Summer in Provence is When to See Lavender Fields
Throughout the Luberon region, the landscape is peppered with fields of small, round-shaped lavender bushes, which for almost nine months of the year lie dormant like sleeping hedgehogs. In the spring, they begin to sprout, and from about the middle of June, their fragrant flowers bloom, fanning their purple fronds along the arid ridges of Provence as they have for centuries.
The fields of Provence become splashed with soft shades of violet and lilac as unseen paintbrushes strokes the earth with colour. Framed by a backdrop of rich, velvet green from the surrounding hills, with its vineyards, pine trees, orchards and olive groves, the stage is set for this annual symphony of the senses. Explore the lavender field in the Luberon Valley and beyond in the original post and Caroline’s photos.
Lavender Essentials in Provence
The lavender industry in Provence is a significant economic driver impacting agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, and retail. There are 2,000 producers and roughly 25,000 people employed in the industry. The main growing areas are the four (4) departments the Drôme, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Vaucluse, with some small production in the Auvergne, Quercy and the Ardèche (source: FranceAgriMer). Over 20,000 hectares are under cultivation. According to France 24, “The number of producers has grown from 1,000 to around 1,400 and France now also has 120 distilleries.” Read more here.
Did you know that lavender is a family of Lamiaceae plants that includes several species? Part of the mint family, there are 39 varieties of lavender. Although we typically associate lavender with purple flowers, the varietals include many colours, from deep blue to white. The plants love the dry, sandy, rocky soil typical of southern France. A relatively easy plant to grow. Lavender is well-suited to the Provencal climate with hot, dry summers and cold winters; the plants require minimal care.
Where to See Lavender in Provence
Everyone agrees that one of the best places for viewing is near Mt Ventoux and the lavender capital Sault. There are fields in the Luberon Valley near Bonnieux, Saignon, Apt and the photogenic Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey near Gordes. However, as previously mentioned, you will unlikely be alone unless you get up early.
There are plenty of lavender fields in the Luberon near Bonnieux, Jouques, Menerbes and Gordes. However, the timing for cutting the fields depends on Mother Nature and the farmer.
Visit the Musée de la Lavande (Lavender Museum) at any time for a tour and workshops. Location: 276 Route de Gordes, 84220 Cabrières-d’Avignon. Make sure to book your tour in advance.
Visit the lavender fields near Aix-en-Provence! Terre Ugo is a 7-hectare family farm located on the outskirts of Aix in Puyricard. In 2017, the family planted 30,000 organic Lavandin Grosso plants on a portion of the property. Now, during the peak of the flowering season, you can visit Terre Ugo to walk through the fields, take a workshop, have a meal, or shop in the boutique.
Cooking with Lavender
Here is a selection of sweet and savoury recipes with lavender. Make sure to use good-quality culinary-grade lavender for cooking.
Here is a summary of the distillation process for traditional lavender growers:
- The flowers are cut, bundled and left to dry in the field for 1-2 days.
- Tractors loaded with dried bundles haul their purple loads to the distillery.
- This is where the bales of flowers are stuffed into enormous vats. It is incredibly hard work, but you smell terrific at the end of the day.
- Once the vat lids are closed, steam is pumped through the tubes (think large pressure cookers) until the flowers are hot enough to release their essence.
- This liquid has two components; a clear, heavily scented essence and a fractional amount of essential oil. Both parts are collected and sold for commercial use.
When the lavender is harvested in Provence at the end of July, a heavenly scent is carried on warm evening breezes. Alerted by the first wafts of perfumed air from our terrace, we can sometimes see the smoke rising from the other side of a small ridge. The distillation has begun.