Wednesday, 16 October 2019


Pink umbrellas in rue Jean Ossola

We are in France to celebrate the 70th birthday of our friend Arlette, who lives in Vence. We decided to come a few days early and explore Grasse and the area around it. Today's walk around the town was fairly slavishly based on the Heritage Trail (Circuit Patrimoniale), obtained from the Tourist Office.

We are staying just outside the centre and so the first stage was to walk down a step and lengthy flight of about 200 steps towards the centre. Grasse is located on a very hilly site and as most roads follow the contours, staircases offer a direct route. This is the view looking back - you can see only about half the steps.

As we approached the centre were were taken by this lovely yellow house, which reminded us very much of one we used to admire in the old town in Nice.

The walk proper begins in the pleasant, but cramped, Place aux Aires. Once upon a time it was a wheat threshing ground,  surrounded by battlements. Later a canal flowed through it. If you look behind you before heading on, there is a beautiful Hotel Particulier - we would probably say Mansion.

We headed through the square and at the end of the next street turned right into rue Jean Ossola, where the rather lovely pink umbrellas can be seen. It seems they were installed for Expo Rose and seem to have just been left in place.

We made a detour to go and see the Perfumery Museum (Musée International de Parfumerie). We thought this rather charming building was the entrance ...

 ... but it turned out to be the Gift Shop!

The museum traces the development and role of perfume from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. What we now think of as perfume was used at various times to prepare the dead for the afterlife, as incense in religious ceremonies, as medicine and to disguise lack of personal hygiene (notably in the 18th century when it was thought that contact with water could allow germs to enter the body). By comparison, the displays of modern perfume bottles and packaging were a bit boring.

Grasse was once a centre for leather making, notably gloves which were sold in Italy during the Renaissance. The only problem was that they smelled bad - this was the stimulus for the foundation of a perfume industry. The evolution of the various techniques was presented, and this 19th century photo gave a very vivid image of what it was like to work in a perfume factory.

We returned to rue Jean Ossola, which becomes narrow and winding, as befits the main street of medieval Grasse. We turned right into Rue Gazan which led us to Place du Petit Puy and the 13th century Cathedral, built in the Provençal Romanesque style.

Opposite was a beautiful art deco war memorial.

 And to one side a substantial tower.

Sadly the Cathedral was closed, so we didn't see the paintings by Rubens and others, but passing to its left we came to Place du 24 Août where there was a nice viewpoint, with views extending as far as the sea.

Now down some steps to reach the Place de l'Evêché, where we paused for a drink under the former Archbishop's Palace, now the Hôtel de Ville.

We headed along Rue de la Poissonerie and into the maze of small streets to reach Rue de L'Oratoire, where we found, at number 12, a medieval house with a bossage facade (i.e. covered in stone bosses).

Found the corner is the Chapel of the Oratory. It was built in 1632, the portal and gothic window of the former Cordelier church were later incorporated in the facade. It seems that the Cordelier church became redundant and was used as a perfumery and later as a branch of Monoprix.

From here were returned to the Place aux Aires and from there walked to the rue du Peyreguis to photograph this elaborate facade which seemed to belong to a former theatre.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: probably no more than a mile from the official start.

Rating: three and a half stars.

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