Madame Isnard in traditional Provence costume conducting tour of the gardens
France Grasse History Perfumes Riviera

Day 2 – Garden of Isnard

Posted by TONY.

These posts are made from Ana’s emails and Skype talks to me about her adventures in Grasse. The first day was simply the arrival at Hotel Le Virginia in Grasse and going to the supermarket. Day 2 was a Sunday. She discovered it was the last day of the Grasse Rose Expo. One of the most intriguing Expo events was a tour of the gardens of Isnard, and its evidence of Perfume making in previous centuries, so Ana chose to go to there. It was not easy to find. Ana was unfamiliar with the narrow winding lanes of Grasse, and the GPS was unfamiliar with the many gates and other restrictions, but with help from people in the street she eventually found the place. It was worth the effort.

Ancient pollarded olive trees at the garden of Isnard.
Ancient pollarded olive trees at the garden of Isnard. The Isnard family has been growing olives here for nearly a thousand years. Trees like this fascinated Vincent van Gogh when he settled near here at Arles and they can be seen in his paintings.

The Isnard family have been in Grasse for nearly a thousand years. They descend from Knights Templar who settled here. There are recorded Isnard ancestors who were administrators of the town, and one who was a Commander of the Knights Templar.

Madame Isnard pointing out where the flowers are grown and where the perfumes are made.
Madame Isnard pointing out where the flowers are grown and where the perfumes are made. Ana said that Madame Isnard is a wonderfully warm and knowledgeable woman who introduced her to her family members. A few days later she met the daughter at the supermarket and they were able to greet warmly like old friends.

By the 15th century the Isnard family were tanners making perfumed gloves. In 1740, during the crisis in the leather industry, they were one of the first families to switch purely to perfume production, which they continue to the present day. They grow centifolia roses, jasmine, violets, tuberose, thyme, orange blossom, bitter orange, fig, avocado, rosemary, and lavender, from which they make their perfumes. They also produce olives from ancient pollarded olive trees on stone terraces down the hillside as they have done for centuries.

Entrance to Underground Perfumery
Entrance to ancient underground perfumery. In past centuries the Isnard family kept their perfume techniques secret and protected by excavating chambers deep under the hillside.

Madame Isnard herself conducted the tour, dressed in the traditional costume of Provence, and gave insight into how they made perfumes in ancient times. She was able to show the underground passages under the hill where they could keep their perfume techniques secret and protected in earlier, more dangerous times. Some of their oldest equipment is now on display in the Grasse International Museum of Perfumery. The gardens of Isnard were the perfect historic context to start Ana’s exploration of the secrets of Grasse perfumery.

“Madam ISNARD came dressed in Eighteenth Century dress with a hat for the Sun on the fashion of that time. She was able to speak English, but she was mainly speaking French. Her son was able to translate. People at Grasse found quite difficult speaking English, so even with my little French, I need to get by with people and sometimes using gestures and mimic to get myself understood here. She looked like this images you see in French prints or in dishes or as porcelain images. There was a dog, which was the king of the place. He was enormous dog, very gentle and sociable and quiet. He had all the fields to go around and play. “

Ana in an eMail from Grasse
Madame Isnard Picking a centifolia rose.
Madame Isnard talking about the traditional technique for selecting centifolia rose blooms.

“After some days, coming back from class, I decided to locate the Museums of Perfumery and the Cathedral and I came across the ISNARD shop. I also bought two little bottles of perfume as well from this property in this shop. “

Ana in an eMail from Grasse
Isnard Perfume bottle
Isnard is one of the oldest names in perfumery. The family has been selling perfume since 1740 and prior to that they were making perfumes to create perfumed gloves since the 15th century. It is extraordinary that the same family has been doing these things here for so long.

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  1. Merci pour ce bel article… Très beau souvenir… 🌹

    1. Merci beaucoup! S’il vous plaît d’avoir visité la Maison Isnard!

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