When and where to go to experience the lavender season in Provence…
Lavender starts to bloom around the time of the summer solstice, mid to end June, until it is harvested, end July to middle of August. It can differ from year to year and is totally dependent on the somewhat capricious nature of the weather but generally speaking mid June to mid August is the best time to go to Provence for the lavender in full, glorious scented bloom!
Top tips for seeing the lavender in Provence
Emily Durand at Your Private Provence shares her tips for visiting Provence to see the lavender at its best…
Go before the world goes – If you don’t like the crowds and you want your lavender exploring to seem exotic, go before mid July. True, the prime blooming for the lavender starts mid July but that doesn’t mean you don’t get purple and blue hews earlier. The lavender blooming depends on the variety, elevation and climate variations. My favourite week for a lavender tour is the last part of June and beginning of July – right before the French are on holiday and tourists arrive for high season.
Meet the growers – Like any trip, you can visit the surface level, or you can immerse yourself into the culture and people. You can go home and show pictures of spectacular lavender fields flowing like the waves of the ocean or you can show pictures that tell a story. The artisan lavender growers in Provence have a unique story to tell and most are still running family owned farms. Make an appointment at a distillery to get a private tour or book your lavender tour through a guide who already has the contacts to get you up close to the artisans and learn about their struggles, victories, techniques and heritage. It’s also another reason to go earlier than mid July for a lavender tour as the artisan growers are freer to welcome you since the harvest has not yet started.
Visit L’Abbey de Senanque before 9am or after 7pm – The spectacular abbey where the monks grow lavender is definitely worth your visit. However, the cul-de-sac parking in a canyon valley can be horrendous. This is one of the most visited monuments in Provence (rightfully so) but not a pleasant stop if you are literally stuck in a parking lot until the tour bus manages to escape the dead lock. Sometimes, there is just nowhere to park so go early or late and avoid the queues.
Multiple Hotel Accommodations – The lavender in Provence covers multiple regions. If the main focus on your trip to Provence is the lavender then plan your itinerary with hotel accommodations along your route so you maximize your time. If only part of your itinerary is focused on seeing the lavender then staying in the Luberon region around Gordes or Bonnieux is a good middle ground for dividing your time between the higher altitude lavender region and to the other regions west and south (Mediterranean, the Alpilles, Avignon).
Provence Lavender Trip Ideas
Here are some of Emily’s recommendations to get closer still to the lavender of Provence…
Distillerie Vallon in Sault – This family run distillery is located at the bottom of the village Sault. They have a unique old fashion distillery that is still used today and you can’t help but fall in love with the authenticity of this place. It’s like going to the local farmer for your apples; instead here you go to pick up your essential lavender oils (lavandin or lavande). Some distilleries have expanded their business to include boutiques catering to tourists wanting to buy anything and everything lavender. It’s kind of nice to walk into a place and not feel like it was designed for a tourist – just plain old simple real France.
Off-The-beaten-Path – I like to go off-the-beaten-path and many travellers do too. However, nobody likes to get lost and we all like to know where we are going. If you start your tour in Sault (the capital village of Lavender) the back country is just around the corner. The valley of Sault awaits you with tiny roads that weave in and out of lavender fields. Your visual markers are the village of Sault and the Mont Ventoux. Everything in-between is a wondrous maze of lavender fields. Another option is to head north from Sault to Montbrun-les-Bains (which is actually considered the Drome department) and climb high to the back roads (up to Barret-de-Lioure) that will eventually drop you down into a tiny village called Ferrassières. This is one of the places that lets you capture the large wide-open rolling hills of lavender – you won’t see a tour bus on this route!
Where to see Lavender in Provence
From mid June to mid August the Plateau of Valensole is a sea of purple and the air is scented with lavender. Get away from the crowds and head to the roads above Sault where you can indulge your love of lavender in peace and quiet apart from the sound of goats and sheep wearing little bells as they frolic in the fields. You’ll need to hire a car or take a tour to see the lavender in all its gorgeous glory and there’s nothing quite like standing in a lavender field, the sun beating down, the air thick with the scent of those gorgeous flowers…
Provence Tourism has produced a really handy map so you can plan your route through the lavender fields (click here for the interactive map)
Need someone to drive you around to discover the lavender fields, www.yourprivatechauffeurprovence.com will help
Travel to Avignon by train
Travel by train from London to Avignon: the journey will take you just 6h30 with Voyages-SNCF.com