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Lavender fields

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Published: January 2010
last updated: April 2011
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The visit

Season: June - August. The blue and violet field of lavender is one of the images that any tourist dreams to capture during her visit to Provence. Although in the summer season lavender grows in every garden and on every flower-bed of Provence, to see real lavender fields you’ll have to take one of the many routes de la Lavande – touristic circuits will take you through the fields and farms of lavender and through typical Provencal villages, traditionally living off production of lavender.

Lavender is cultivated in the north of Provence: Drôme Provencale, Haute Vaucluse (north of the department of Vaucluse) and Alpes de Haute Provence (where you’ll find the greatest surface of lavender fields).

In Vaucluse: the most important cultivation of lavender is concentrated in the valley of Sault (Pays de Sault). Start your visit directly from the capital of lavender – Sault (we suggest you to go north in the direction of mount Ventoux (you will find numerous walking trails marked according to difficulty). Or explore one of the villages around Sault: Aurel, Monieux, Saint Trinit, Saint Cristol or Savouillon, the village between Apt and Sault. You will have no difficulty finding vast lavender fields. We suggest you not to miss an opportunity to visit one of the distilleries of lavender. Blooming time: early July – late August. La fete de la Lavande is celebrated in Sault on 15 August.

In Drôme Provencale: almost anywhere you will find lavender fields alternated with wheat fields, vineyards and other cultures. You will have a difficult choice between direction south-west around Nyon, north-east around Laborel, very south around Ferrassières or in the pre-alps around Eygalayes. Blooming time: middle of June – late July.

In Alpes de Haute Provence: the famous centre of lavender cultivation is Plateau de Valensole. You can start your exploration from Valensole – the town laying in the heart of the largest lavender field in France, and then drive up in the direction of Digne les Bains, passing by Riez, Puimoisson and Mézel. From Mézel, whether you continue north to Digne les Bains and Thoard, or south-east in the direction Castellane, you will not miss the fields and farms of lavender. Blooming time: middle of June – middle of July.

You will also find lavender routes around in the Alpes of Haute Provence around Forcalquier or in Vaucluse, for example south-west from Apt around Coustellet (there you will find the museum of lavender) and on Plateau des Claparèdes (Bonnieux).

History

Lavender is a wild-growing culture of the western Mediterranean basin. Three types of lavender to be found in Provence are: Lavandula angustifolia (or true lavender) is the most precious kind of lavender, growing on the hillsides between 800 and 1500 meters of altitude. It gives essential oil of the highest quality, used in the perfumery and pharmacy. The plant has small flowers and tiny leafs. to get 1l of its essential oil 130kg of the flowers are needed.

Lavandula latifolia (or spiked lavender) has larger leafs and stronger smell. Little used in France because of smell, it is used in Spain and Portugal in fabrication of the paints.

Lavandula intermedia (or lavandin) – is the hybrid of these two species. Currently it is the most cultivated and used type of lavender, since its flowers are bigger and easier to harvest (1l of essential oil is produced with “only” 40kg of flowers). Like “real” lavender, its essential oil is used (although less valued) in perfumery, as well as in pharmacy, cooking, etc.

Exceptional qualities of lavender were known already in the antique Rome, where it was used as a natural perfume for body and clothes. In Provence lavender is used since the Middle Age in preparation of medicines and perfumes. Every child knows about its anticeptic qualities. However, only in XIX century local farmers have started massive cultivation of the plant. Lavender is widely used in Provencal cuisine. Its delicate sweet flowery taste is considered to compliment local goat-cheeses and lamb-meat. However, most frequently you will meet lavender in sweet dishes: lavender scones and meringues. Lavender ice-cream is one of the emblematic tastes of Provence.

Practical information

To come to Drôme by car: autouroutes A7 (Lyon-Salon-de-Provence), A49 (from Grenoble take E711 and turn to E713), D538 crosses la Drôme from north to south passing by back-country.

To come to Vaucluse: autoroute A7, A9 (from Spain, through Narbonne, Montpellier and Orange), A51 (Aix-en-Provence – Pertuis).

To come to Alpes de Haute Provence: A51 (Aix-en-Provence – Sisteron).

Products of lavender:

Dried flowers – can be used for aroma-therapy and preservation of the clothes. This is one of the most popular souvenirs of Provence. To the lovers of Provencal cuisine we suggest buying dried branches of lavender, which can be used for cooking.
Essential oil – is used in aroma-therapy (has strong calming effect, lowers blood pressure) and in preparation of home-made cosmetics (lavender has strong antiseptic qualities). In traditional medicine it valued for its anti-inflammatory effect, it is also claimed to soothe headaches and heal acne (do not apply it in pure form!!!).
Lavender honey – is treasured for its mild flowery taste. In Provence you will find a great choice of delicately smelling cosmetic products on the basis of lavender: soaps, body lotions and face creams, body sprays, bath salts, etc. You can also buy toys, stuffed with lavender flowers, however use them as souvenirs and don’t give to children.

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