Travel Black Book With Margaret Koh

Where the Grasse is greener

The French town has a relaxed atmosphere, delicate cuisine and enticing perfumeries

Who: Margaret Koh, 44, general manager of Sky Premium, a lifestyle membership club

Favourite destination: Grasse, France

Why: I love everything about Grasse - its relaxed atmosphere, beautiful sunset views from the mountains, delicate French cuisine, the chic French people and the many scents and fragrances that waft from the perfumeries.

Grasse is also the home of a dear friend whom I call my French Mama, so I have a good excuse to keep going back.

I have been to Grasse at least five times in the last five years.

Favourite place to stay

I don't have to worry about accommodation as I have a room permanently reserved for me in my friend's beautiful villa on the mountain facing Cannes.

For those without such an option, La Bastide Saint-Antoine (www.jacques-chibois.com/en/hotel-french-riviera.html) is an elegant hotel in Grasse, with a great location overlooking the French Riviera.

Favourite restaurant

Le Clos St Pierre (www.hotel-du-clos.com/EN/le-clos-saint-pierre) is a one-Michelin-starred restaurant that serves authentic French cuisine.

Dishes are created from fresh local produce, the service is incredibly warm and at about €40 (S$61) for lunch and €60 for dinner, a meal there costs a fraction of what you would pay in Singapore for the same menu.

I have been known to visit the restaurant more than three times in a week and I always leave it to the chef to decide my meal, depending on what's good that day.

Au Fil du Temps (www.restaurantaufildutemps.com) is another one- Michelin-starred restaurant in Grasse.

You order by the number of courses you would like and you will know what's on the day's menu only when they serve you.

Best breakfast

A typical breakfast in Grasse is a cup of coffee and a piece of bread or pastry from a local cafe or bakery in the village.

In summer, the fougassette de grasse, a light textured brioche-like loaf flavoured with orange blossoms, is a must-try.

This sweet loaf is a local favourite and can be found only in Grasse for a few months each year. You can pick it up in most bakeries for €2 a piece.

Another speciality is the macaroons made with seasonal fruits and flowers.

Favourite museum

Because I like fragrances, I enjoy visiting my favourite perfumery, the 165-year-old, family-run Maison Molinard (www.molinard.com), every time I'm in Grasse.

It provides a tour of the factory where it makes perfumes and soaps. At the end of the tour, visitors get to smell various fragrances and put together their personal perfume to take home.

Other well-known perfumeries in Grasse are Fragonard (www.fragonard.com/en/) and Galimard (www.galimard.com/), a perfumery in Grasse which has been in operation since 1747.

Best day trips

Grasse is about a half-hour drive from Cannes, Gourdon and Antibes. Cannes is a great city for shopping, a day at the beach and people- watching.

It is a city where many large-scale events, conferences and carnivals are held, for example, the Cannes International Film Festival in May and the Cannes Yacht Show in September.

Gourdon, an ancient village perched on the edge of a rocky spur that juts out about 500m directly above the Loup river, is one of my favourite places to spend a relaxing afternoon.

I love having lunch at a restaurant on the outdoor terrace, taking in the panoramic views of the mountains, river and coast of the Mediterranean Sea, where you can see Cannes and Nice in the distance.

Antibes, a resort town on the coast between Cannes and Nice, is great for sea views and sunsets.

Event to bookmark

In May each year, Grasse comes alive during the three-day Expo Rose, a festival in honour of the flower, which has been an important ingredient in the making of perfume for hundreds of years.

More than 25,000 roses are in bloom throughout Grasse and there are floral bouquet contests, stalls selling roses and rose products, and workshops where people can learn to make candied roses and rose jams.

In August, a similar festival, Fete Du Jasmin, a three-day carnival ending with a parade of floats decorated with flowers and fun-filled performances, is held in honour of the jasmine flower.

Ideal length of stay

Give yourself at least five days so that you get to experience the Grasse way of life.

Go for breakfast at cafes that the locals frequent; buy some fresh meat and seafood from the morning market; spend a lazy afternoon at Gourdon to take in the splendid views from the mountain; visit the various perfume houses to witness the lengthy process of distillation needed to make a small bottle of perfume; savour the various local delicacies; and make friends with the beautiful people.

Best souvenirs

Depending on the season, I bring home truffles, white asparagus, dried sausages, cheese and desserts made with flowers and honey.

Grasse is also known for its lavender fields and a sachet of dried lavender is a must-buy.

Traveller's advice

Visit between May and October when the weather is warm and dry.

For those planning to self-drive, it is best to rent a smaller car as the streets are narrow and most are open to two-way traffic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'Where the Grasse is greener'. Print Edition | Subscribe