One of my neighbour’s guests (British) asked me yesterday ‘Where can we see the lavender fields?’ so I thought it was high time I wrote a blog post about one of the most photographed regions in France – the Lavender Route or Routes de la Lavande.
While not geographically part of the French Riviera, you can be wandering the small villages of Provence that overlook hillsides and horizon-stretching plateaus covered in flowering lavender within 1.5 – 2 hours drive so it’s easy to include in an itinerary if you visit the French Riviera.
Of course, Grasse is well known for flowers and perfume but for the spectacular postcard-perfect photographs you lust after in travel magazines you really must head further to see it for yourself.
Best time to visit the lavender fields
The lavender starts blooming from early to mid June and is present until approximately mid-August when the lavender is harvested and many of the towns have festivals celebrating this fragrant purple flower.
However, there have been years when the harvest has moved forward due to weather conditions.
You’ll also likely see sunflowers, cornflowers and poppies blooming. Interestingly, lavender was still hand-cultivated by sickle right up until the first cutting machine was prototyped in the 1950’s.
For 2016, full bloom is expected to be late June around Apt/Plateau d’Albion, and early July around Sault. Full bloom is optimal for photo opportunities!
Note: I have written this blog post as an information source only, please do not email me directly to check whether your own individual travel plans coincide with the lavender harvest – I recommend you contact the Sault Tourist Office directly as they are very knowledgeable about current conditions each year of which fields are best to see lavender.
Where to find the lavender fields
The best locations to see the lavender fields are:
– The Valensole plateau, particularly between Riez, Valensole and Forcalquier. At Riez, you can also see the remains of the 1st century AD Roman temple dedicated to Apollo and eat one of the best truffle dishes of the region, brouillade aux truffes, which is scrambled egg with truffle shavings.
– Sault-en-Provence: Sault-en-Provence (Sault) is perched at 776 metres above sea level so you get a great panoramic view over lavender fields. Driving from Banon you’ll see many lavender fields if you the take D950 road to Sault. You can also drive from Sault along the D943 road and then D230 past Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt before going to Gordes or Roussillon and you will see many lavender fields along this route.
– Simiane-la-Rotonde: A pretty village surrounded by lavender fields and with a medieval castle to visit.
There are plenty of guided tours operating in this region, but I suggest self-drive as there is so much to see!
My recommended scenic route to take in some of the best sights of this area and the lavender fields would be: Lac de Sainte-Croix*, then Moustiers-St Marie, Puimoisson, Riez, Valensole, Forcalquier, Banon, Sault with side-trips to Simiane-la-Rotonde, Roussillon* and/or Gordes*. *Lac de Sainte-Croix is a beautiful turquoise lake at the western end of the Gorges du Verdon and you can swim, hire pedal boats or go kayaking. Roussillon and Gordes are both unique and pretty hilltop villages worth a visit. For my customised Lavender Route map, visit my collection I curated on Wanderant:
For other itineraries to discover the lavender region, visit this website: http://www.moveyouralps.com/fr/routes-de-la-lavande/itineraire-lavande
It is possible to drive and stop by the roadside for photos.
Most of the towns in the lavender-growing area host annual festivals to mark harvest time. You’ll find parades with flower-laden floats and artisans selling all types of lavender products including soaps, honey, pot pourri and essential oils. Here are some lavender festivals you can visit if you are in the area:
Dignes: Beginning of August, a 4-day Corso de la Lavande with all kinds of lavender produce for sale, flower floats, music, dancing and a truck that sprays the roads with lavender water!
Riez: Last fornight in July, Fête de Lavande
Sault: Around 14 and 15 August, cutting festival, flower floats, Fête de la Lavande
Valensole: Last fortnight in July, Fête de Lavande
Other things to see and do
As well as the yearly lavender festivals, there are plenty of other attractions and activities that aim to capitalise on the lavender industry including farm tours, visits to lavender distilleries and guided tours. Some suggestions are:
Coustellet: Musée de la Lavande (The Lavender Museum) showcases the process of harvesting and distilling lavender. They have a free audioguide (available in 5 languages) that highlights their collections of copper stills, Provençal costumes, perfume bottles, a giftshop and pleasant outdoor terrace. There is plenty of carparking, and the museum and public toilets are accessible for persons with reduced mobility. Reduced entrance fees for students, retirees and disabled visitors. Accompanied children under 15 years of age get free entry and an activity quiz. www.thelavendermuseum.com
Forcalquier: Jump onboard a hot air balloon for an aerial view over the lavender fields. You can reserve a flight via the Forcalquier Tourist Office. http://www.haute-provence-tourisme.com/vol-en-ballon/
Sault: The tourist office offers 7 guided tours on the theme of lavender www.ventoux-sud.com
I highly recommend visiting this region. The scenery is very picturesque and even if you dislike lavender you can visit for gastronomy, wine tasting, kayaking, cycling, hiking, rock climbing and horse riding. All of the Tourist Offices in the region have maps and lots of information, visit http://www.alpes-haute-provence.com/, www.valensole.fr and http://www.village-banon.fr/
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Image credits: Coeur du Luberon, Luberon Tourism, Fondecran, Tourism Alpes Haute Provence.