Nothing says summer in Provence like the sweeping fields of lavender in full bloom – the wondrous colour, that subtle scent, a brush of flower on the hand, the hum of bees at work – lavender appeals to all the senses. And it is known as ‘blue gold’ because it’s a valuable crop too, its essential oil a staple of perfumes and soaps. In Provence the lavender fields conspire with the landscapes and perched villages to make stunning technicolor scenes.
When to see the lavender
The lavender is in bloom from late June to early August when it is harvested. The rest of the year it is just a green plant. Towards the end of the blooming period, the lavender tends to ‘tire’, the colour is less vibrant, so the best time to see it is the beginning of July.
Where to see the lavender
In the Luberon the best spot is at the Abbaye de Senanque (see top picture), where a large lavender field runs up to a beautiful if austere 12th century abbey. Senanque Abbey is close to the village of Gordes and is a working abbey – the monks make their livelihood from lavender and honey.
Fields of lavender are dotted around the Luberon, but can change from one year to the next. For more reliable plantings you should head into Ventoux country, take the roads for Sault which lies to the east of Mont Ventoux and to the north of Apt. You will pass lovely villages like Simiane la Rotonde, Banon or Monieux, arriving at the centre for lavender in the Ventoux, Sault.
The best lavender plantations in Provence are on the plateau de Valensole, to the east of the Luberon region. Here the lavender is so widely planted that there are places where it seems to stretch to the horizon. You can start from the village of Valensole and drive around, for example in the direction of Digne les Bains. Progress will be slow as you stop repeatedly.
It is OK to walk into the fields, if you take care not to tread on the lavender. The buzzing sound is from the world’s happiest bees busily making their honey, if you don’t bother them they don’t bother you.
Lavender farms and distilleries
- Aroma’Plantes Distillery: A family-run farm specialising in organic medicinal and aromatic plants. Marked walking paths around the fields and a distillery, during the harvest you can help with distillation. Products for sale in the farm’s barn. Open all year.
- Vallon des Lavandes Distillery: Traditional, family-run producers and distillers of lavender. Free tours and demonstrations in July and August. Lavender products for sale year-round.
- Catherine Liardet’s lavender farm: A lavender farm and garden with over 200 varieties of lavender. Guided and self-guided tours, workshops in summer, and a farm shop with the products of Sault.
- With so many lavender fields, there are many distilleries in the Valensole area, which you will pass on your explorations.
- Les Agnels lavender distillery: Watch lavender distillation and the making of essential oils and with year-round guided tours of the distillery, at 11am and 4pm. Agnels dates back to the French revolution so they know what they are doing. A lavender gift shop supplies various goodies to take with you.
- Lavender Museum: An impressive museum entirely dedicated to the production of lavender. Lavender stills and parpaphernalia, documentaries, distillation demonstrations, guided visits and gift shop. Audioguides in English, German, Italian and Chinese.
allowing our minds to travel freely in time”
Medicinal uses for lavender
- Aromatherapy: To ease insomnia, pain, and agitation related to dementia.
- Wound treatment: The essential oil was used in hospitals during World War I as it has antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal qualities and can be used on minor burns.
- Digestive complaints: Lavender has been used to treat abdominal swelling, loss of appetite, nausea, and upset stomach.
- Mental Health: Lavender is said to be effective for restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, and depression.
Other uses for Lavender
- Culinary: Lavender is used by more adventurous chefs and adds a floral, sweetening note to food.
- Wedding confetti: Dried lavender flowers have become popular for wedding confetti.
- Insect repellent: A natural deterrent to some annoying bugs.
- Hair loss: Combined with oils from other herbs, lavender may help with hair loss from a condition called alopecia areata.