Ranch – Glendale

Glendale

Arizona sports teams including the Coyotes and Cardinals have home turf advantage in Glendale. Over the years Glendale has hosted three Super Bowl bouts and will host another in 2023. But Glendale’s not just a sports mecca for fans of professional football and hockey. This Phoenix suburb is homebase to Camelback Ranch, a modern ballpark with all the amenities where the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers take the field each season as part of Cactus League Spring Training. Take your time in Glendale into extra innings and visit Historic Old Town Glendale. Here you’ll encounter eclectic antique and vintage stores, restaurants, candy shops, and coffee houses.

Pedal Haus Brewery
Pedal Haus Brewery
Pedal Haus Brewery

Chandler 

Museums, urban parks, art galleries, and growing neighborhoods like Uptown Chandler and Downtown Chandler give this Phoenix suburb lots of appeal. Rows of palm trees line the Downtown area where you can start your day with a locally roasted coffee and organic breakfast bowl. Downtown Chandler regularly hosts community-focused events and it’s a popular hangout for craft beer drinkers. SanTan Brewery, Pedal Haus, and The Perch, with 40 beers on tap and tropical birds at every turn, all call this Phoenix suburb home.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Lauren Topor Reichert is a Phoenix-based multimedia storyteller, photographer, and content creator. Her work has been featured in travel guides, national publications, and the social feeds of some stellar local restaurants. Follow her around Arizona, and beyond, on Instagram @hungryinphoenix.

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