In the south of France, there is a beautiful city called Aix-en-Provence. It is mainly known for their lavender fields that have been cultivated by the locals for generations. O'Bon Paris' Director, Vincent was lucky enough to have family in the area and can share some of his great memories. His grandparents are from Provence so he spent most of his childhood visiting the small villages of Luberon and Verdon during the weekends.
20 years ago, the lavender fields of Provence were not that famous of a tourist spot, and the local people were perpetuating the cultivation of lavender for generations. Most of the villages also lived in a traditional way, almost disconnected from the outside world.
In few years the hills of Provence have become a very popular touristic destination, especially for foreigners, mostly thanks to lavender. The funniest part is that the lavender fields are still not very well known by the French people, except the locals! In this article I will share with you some guidelines to know more about lavender fields and where to go to see the best fields in the region.
Some types of lavender can be cultivated almost everywhere in France (it’s not uncommon to see lavender in some Parisian parks!). However the large majority of lavender fields are located in Provence, South-East of France. There are three main lavender cultivation areas: Luberon, Valensole Plateau and Sault Plateau.
Luberon Plateau is famous for its beautiful villages such as Gordes, Lourmarin, Bonnieux, and Banon which are in the middle of Luberon. The fields are smaller and not highly concentrated like in Valensole or Sault. The fields are at peak harvest around mid-July.
One of the most famous photography spots in Luberon are the lavender fields of the Abbey (Abbaye) de Sénanque. This 12th century medieval Abbey is still inhabited by monks that cultivate the nearby lavender fields.
Valensole Plateau is the perfect place if you love hilly and endless lavender fields. The fields are usually harvested around the 20th of July.
If you’re visiting Provence at the end of July or early August, your only chance to see blooming fields is to go north to the Vaucluse mountains, around the hilltop villages of Sault and Aurel. From these villages, the view of the nearby fields is amazing.
The best way to discover Provence is to stay overnight at a local village. There are plenty of homestays or small hotels all over Luberon and Valensole Plateau. However, if you’re just coming for a day trip, the main direct cities to see lavender fields are Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. These are the two majors cities nearby and can easily be reached from Paris (3 hours by TGV from Gare de Lyon, and costs around 100 euros for a ticket).
Transportation is the main issue if you want to discover Provence lavender fields. The fields can be far away from each other, and not close to any village. Moreover, the local transportation is not that frequent between villages, even if it’s manageable to get local buses from Avignon or Aix-en-Provence. The easiest way is to rent a car or to join a tour from Aix en Provence or Avignon.
The lavender season stretches from mid-June to Mid-August. However, the dates are quite different from one city to another. The flowers start blooming in the lowest plains first and the lavender grown in the highest altitudes is the latest to bloom. Depending on your visiting period the following are when to visit each city to see the blooming flowers: Luberon between mid-June to mid-July, Valensole plateau in July, Sault Plateau between end of July and mid-August.
However keep in mind that it can vary a lot from one year to the other! Based on weather conditions, the lavender season can start earlier or later in the summer.
There are many types of lavender, and each one can be used for different purposes. The two main ones than can be found in Provence are lavande “vraie” (True lavender, also called lavandula angustifolia) and lavandin (lavandula intermedia).
Lavande vraie can only be found in the highest hills of over 700 meters in Provence. They produce the highest quality essential oils used for toiletries and perfumes. The lavandin is an hybrid type of lavender, cultivated in the lower hills, under 600 meters in Provence. Lavande vraie oil has a more subtle and delicate aroma whereas the lavandin oil is stronger. Lavande vraie essential oil has a lot of therapeutic properties, especially antiseptic and and anti-inflammatory properties, and can be used to reduce headaches, anxiety, sleeplessness, or to reduce pain due to skin irritations and bug bites.
Lavande vraie products are much more expensive than lavandin products. For example, lavande vraie 50ml essential oil would cost around 25 euros, while lavandin 50 ml essential oil would cost around 10 euros. Be careful, sometimes when it’s only written “Lavande”, it’s not always lavande vraie but it could be lavandin.
Throughout the Summer, many villages celebrate the harvest of lavender. During these festivals, there are usually traditional dances, concerts, games, local fairs and markets. It’s a good opportunity to interact with locals and to experience the traditional Provence culture.
According to the harvesting dates, the festivals are celebrated from early July to mid-August. The most famous ones are in Valensole (from the 15th to the 20th of July), Digne les Bains (early August) and Sault (around the 15th of August).
Before doubling as a tourist attraction, the lavender fields in Provence are agricultural fields, and are the main resource of funds for most of the locals. When visiting, be very careful not to damage the crops. It’s always better to ask for the permission before entering a field, and of course don’t pick the lavender! You can buy little bouquets in any shop as there are plenty in the area.
As lavender is one of the most important resources of this territory, along with tourism, try to support the locals as much as possible. There is a lot of imported lavender (mostly from Bulgaria) that is sold in shops in southern France for a cheaper price. This concurrence is making it harder for the local producers to survive. So if you get souvenirs from Provence, be sure to buy only local lavender!
Words by Vincent Sacau
Photographs by Vincent Sacau and Pierre Ieong
When: Mid June to Mid August
Where: Luberon, Plateau de Valensole, Plateau de Sault
Gateways: Aix en Provence or Avignon (3 hours by TGV from Gare de Lyon)