Ah, Provence… long summer, white beaches, olive groves, old wineries, small cafés like from Van Gogh’s painting, and most of all – a purple sea of lavender stretching to the horizon of the Provencal province. Where and when is it best to go and make the most of the French lavender season, which event to calendar and what lavender specialties to look for?
For centuries, Provence was considered an uninteresting rural area, and its simple inhabitants were the subject of jokes among the sophisticated French. In the 19th century, Provence was “discovered” by English tourists, fascinated by picturesque views, pleasant climate, white beaches and charming cafés of port towns.
Today, Provence is one of the most fashionable European regions. In many circles it is “appropriate” to have a cottage in Provence or at least spend a vacation in a historic vineyard. Annually, about 80 million tourists visit the region.
The scent of lavender
Where and when to see the lavender oceans?
The lavender flowering season is at its peak from mid-June to mid-July. Later, you can still go north (around Sault, Banon and beyond), where flowers bloom in the higher fields even in mid-August.
Following your nose
The best way to satisfy your lavender hunger is to just hit the road. Popular places attract crowds of tourists, and the truth is that every Provencal lavender field at the height of the flowering season makes an unforgettable impression. Perhaps another good idea is to rent a car or a bicycle (possible in many towns), arm yourself with a GPS (preferably with offline maps, as sometimes there is not reception), go deeper into the region and just follow the scent.
At the tourist information points around Sault, ask about the Lavender Trail (Chemin des Lavandes) – it is a hiking loop around the fields about 5 kilometers long. You can cover it by bike or car, but you’ll get the most impressed when admiring the views while walking.
Lavender harvest festival
The harvest season is rounded off with great local festivals – lavender festivals, such as the Corso de la Lavande in Digne-les-Bains (30.07- 03.08.2021) or the Fête de la lavande in Sault (15.08.2021). Must see events in the programme are parades and performances of folk groups. Annual lavender sickle harvesting championship is held annually in Sault. Moreover, the organizers promise feasts, dances, fireworks shows, all in an atmosphere of celebrating a successful harvest.
The festivals are accompanied by fairs – a unique opportunity to stock up on original Provencal products. In one place and time you can meet the best local producers, farmers, artisans and artists from all over the region.
What’s all the buzz about?
There is a monotonous buzz over the lavender fields – the sound of bees. The lavender honey they produce is used to make nougat de Montélimar – white nougat with almonds and pistachios. Family pastry shops offer lavender-flavoured ice cream, while local restaurants sell dishes with red wine and lavender sauce. Fans of gastronomic curiosities can also try sausages with lavender and honey.
However, the primary focus of mass-growing lavender is the cosmetic industry. Lavender has antibacterial and calming properties. In addition to perfume, it can be found in traditional Marseille soaps, but also, for example, in scented bedding mists.
Fortunately, the massive scale of lavender farming and the tourist popularity of Provence did not kill the provincial character of the area. There are still small distilleries scattered throughout the region where you can buy a bottle of freshly pressed essential oil and watch the process of its formation, and at the end of the side roads there are ordinary people who lead a quiet life.