Why This Small French Town Has the World’s Best Roses

Condé Nast Traveller’s April issue has an article about Grasse, a town in the south of France famous for its roses.  Why This Small French Town Has the World’s Best Roses follows Fabrice Penot, co-founder of perfume line Le Labo, around Grasse and explains what makes this place so unique. The article also uses my photography (the second image) from my own visit to Provence last year.

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“When is a rose not just a rose? When it’s Rosa centifolia, an old varietal so highly scented that it makes the florally obsessed downright covetous. “It’s a little fruitier, deeper, and more voluptuous than any other rose,” says Fabrice Penot, co-founder of the New York–based cult perfume line Le Labo, known for its complex yet clean, single note–inspired scents. Centifolia’s allure is heightened by the fact that it’s still grown commercially in relatively few places: The most famous is the small town of Grasse on the French Riviera, where decades of rising real estate prices have shrunk thousands of acres of rose fields to just a few plots. And although the Frenchborn Penot has traveled around the world to find inspiration for his perfumes—including recent trips to Quebec and China—his favorite pilgrimage remains the one he makes to Grasse’s annual Rosa centifolia harvest in May. To continue reading, please click here.”

Extra: From Petal to Essence : Grasse Rose Harvest

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, rose de mai

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72 Comments

  • James1051: Perfume interst aside, as a grower of antique roses, I would love to see the rose harvest in Grasse! April 9, 2015 at 7:59am Reply

    • Victoria: I bet you’d find it amazing. Grasse itself is a touristy town, but the flower fields around it make it special. April 9, 2015 at 11:46am Reply

  • The Scented Salon: Beautiful photo. I love rose scents and rosa centifolia features prominently in many of my favorites. April 9, 2015 at 9:07am Reply

    • Victoria: What are some of your rose favorites?

      I’m wearing Annick Goutal’s Rose Splendide today, which includes rose de mai. April 9, 2015 at 11:47am Reply

  • OperaFan: Thanks for sharing the article, and congratulations on the selection of your photo!
    Now I’m curious to step into a Fairmont hotel just to get a whiff of the scent inside!
    I’ve never smelled Le Labo’s rose, though I’ve read it seems to veer towards the masculine end of the scale. April 9, 2015 at 10:12am Reply

    • Victoria: Le Labo’s Rose is earthy and woody, with a strong patchouli accent. Rose is almost a secondary player, but it’s a very good perfume. April 9, 2015 at 11:49am Reply

      • Ann: Beautiful picture! I like the characterization of Fabrice Penot’s “pilgrimages” to Grasse… but I did stumble over the description of Le Labo’s fragrances as “single-note inspired.” Is that true? The line names the fragrances by the number of ingredients in each scent… and rarely does the perfume smell like the highest concentration ingredient (albeit Rose 31 is a rose scent, although hardly a soliflore). The Patchouli 24 wafts birch tar…Ylang 49 (a personal favorite) wafts patchouli… Do you wear Rose 31? I am a huge fan of the Le Labo line, but was oddly unmoved by their Rose. April 9, 2015 at 12:20pm Reply

        • Victoria: I guess, you could say that they are ingredient inspired, but they are not single notes. So, I agree with you.
          I don’t wear Rose 31, but I like it. April 10, 2015 at 12:34pm Reply

  • solanace: Yes, congratulations for your picture being published, Victoria. It’s such a good one, I just want to roll on these roses!

    Today I’m trying the new Petite Robe Noire, the Tinker Bell one. Although I get a neat pistacchio note that could have been very delicious indeed, there is a soapiness to the composition that makes me think of cheap hand cream. Anyway, now I want Wasser to do a ‘serious’ pistacchio. Maybe with some centifolia roses, yum! April 9, 2015 at 11:19am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! Those roses are so photogenic. 🙂

      A pistachio accord with rose would be terrific! April 9, 2015 at 11:52am Reply

  • Wesley Hall Parker: Lovely article and beautiful photos! Thank you so much for sharing. This makes me want to cultivate Rosa Centifolia in my own garden, but surely it can’t be so easy? April 9, 2015 at 11:50am Reply

    • Victoria: My grandmother has a rose bush, which looks like centifolia, and she does nothing to it. I’d love to have a garden, in which to grow scented roses. April 9, 2015 at 12:02pm Reply

    • limegreen: Beautiful photography, Victoria, can see why it got selected for the spread!
      I had a chance to test some Maison Francis Kurkjdian and one of them was A la Rose, which was rose and citrus. It was fresh and very pretty, but did not strike me as being all that different than some other rose perfumes. Perhaps my expectations were too high.
      Current favorite rose is Lipstick Rose body lotion, but don’t know if that counts. 🙂
      I’ll have to stop wearing roses soon, as warm weather and bugs are coming and floral perfumes attract them too zealously. 🙁 April 9, 2015 at 1:55pm Reply

      • limegreen: (Sorry, this was a post in reply to Wesley’s question below about current favorite rose perfumes.) April 9, 2015 at 1:57pm Reply

      • Karen: I tried A la rose and was not crazy about it, either. Guess I like my roses darker and with more heft. April 9, 2015 at 3:22pm Reply

        • limegreen: Karen — did you like anything in the Maisons Francis Kurkdjian line? I liked the Oud but it’s kind of a cooler weather perfume. April 9, 2015 at 4:08pm Reply

          • Karen: I haven’t tried any, but maybe I should!!?. My sample supply is growing like crazy, I keep thinking I will find something that hits all the right notes, but just end up wearing my old tried and true. My Oud reference is Stephan Humbert Lucas 777, as his seem to capture that sharp/pungent quality with air and earth combined. His Rose de Petra and Khol de Bahrein are both extraordinary.

            It’s funny, because even though it’s now really spring weather here, what I crave are these rich, luscious scents. April 9, 2015 at 6:00pm Reply

            • Anastasia: I have to ask, how does oud develop on your skin. I tried L’Artisan Al Oud and my goodness on me it smelled like I had been been involved in a marathon sex session and hadn’t bathed in a month. Is that what Oud is supposed to smell like? April 9, 2015 at 10:39pm Reply

              • Karen: In a word, yes….. But not all ouds are created equal! And most of the ouds in perfumes for the western market may not even have real Oud in them, but incorporate the idea or concept of exotisism/desert/Middle East as portrayed in art. Would have been perhaps called Orientalism in the past – think portraits of Europeans dressed up in Ottoman clothes.

                Sounds like you got a full blast of a very, very earthy Oud! Of course, since it’s a natural substance, there will be different qualities from different areas. A while ago there was an interesting article in the NY Times Sunday magazine on the author’s search for Oud, I will try to find it and post a link.

                At some point he was wearing it on a bus (??), and a woman commented about there being a goat nearby – or something along those lines. Which made me laugh thinking of Othello’s line, “Welcome to Cypress goats and monkeys.” Because at that time, both animals were associated with lust and sex. April 10, 2015 at 7:03am Reply

              • limegreen: Anastasia — I think real Oud is not to be found in most “oud” perfumes. It’s also really skanky by itself, supposedly, and really expensive. The oud-like perfumes that I like have a touch of floral. (I seem to recall lots of rose and oud combos.) Acqua di Parma Oud is very nice, smoky and woody “oudy” and a touch of floral.
                Guess I won’t be in a hurry to test Al Oudh! 🙂 April 10, 2015 at 9:51am Reply

                • Julia: I’m totally agree with you. Just Oud it is very strong but with a flower is more delicate… I suggest you to discover Stéphanie de Bruijn – Parfum sur mesure in Paris. She have a beautiful perfume “Oud-Rose” !
                  Best regards April 23, 2015 at 9:37am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you!
        A la Rose is the one I was testing recently, and I liked it, but it faded too quickly. I still need to give it another try, so my first impression may not have been right. April 10, 2015 at 12:47pm Reply

    • Karen: Many of the old roses are quite easy to grow (depending, of course on where you are). However, they do not bloom continuously – generally just once in spring/early summer, perhaps some blooms in the summer and a smaller repeat flowering in the fall.

      There are several rose breeders creating roses that are very fragrant and repeat bloomers, the best known is David Austin roses. They are not old roses, but are extremely fragrant and beautiful. April 9, 2015 at 3:20pm Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Do you know ”dr. Verhagen”, a yellow, very fragrant rose? April 9, 2015 at 4:57pm Reply

        • Karen: I don’t know it, but will look for it as my rose collection is lacking in yellows! One of my favorites is Baltimore Belle (or Belle of Baltimore), a massive rambler from 1870’s. It has bouquets of beautiful clusters, the palest pink with tinted buds – although honestly it is not super fragrant it is really stunning.

          So many old ramblers are disappearing because people no longer have the space for them. One of my American Pillars (early 1900’s), was 25’x20′ – I cut it down and divided it, now I’ve got at least a dozen of them! April 9, 2015 at 6:07pm Reply

  • Wesley Hall Parker: What are everyone’s favorite Rose perfumes? I tend to like mine sparkling and light. My current favorite is Rose Ikebana – it’s so cheeful and happy. Though of course there are a lot of citrusy/grapefruit notes – so it’s not a pure rose. Still, my current favorite for spring and summer. April 9, 2015 at 11:58am Reply

    • Victoria: Right now, I’m addicted to Guerlain Nahema, an old favorite, and by Terry Rose Infernale, which is a mix of roses, sandalwood and incense. Diptyque’s Eau Rose is a nice choice for something sheer and bright. April 9, 2015 at 12:03pm Reply

      • rainboweyes: Rose Infernale is great! My other favourites include Coup de Foudre by Parfums DelRae, VC&A Rose Velour, Paestum Rose by Eau D’Italie and Brecourt Rosa Gallica. April 9, 2015 at 12:35pm Reply

        • Victoria: Isn’t it? Like opening a sandalwood box filled with rose petals. April 10, 2015 at 12:35pm Reply

    • solanace: I have a thing for Annick Goutal’s roses, such as Rose Splendide, Rose Absolue and Ce Soir ou Jamais. Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule is a nice woody rose, and Neela Vermeire’s Mohur is the ultimate oudy, oriental rose for me. April 9, 2015 at 12:16pm Reply

    • Ann: I like the Hermes Rose as well. Another frequent warm spring day scent is MFK’s Lumiere Noire Pour Femme. Very sparkly. April 9, 2015 at 12:26pm Reply

  • Annunziata: Lovely article, and the picture makes me swoon. So interesting to see others’ favorite roses, there are a number I have to try. I’m a simple and predictable soul — I love Joy. A lifelong favorite for me. April 9, 2015 at 12:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: Do you wear Joy EDP or EDT?

      Thank you! April 10, 2015 at 12:36pm Reply

      • Annunziata: Oops, I somehow missed your response and question, sorry! I wear the EDP, greatly prefer it. April 19, 2015 at 10:18pm Reply

        • Victoria: No worries! Thank you for letting me know. April 20, 2015 at 9:31am Reply

  • marlene: What a great article. Thanks for sharing it. I have traveled in Nice and Monaco,but did not realize that Grasse was so near. Maybe some spring I can go back. Roses and rose scents always make me feel feminine. April 9, 2015 at 12:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: I enjoyed it too! Flower fields are so beautiful. April 10, 2015 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Aurora: Your photos of roses de mai are just so wonderful, an you are now as well a published photographer, congratulations!
    I remember well the post about your trip last year with your picture surrounded by rose petals where you looked so happy. Grasse is a very special place I only regret to have visited it as a blase teenager when I was just too young to steep myself in its history. April 9, 2015 at 1:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! I love visiting there, even though I complain how touristy and kitsch Grasse has gotten. The region, overall, is just stunning. April 10, 2015 at 12:44pm Reply

  • Aurora: And at the moment I rather enjoy Rose de Mai by Fragonard, M&S sells it in London; it doesn’t last very long at all, it’s a budget line, but is very delicate and perhaps it’s just an impression smells as if it contains the real essence. Lovely to read about everyone’s favourite rose perfumes. April 9, 2015 at 1:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: Rose de Mai is lovely but fleeting. The start, though, is so uplifting. April 10, 2015 at 12:45pm Reply

  • Joy: Beautiful photo, Victoria! The article was very interesting. Thank you for sharing it.
    My favorite rose perfumes currently are Annick Goutal’s Rose Splendide, so light and sparkly. At the other end of the sprectum, I love the dark complexity of EL’s Knowing. I also enjoy Diptique’s Eau Rose.
    I have always chosen fragrant roses for my garden. When I have deadheaded the fading blooms, I grab the blossoms with one hand, while clipping with the other. At the end of a session, the fragrance coming from my hands is so fantastic. The petals that have fallen on the ground are still fragrant. They keep the compost bin smelling fragrant for several days! April 9, 2015 at 2:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: Mmmm, that’s one of my favorite roses too. Like rose champagne! April 10, 2015 at 12:47pm Reply

  • Mare: I loved reading the article, and your photo is beautiful! I feel as I can smell the beautiful fragrance coming out of my computer screen.

    My favorite rose perfume is Czech & Speake Dark Rose. Its a real mood lifter for me. April 9, 2015 at 3:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that you liked it, Mare! 🙂 April 10, 2015 at 12:48pm Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Congratulations on your succes as a photographer! The colour of the roses is amazing.
    My favourite roses: Nahema, Paris edp., and Cabaret. April 9, 2015 at 3:17pm Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: How could i forget Une Rose!
      And yes, there is a rose in 1000 de Patou, one of my signature scents. April 9, 2015 at 4:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: It was amazing to see so many roses in one place! April 10, 2015 at 12:48pm Reply

  • Karen: Another fun article, and congrats on having your beautiful photo accompanying it! I just got a gift of Jo Mallone’s Velvet Rose and Oud – I tried it a while ago and really liked it just wondered if I “needed” another dark rose, but honestly why not just throw in the towel and admit it’s what I love. PoaL, La Fille de Berlin and now this each have enough of a difference to justify having each!

    Received a decant of Lipstick Rose thinking it would be a sure thing for me, but found it somewhat not what I was looking for right now. Stella is an easy rose to like and layer, and Andy Tauer’s Rose Flash is also yummy. April 9, 2015 at 3:28pm Reply

    • limegreen: Karen — JM Velvet Rose and Oud is powerful. The praline in the drydown is different than the others you’ve listed, so of course you need it! 🙂
      Lipstick Rose grew on me, try it again in warmer weather.
      (I smelled LR the first time when I already had too much on me, so it paled in comparison. And it was quirky! I’ve come to enjoy it immensely.) April 9, 2015 at 4:13pm Reply

      • Karen: Very good point Limegreen!! Yes, the dry down is nice and sweet – and I will save LR for summer time. It’s crazy how weather has such a huge impact on how perfumes develop on you. April 9, 2015 at 6:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you!
      I loved Jo Malone Red Roses bath oil, which makes my evening bath a real treat. Have you tried it? I still need to sample Velvet Rose and Oud. April 10, 2015 at 12:53pm Reply

      • Karen: I have not tried the bath oil, but have a large sample of the Red Rose cologne – which is a very realistic, beautiful rose. Maybe some bath oil is in order! I’ve gotten lots of compliments on the Velvet Rose and Oud, it’s quite beautiful and works as a “lighter” dark rose. April 10, 2015 at 6:43pm Reply

        • Victoria: A sheer dark rose does sound great! That’s one of my favorite categories. April 11, 2015 at 3:17am Reply

  • ChristineB: Thank you for sharing the article and I add my congratulations on the gorgeous photo of the roses.

    My favourite rose perfume is Phi Une Rose de Kandahar. To me it has a rich but dry, slightly dusty spiciness that I find addictive. April 9, 2015 at 3:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Christine!
      I still need to try that one. April 10, 2015 at 12:53pm Reply

  • Alicia: Victoria, lovely photo! Thank you. Here in Northern California I have a garden of old roses, including centifolia) mixed with some Austin roses of various beautiful fagrances, Near by is blooming a jasmine, of entrancing aroma. I make bouquets for the house, often mixing both.
    Favorite rose perfumes? For a long time now my most beloved has been Guerlain’s Nahema. After her there are several I love very much: Lipstick Rose. Sa Majesté la Rose, Une Rose Chypré. Talking of chypre roses, I like Knowing,and remember fondly another one which an aunt of mine used to wear: Crepe de Chine (no longer in production), but very beautiful. For recent roses I find exceptional Amouage Lyric, and Andy Tauer, Phi: une rose de Kandahar. I have also been enticed by the curiously named Portrait of a Lady, and some time ago I wore with pleasure the also dark Paestum Rose. Then,of course, there are familiar roses I don’t want to live without, YSL Paris, Rive Gauche, and the playful Rochss, Tocade. Finally, by my linens armoire there is always a bottle of Tea Rose. To tell the truth, I don’t believe one can have too many roses. I am always open to a new one, and thus I make mistakes, such as recently buying in an airplane Givenchy Very Irresistable. I was more than grateful when a young woman of my acquaintance thought that chemical concoction lovely. It shall never again be mine. Thank you again for this charming post, Victoria. April 9, 2015 at 4:53pm Reply

    • Anastasia: Wow Alicia what a collection! I also love Nahema. Knowing is one that smells so beautiful on paper but my skin does not do the scent justice.

      I’ve seen Tea Rose in stores very reasonably priced. How would you compare it to the others? April 9, 2015 at 11:13pm Reply

      • Alicia: Anastasia, I always find a place for a new rose…. I don’t wear Tea Rose on me, but I always have it to perfume my linens and to spray it on my pillow. It smells of a true rose, nothing more, nothiing less, and it does a better job than rosewater. I love to fall asleep smelling roses. Sometimes in the summer I follow the family tradition of spraying linens with lavender water. Tea Rose is not expensive, but it conveys a genuine rose aroma. You might like to try it. April 10, 2015 at 1:16am Reply

      • limegreen: I love using Tea Rose as an air freshener, and it lasts. My sister got me a large 4 oz bottle (she was thrilled at the bargain price). I did not need such a large bottle but I don’t feel bad using it as a room spray! April 10, 2015 at 9:44am Reply

    • Victoria: What an inspiring and diverse rose list! Thank you, Alicia. Like you, I think that one can’t have too many roses. April 10, 2015 at 12:55pm Reply

  • angeldiva: Hi Victoria,
    Nice photo! I just knew that your photography was special! Oh! How I looooooooove being right about talent! LOL There is $$$$$ where your camera lens points! WooooHoooo!
    Angeldiva

    *The article was great, too! April 9, 2015 at 6:36pm Reply

    • angeldiva: CONDE NAST- photographic credit! get down with your baaaaaad self, hey!
      :):):):):) April 9, 2015 at 7:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! You’re too kind! Roses are so photogenic. 🙂 April 10, 2015 at 12:56pm Reply

  • AndreaR: Your beautiful picture of the striking pink roses has inspired me to wear Diptyque’s Eau Rose today. Perfect for this spring day! April 9, 2015 at 6:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: Happy to hear this! 🙂 April 10, 2015 at 12:56pm Reply

  • AnnieA: A vote here for ELO Eau de Protection. A rose with thorns indeed: “Ginger, black pepper, bergamot, Bulgarian rose, jasmine, benzoin, incense, cacao and patchouli. ” April 9, 2015 at 8:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, that’s one of my favorites too! April 10, 2015 at 12:57pm Reply

  • Anastasia: Congratulations! That’s a great pic. My grandmother also had a rosebush in her front yard. Don’t know what kind of rose it was but it was very fragrant and looked like the photo you had posted above.

    My favourite rose perfume that I own (thanks to this blog) Nahema. I also like Tresor but not enough to buy it. And cheesy as it sounds, when I was a kid my grandmother gave me a beautiful wooden vial from Bulgaria.

    If you Google Bulgarian rose perfume you can see what the package looked like. April 9, 2015 at 10:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: I have one of those Bulgarian vials too. My great-grandmother used to dab rose essence on her neck.

      Thank you, Anastasia! April 10, 2015 at 12:58pm Reply

  • Julia: Beautiful picture and comments, Grasse capital of perfume.. Beautiful place and essences in particularity the “Rose de Mai” also the rose of Chanel N°5 ! April 23, 2015 at 9:34am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Julia! I had such a great time visiting Grasse, and I hope to return again for jasmine or lavender harvest. April 23, 2015 at 11:49am Reply

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