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Brian Jannsen / Alamy Stock Photo
Brian Jannsen / Alamy Stock Photo

Lavender: a purple-coloured Provence

Lavender in Provence

A carpet of purple flowers as far as the eye can see

This picturesque region in France with its magical colours was much loved by such artists as Cézanne, Renoir, Gauguin and Van Gogh – and who can fault them? In summer, Provence is at its most beautiful: the lavender fields are in full bloom and the charming villages between the Côte d’Azur and the Alps exude a lively spirit. Let yourself be seduced by the ‘blue gold’ and travel with us on this lavender route through Provence.

On y va!
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Spot On Lavendel Provence 02 Markets 2
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A summer-long celebration

If you know where to go you can enjoy flowering lavender all summer long. Depending on the weather and the location of the fields, the purple flowers blossom between early June and late August. The rule of thumb? The higher the fields and the more rain there is, the later the flowers will blossom. The lavender harvest is accompanied by feasts and markets that display these fragrant flowers in many surprising forms. How about soap, honey, bread or sorbet made with lavender?

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B. Harvey

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From seductive perfume to a fragrant herb

The name lavender is probably derived from the Latin word ‘lavare’, which means washing. Lavender has been used for thousands of years in perfumes, medication and as a seasoning. Barrels of lavender cream were found inside Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb and Cleopatra is said to have bathed in lavender perfume before her rendezvous with Julius Caesar. The ancient Romans used lavender oil as medicine for its antiseptic and soothing properties. In Provence you will also find lavender on your plate: the dried flowers are an essential ingredient in Provençal cuisine.

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MOIRENC CAMILLE

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Cyrille de Villèle - Mairie de Digne les Bains

Bathing in Digne-les-Bains

The ancient spa resort Digne-les-Bains is the perfect starting point for exploring the lavender region. Around 2,000 years ago the Romans would come here to soak in the springs. In addition to enjoying the therapeutic (and slightly radioactive) hot springs, you can also stroll through the winding streets and stock up on regional products at the weekly market. Be sure to sample the local lavender honey! Those who visit in early August will probably encounter the yearly Corso de la Lavande, a celebration of the lavender harvest that includes a parade with floats, markets and fireworks.

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Cyrille de Villèle - Mairie de Digne les Bains
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    Javier Pardina

Blue gold

You may not realise it, but the real lavender experts know that not all that glitters is gold in Provence. Many of the violet-coloured fields don’t produce lavender but lavandin. This hybrid species produces more oil than the so-called ‘lavande vraie’ or real lavender.

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Lavandin can be identified by its sharp smell and lower price tag: real lavender is expensive and often referred to as ‘blue gold’.

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Lilac flower carpet

You will find the largest lavender fields in Provence on the Valensole plateau, surrounded by picturesque towns such as Riez, Saint-Martin and Manosque. This plateau sits at an elevation of 500 metres and measures an impressive 800 km2. For an impressive view of the endless purple flower carpet, visit in July when the fields are in full bloom.

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Matteo Colombo
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    Matteo Colombo

Among sunflowers, wine and lavender

The lavender fields in Luberon are much smaller and the lilac contrasts sharply with the golden yellow sunflower fields and green vineyards. In addition to its lovely nature, this mountain region is also known for picturesque villages, such as Bonnieux, Lourmarin and Gordes, that seem frozen in time. Luberon is often called the cradle of the lavender production: visit the Musée de la Lavande in Coustellet to learn more about the history. The museum shop sells a range of lavender products from the nearby estate of Château du Bois – perfect for souvenirs.

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Honey from the Sénanque monks

The grey stones stand out against the vibrant violet of the lavender blossoms, a picturesque setting 3 kilometres north of the medieval village of Gordes. Here among the lavender fields stands the Abbey of Sénanque: this 12th-century abbey is still home to Cistercian monks. Step inside the abbey shop to taste their home-made lavender honey.

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Canan Czemmel
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Juro Pozzi
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[Left] © Peter Adams Photography Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo [Right] © Juro Pozzi

From flower to oil

The famous lavender fragrance we know from the perfume, soap or bath foam comes from the oil that is found inside the lavender flower. To extract the fragrance, the oil must be separated from the flower with steam in a process called distilling. A precious undertaking: it takes around 100 kilos of lavender to produce one kilo of oil. Observe the distillation process at the Les Agnels distillery in Luberon. The Agnel family have been producing lavender oil and other essential oils since 1895.

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On the way to Mont Ventoux

The so-called Chemin des Lavandes begins on the Sault plateau: this hiking trail leads along deep blue fields of lavender while the Mont Ventoux towers high above the landscape. It’s a great climb for active travellers. Treat yourself with a visit to André Boyer’s nougat shop. His great grandfather began supplying Sault with sweet confections in 1887. In addition to nougat, the shop also sells cookies and macarons, with lavender of course.

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KLM

iFly Magazine

June 2017

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