One of the most magnificent sights to enjoy in France only happens during one month of the year, but it is well worth a visit to take in the rolling purple hills of Provence when the lavender is in bloom.
The sight and smell of the hills covered with a purple carpet is a memory you will cherish for the rest of your life. The perfectly spaced rows of lavender are a sight to behold and the brilliantly colored blooms contrast subtly with the green foliage and brightly against the earth.
While you can see some of the fields from the well-beaten tourist roads, try to find yourself a guide who knows the region well. He will be able to take you to places that the average tourist will not see and you will get to enjoy the lavender so much more if you are away from the busy roads.
Your guide will also be able to introduce you to some of the local people, making your tour that much more personal and enjoyable.
The closest cities to the lavender fields are Luberon, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, so start your visit by booking your accommodation in one of these. You will also be able to find a tour guide by asking your hotel reception or the owner of your pension.
The lavender blooms at slightly different times over the various areas that grow the flowers. The earliest-blooming lavender can be found in the Rhone Valley, and it starts around mid-June.
The next area is the Drome Provencale and Plateau de Valensole at the start of July, and then the fields around Sault will start in mid-July. Around the end of July, the harvest begins and there will be loads of lavender products for sale at all the outdoor and farmer’s markets.
Your trip should also take in the distillation of the oils from the lavender for use in lotions and soaps. It is a fascinating process, and it is astounding to see how many tons of flowers are processed for these essential oils. There are also many salons where you can experience the pleasure and stress-relieving characteristics of lavender.
All this lavender is a natural draw for the honey bee, and the honey that is made from the pollen of the lavender flowers is absolutely delicious. Try some of the delicacies that are made using this honey or just enjoy it on toast for breakfast.
Take time to visit the Lavender Museum that can be found on the Route de Gordes, Cabrières-d’Avignon. This museum is open from February to December and was initiated in 1992 by the Lincelé family. It hosts exhibits that show the history of using lavender, from 16th-century stills to the most modern of processing equipment.
The commentary is available in several languages, so most visitors will be able to enjoy the tour. There is a documentary room that shows films that were shot at the family’s farm, Chateau du Bois, which is located at the base of Mont Ventoux.
These films cover the entire growing and processing cycle of the lavender industry. To add further interest, the family runs a demonstration of distilling oil in an old open flame still that dates back to the early 1900s. A small souvenir shop also sells the high-end Chateau du Bois-branded lavender products.
Another exciting place to visit is Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey. This is a working abbey that houses Cistercian Monks, and they organize tours at set times around this magnificent 12th-century abbey.
These tours are of a religious nature and visitors are asked to respect the abbey’s vocation, so dress appropriately and keep your voice to a whisper in the abbey.
This sun-drenched part of France will give you many opportunities to take a picnic basket and walk amid the purple rows until you find that perfect spot to enjoy a quiet picnic. Open a chilled bottle of wine and sip away while feasting on the view and nibbles packed into the basket for your enjoyment. Planning a trip for mid-June to mid-July will almost certainly guarantee you a visual and olfactory experience you have never had before.