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What to know when visiting France's lavender fields this summer

The Local France
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What to know when visiting France's lavender fields this summer
A field of lavender in Grignan, southern France. Photo by OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP

Known affectionately as 'blue gold,' France’s lavender fields are a popular tourist attraction every year.

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Lavender is the “soul of Provence,” the area of southern France where the fields can be found.

Like wine, lavender was brought to France around 2,000 years ago by the Romans. The flower is the emblem of ‘Haute Provence’ regional identity, though the fields stretch from just outside Nice almost all the way up to Valence, and they are not fully exclusive to France.

Washerwomen, those whose job it was to clean clothes and linen, were historically referred to as les lavandières in France. 

 

The flowers, which can be found mainly in two species in Provence, have several uses - as oils for cooking and bathing, as a perfume for soaps, and even as an antiseptic for healing wounds and scars.

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The lavender essential oil that comes from Provence is an AOP (L'Appellation d'origine protégée) which means that Provençal lanvender oil must be grown in the area under designated conditions.

 

When is the best time to see the fields?

Typically, the lavender flowers from around mid-June to early-to-mid August, with early flowering likely in hot and dry years.

Each year, there are also Fêtes de la lavande in the nearby villages. This year, the first one will take place in Martel in the Lot département starting on June 28th.

You can find the full agenda here.

READ MORE: Visiting France: What activities and places do I need to reserve in advance?

Where should I go?

The Valensole plateau is perhaps the most famous place to go for lavender fields. Speckled with several small Provençal towns, the area is beautiful, with a mountainous backdrop in the distance. If you go here, you might also be able to see the sunflower fields too.

 

Sault is a less known, partially due to its altitude, the lavender typically flowers a little later.

It is still a great place to go see the fields, and every year the town hosts a Lavender Festival in August. Walking (or cycling) between the villages (Aurel, Saint-Trinit and Saint-Christol) is very manageable.

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This is not too far from the Sénanque Abbey, a medieval 12th century abbey which is surrounded by lavender fields. You might notice some small stone houses called bories in the fields, which were historically used for field workers.

 

Luberon Valley is another location that comes highly recommended. In the area, there is a regional national park, home to rosé wines, castles (chateaux) and charming villages, like Gordes, a stunning hilltop village.

Here you can also find the Musée de la Lavande, if you are looking to learn more about harvesting, producing and distilling lavender, its industry, and some interesting regional history.

 

How to get there?

You can take a TGV train to Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, or rent a car. With a car, you can also enjoy the several scenic routes that allow you to see the fields from the roads.

What else is there to do while in the region?

The area is also known for its rosé wine, so you could take the opportunity to go visit some vineyards or spend some time wine-tasting. 

In the summer months, the south of France can get quite warm. If you are looking to go swimming or enjoy the water, the Gorges du Verdon are not too far away. Though a tourist hotspot, the canyon is a beautiful and a wonderful place for paddling along in a canoe. 

Beware to check the water levels before planning any activities, however, as they can fall drastically during droughts.

If you're a fan of hiking, you can always go for a (light) hike along the Ochre Trail near Roussillon. Here, there are two marked paths that will take you through sunset-colored red and yellow cliffs in an old quarry.

Words of Wisdom

Unless you have been given express permission, do not pick the lavender, as this is the farmer’s livelihood. You can always buy a bouquet from nearby souvenir shops for your photo shoots! 

Also, stick to the paths that exist to avoid trampling any crops, and of course do not litter in the fields. 

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