There are two varieties grown in Provence, and without a doubt, the star is "true" or "fine" lavender. It grows naturally in Mediterranean scrubland, located between 600 and 1,400 meters (1950 and 4500 feet). Its distinctive features? Smaller tufts and a floral spike. Essential lavender oil from Haute-Provence is certified AOP, and comes from the departments of Vaucluse, Drome, Alpes de Haute-Provence, and Hautes-Alpes. It is cultivated in an area located at a minimum of 800 meters (2620 feet) above sea level. It takes up to 200 kg (440 pounds) of fresh flowers to produce one liter of essential oil!
... or Lavandin?
This is the other variety prized in Provence, a cross between fine lavender and lavender aspic, a wild variation. It’s a tougher plant, with rounded tufts, and grows at an altitude of 200 and 1000 meters (650 to 3300 feet), undulating in waves as far as the eye can see. In 2016, lavandin was grown on nearly 19,500 hectactres (50,000 acres), producing an annual harvest of 1,380 tons. (Source: FranceAgriMer).
Lavender As Far As The Eye Can See
The Valensole plateau is not the only area completely decorated in purple. Lavender and lavandin fields carve the landscape from the Hautes-Alpes to the Baronnies, from the Vercors to the Lubéron, and from the Drôme to the Verdon.
The Moove Your Alps website (External link) identifies lavender fields, trails, and routes complete with distillery visits to explore on foot, by bicycle, motorcycle or car. Why not begin at the L'Essentiel de Lavande plantation and distillery in Clansayes, in the Drôme department, or at the Lavender Museum in Coustellet, in Luberon.
The Lavender museum (External link)
A Thousand and One Virtues
The Romans were already using lavender to perfume their baths and clothing. This aromatic plant has many properties: it’s an antiseptic that also soothes and helps heal scars. Its essential oil works wonders to relieve an itch or make a bath even more relaxing.
A Fragrant Rendez-vous
Summer (from the end of June to the end of August) is the best time to admire the lavender fields in bloom, and to be intoxicated by their scent released by the sun’s fervent heat. Harvesting usually starts in the second half of July.
Hot or Cold
Most shops in the region sell lavender essential oils, as well as soaps, home fragrances, scented candles, and more—its irresistible aroma has also made the plant a favorite in perfume-making and even gastronomy. Have you ever tried lavendar honey or lavender ice cream?
In Les Baux-de-Provence, in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, Elsa Lenthal revisits the tradition of weaving lavender wands. The result? A beautiful, colorful object to perfume wardrobes. Bring a piece of Provence home with you.
To learn more:
Head off to the lavender roads in Provence