I can still smell the lavender-scented air and see the acres and acres of hills and valleys glowing purple in the sun. Provence in lavender season is the prettiest sight and will stay in your memory forever. The best way to see all this purple magic is to embark on a road trip through the region.
Provence is a vast region in southeast France, bordered in the west by the river Rhone, in the east by Italy, and in the south by the Mediterranean. To see the lavender fields in full bloom, you have to travel at the right time because it’s not a year-round event. You have a certain window because lavender doesn’t bloom everywhere in Provence at the same time. The best time is from early to mid-June to the end of August. Occitane, which is nearer to the Mediterranean, has a warmer climate than, say, Sault, and lavender blooms in early June. August is the holiday month in France, and the French love their lavender fields, too, so it can be rather crowded. But, if, like me, you opt for a car and driver, they will always find side roads you yourself would never know about and thus avoid the crowds.
Plan at least 3 days for your road trip or, if you have the time and budget, a week because you also want to visit interesting cities along the way like Avignon or Marseille and stay in one of the romantic country hotels.
Lavender isn’t just a beautiful and soothing sight, it’s also a business. This list was curated to take you to the most colorful fields and museums and artisans to show you all the fabulous products made from and with lavender and the traditional methods to produce them.
Driving yourself in Provence can be trying, especially as you have to venture into small winding side roads to get to the best fields and to navigate small villages. You want to admire the fields, the landscape, and the wayside cottages and farms, not to concentrate on not missing a turn or landing in a ditch. AMP Limousines is the service I used, having been picked up at Marseille, the largest city in Provence and also the location of an international airport. Sure, it’s expensive, but you can hire them for a day, then stop at a hotel and continue your journey when you are ready.
Remember, the locals make their living from the short lavender season. Tempting as it may be, do not walk into a lavender field and pluck a few blossoms. You’d be trespassing. And another word of caution: Mind the bees! They love lavender and buzz around to pollinate the blooms. You don’t want to get stung, so bring repellent.
The following are the best stops to see the lavender fields with recommendations on where to spend the night. Best to consult with your driver which route to follow.
If like me, you land in Marseille Provence Airport, you might want to see this fantastic city before picking up your car. I recommend a boat trip to the Chateau d’If to see where the legendary Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned. Don’t miss to sample the best bouillabaisse in one of the restaurants in the port.
From Marseille, we made our way to Avignon, another historic city to spend a few hours in. Take at least a look at the famous bridge and the papal palace. From there, we drove 20 miles south to Orgon and spent the night in the fabulous boutique country hotel, Le Mas De La Rose. Staying there really gets you into the Provence/Lavender experience spirit. The hotel is surrounded by olive groves and, of course, your first glimpse at the beauty of the purple magic.
From the lower regions of Provence, we then headed to one of the most popular areas of lavender fields, the Valensole Plateau in the Alpes de Haute Provence. An area of 300 square miles covered with field after field awaits you here, together with farms, villages, and the famous lavender honey.
Lavender Museum Colustellet
We told you that the stops in our road trip itinerary would include places closely connected to the cultivation of lavender and the production of all the beautiful and sweet-smelling things made from lavender. The Museum of Lavender in the heart of Luberon is the first of those. The museum is an extension of the farm cultivating lavender for five generations and is located in a traditional mas (or stone house) typical for Provence. A documentary shown in a projection room shows all the steps from planting to harvest. In the shop, you will be surprised to see the great variety of products, and in other rooms of the museum, you see clothes and old photographs. It really gives you an idea about the history of lavender and the importance for Provence.
Abbey Of Senanque
Not far from the museum stands the 12th-century Abbey Senanque. It is a working monastery where the Cisterian monks still strictly abide by the rules of their founder. However, they open their monastery to visitors at specific hours which you find on their website. The nearest town is Gordes. Lavender fields surround the monastery and are tended to by the monks. In their shop, they sell their own products, among them jars of delicious honey.
Located at the foot of Mont Ventoux and on a platform of the same name, Sault is another very popular stop on the lavender route. The highlight of the year is a big lavender festival on the 15th of August because August is harvest time. It’s also a health resort, and if you want to stay longer, you can ascend to Mount Ventoux, hike and bike, or visit the Wednesday market. Sault also cooks, or rather bakes, with lavender. Try their famous nougat and macarons sprinkled with lavender. The flavor is very strong; therefore, it is only used sparingly.
Distillery Les Agnels
Nearby in the village of the same name is the Distillery Les Agnels, which grows lavender and produces essential oil and flavored waters since 1895. You will be impressed by a more industrial but still sustainable process with an emphasis on the oils. They even have an indoor pool with lavender-scented water where you can take a most welcome dip considering the heat.
Located on the Durance riverbanks, Sisteron has a dramatic landscape with the steep La Baume Rock at its center and an interesting medieval old town with three museums and a citadel. A sightseeing train takes you around. The area around Sisteron features ample lavender fields as well as rolling fields of grain and prairies with horses. The Alps are visible in the distance.
Much closer to Avignon and already on the way back, I spent the night at another fabulous country hotel, La Bastide du Tinel. The 18th-century stone mansion surrounded by lavender fields has only 28 rooms, among them my favorite suite, Eugenie, which features a unique basket handle arched ceiling. Nothing can be a better start to the day than a French breakfast on one of several terraces with a view of the purple sea.
You will get your fill of lavender cologne, sachets, creams, lotions, and potions, but in case you don’t want to take them home with you, you can get the real thing from l’Occitane, the most famous French lavender retailer with outlets worldwide.
And, if hiring a car and driver is beyond your budget, you may opt to rent a car and drive yourself. There are several other routes to the lavender fields that you can follow.
Or you can go on guided tours of various lengths, making, for instance, Avignon your base. But given the summer months when the fields are in bloom until the harvest time in mid-August, these tours tend to be full. Granted, the car/driver option is the most expensive, but you get the most out of the lavender experience because you can stop where you want, and your driver, being a local, is bound to know even lesser-known fields and farms and definitely won’t get lost.
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