Travel: France - The Shopping Forecast

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The Independent Culture
Journey to the source

With its sweet-smelling hills, pretty towns, summery climate and sophisticated harbours, the Cote d'Azur is a favourite French holiday destination. If you are planning a trip to the area, then Grasse makes a welcome diversion from the bright lights of Cannes, Nice and Monaco, sitting propped up by rocky coastal hills and by the dramatic inland geography of the Gorges du Verdon.

Supposedly the centre of the world's perfume industry since the 16th century, Grasse was also once a centre for leather tanning; history has it that the connections with perfume began when Catherine de Medici set a trend for scented leather gloves.

Today, the tanneries have gone but the perfume houses of Fragonard and Molinard remain, even if much of what they produce is made from imported flowers or chemical essences and the surrounding fields of lavender, mimosa, jasmine and roses have been sold to property developers.

Perfume-lovers should start their visit at the Musee Internationale de la Parfumerie (00 33 493 368020) and its garden of fragrant plants, but the public can also visit the Fragonard and Molinard factories to learn all about the perfume process and, of course, pick up some bargain essences - if you can brave the coach parties, that is.

Fragonard is open 9am-12.45pm and 2pm-6pm daily and has free factory tours in all European languages (call 00 33 493 364465 for details) as well as a shop. When I visited a few years ago, the best reason for being there was that many of the scents smelt very like popular commercial brands, but this is not an official strategy. If you want to buy perfume, Soleil is the latest Fragonard blend to choose. In France, it costs from FF250 (about pounds 26) for 100ml of eau de toilette, but you can also buy it via mail order in the UK (00 33 492 423434) for about pounds 36, including packing. Buy 10 bottles in France, and you'll be able to use the pounds 100 you save to treat yourself to a weekend away later on in the year, thanks to easyJet's (0870 6000 000) return fares of pounds 90.20 to Nice.

Gadget of the week

Advertised as the world's most advanced whistle, it costs pounds 2.99 - a small price to pay for something that could help you out of many a dangerous situation. The ultrasonic Fox 40 whistles are pea-less - which means that there are no moving parts to freeze or jam - and let out a piercing noise. They are already used by coastguards, skiers and mountain rescue teams, and are available in various colours from Ski Essentials (0171-831 5131).

Rhiannon Batten

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