Valensole is a must-see if you want to observe the flowering of lavender in Provence. During our many trips to the south of France, Ornella and I have almost every time made a stop in this magical place. The intoxicating scent, the purple colour that fills the eyes, the song of the cicadas and the deafening noise of millions of bees, but above all so hot.
Don’t forget to bring some water with you because the area is isolated and essential services can only be found in the village of Valensole and Riez passing through before reaching the cultivated areas.
Drinking water with you is very useful in Provence because many areas of natural interest are in the middle of the countryside or in isolated areas.
Even on the previous stage of this tour, the Provencal Colorado from Roussillon to Rustrel, it would have been difficult without our water bottles.
The first time we were on the Valensole plateau we would never have expected such a scene, lavender fields as far as the eye can see, one of those places where admiring the horizon one can also move.
The first impact was not positive: going up the winding road from Riez to the Valensole plateau, we stopped several times in front of small plots of land cultivated with lavender. Taking the ritual photos, I thought to myself: is that all? I was trying to “gild the pill” in Ornella as I wanted to come here at all costs on winding country roads choosing this place instead of visiting Ague Mortes in Camargue, but especially after having already seen the spectacular Senaque Abbey and the lavender cultivated by the monks around it.
The same lavender fields in Tuscany told by Simona of destinationtoscana who cultivates my friend Timothy in the village of Massarosa where I live.
We got back in the car with a bit of disappointment and kept getting in unaware of what we would find. As soon as the climb was over I couldn’t help but stop the car in the middle of the road because I was slapped like a slap by what was in front of us.
Long rows of lavender as far as the eye can see, precise, round, interspersed with small strips of barren, stony earth. Purple hills where every now and then an isolated tree appeared, a small building, in short the paradise of travel photographers.
The thing I remember most was the scent of lavender spreading in the air, intense and delicate, which combined with that magnificent purple sea really inebriated us by triggering the “kiss between the rows”.
The plateau of Valensole
The Valensole plateau or Plateau de Valensole is located south of the department of the Alpes de Haute-Provence at 500 metres above sea level. With a surface area of 800 km², it is recognised throughout the world for the production of Lavender and Lavender.
In fact, the lavender produced in Valensole meets about 80% of the world’s demand for this fragrant flower.
This territory confirms Provence as one of the most romantic places in the world and those who appreciate the Provencal landscapes will not be able to do without visiting the Valensole plateau in July, when the lavender blossoms in full bloom.
It seems that everything home, flowers, trees, mountains, is placed in a pre-established order to enhance the visitor’s senses and the emotion is guaranteed.
Lavender blossoming Provence
When does lavender bloom? Lavender blooms throughout the summer, from June until August. In Valensole France as in any other region where this aromatic plant is grown, the period of maximum splendour is at the end of June. There are varieties that flower a little earlier and others later, but if you go to Valensole Provence at the beginning of July the show is guaranteed.
Another of the places where you can observe the same magnificent composition of the lavender fields can be found by visiting Gordes and the Senanque Abbey: a picturesque 11th century grey stone abbey, also immersed in lavender.
How to get to Valensole
To get to the lavender area, we left the city of Aix en Provence on the A51 towards Manosque. We left Sain Paul lez Durance taking the D952, the same road that leads to the Gorges du Verdon. Once we arrived at the village of Riez, there is a diversion that leads to the top of the plateau.
Lavender in Provence
To see the lavender in bloom this area should be visited between the end of June and the beginning of August, when the harvest turns the purple sea into rows of small green hemispheres!
French lavender grown in Provence meets about 80% of world demand for the production of all products derived from its flowers.
There are two types of lavender that are grown here: Lavender and Lavenderino: the first is mainly used to produce essences to be used mainly in perfumery and cosmetics in another important area of Provence, in Grasse.
The Lavandino is instead used to make traditional soap.
After our stop in the lavender fields, along the way we stopped at one of the many shops selling typical products derived from the cultivation of this medicinal plant… and of course we bought some products without which, at that moment, it seemed that we could not live.
Another special product is made with Lavender, you can tell by the only background noise we heard during our visit: the constant buzzing of millions of bees.
The lavender honey
Stopping in one of the little shops along the road back to Valensole, we had the chance to taste lavender honey, a speciality of Provence and more specifically of the plateau. With its beige colour and creamy, thin and delicate taste, it is picked from the end of July. A fragrant and intense perfume, on the taste reminiscent not only of lavender but also of fig fruits.
The lady who sold it to us listed the great number of therapeutic qualities that this honey possesses, but I am always a little skeptical about it.
The skill of the French in protecting their products – unlike us Italians – protects lavender honey with two quality marks: the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) “Miel de Provence” (Honey of Provence) and the Label Rouge mark.
Lavender Festival in Provence
During the months of July and August, there are many events dedicated to lavender, markets, fairs and then, festivals in honour of the purple plant: a lavender festival is held in Valensole on the second weekend of July; the event is very popular with the locals who organise very beautiful events wearing traditional Provencal clothes. Lavender is celebrated throughout the area, concluding the festivities with the lavender parade and the lavender fair in August, in Digne-les-Bains.