The lavender fields of Provence: For many people Provence in the summer evokes the beautiful image of the famous lavender fields and no wonder – once seen, never forgotten.
Lavender has been used since the days of the Romans who used it to perfume their baths and their clothes. By the time of the middle ages, lavender was commonly grown in monasteries alongside medicinal plants. By the 18th Century, the area around the town of Sault, Provence already had beautiful natural lavender fields but it wasn’t until the early 20th Century that lavender really took off as an ingredient in perfume, much loved by the famous perfume makers of Grasse. From the 1920’s, the colour of the landscape changed as more lavender was planted.
There are three main varieties in Provence – fine lavender has a very strong scent and is used by the perfumeries and pharmacies. Lavandin is a natural hybrid lavender of fine and aspic lavender it is easier to grow with a greater yield and it’s used in more industrial applications.
Fine lavender is lighter in colour and has only one stem of flowers. Lavandin is a deeper colour and has three stems. Aspic lavender has five stems of flowers.
When the lavender is in bloom (June – July) the scent seems to represent summer in Provence. It fills the car as you drive past the fields, it wafts on the air at markets and drifts from florists shops where it is sold in huge bunches of fresh cut and dried flowers.
Huge swathes of fields, bright purple against blue skies, the Luberon Mountains as the perfect backdrop, fields of golden wheat or sunflowers provide a stunning contrast.
On the slopes of the lavender fields near the town of Monieux I met a shepherd whose dogs Maya and Pilou enthusiastically rounded up stray sheep who were tempted to nibble the stems of this aromatic plant. “I’m too old for this really” he said but added he and his wife would miss the sheep and being so close to the beautiful landscape. As the bells round the neck of the sheep chimed gently and I breathed in the lavender scented air I felt that this was how it had been for centuries. This hot mountainous terrain, filled with the glorious summer fragrance, the hardy goats and sheep, the bright sun beating down.
Lavender fields of Provence best time to visit
June and July are the best months to see the fields of beautiful colour and experience the fragrance. It’s not an exact science and the weather will effect the flowering time so it could be mid or late June for full blooming and even run into August before harvest takes place. To be absolutely certain, mid June to mid July is almost always the best time to visit. Head for the area of Luberon and visit the local tourist offices of the town that you’re staying in and ask them which area is flowering. When I visited mid June, some areas were not in full flower but the tourist office directed me to the areas which were.
Video of lavender fields in Provence
This beautiful video of the lavender in Valensole will have you dreaming.
Useful website for Provence and lavender fields: www.provenceguide.com
How to get there
Travel to Avignon via train from Paris or London direct and take a guided tour or hire a car, there are lots of choices. It’s not easy to take a bus or other public transport in the area. Pick up a map from the tourist office that shows the main lavender field areas.