Is there a more beautiful season in Provence than lavender season when the countryside turns purple and the heady scent of lavender perfumes the air? Vast fields of purple stretch as far as the eye can see, dotted only with a lonely tree or tumbledown cottage. This spectacle of nature and agriculture is one of the most beautiful sights in France and is deservedly on many a visitor’s ultimate list of places to see.
Seven years ago I first went to see the lavender fields in Provence. It was a dream come true, something I’d wanted to do for years. We didn’t plan ahead, just jumped in the car and went, which meant we were there in the middle of the day. The worst possible time for photographs. But of course it was still breathtaking, awe-inspiring and utterly lovely.
Since this first visit I’ve often thought about going again, but circumstances have conspired against me. Bad weather, children’s activities, social engagements, illness etc. Somehow the years passed and then I started to read how the lavender fields of Provence were being ruined.
A victim of their own success like many other “over-touristed” places in Europe. The Instagram Effect. Far too many people wanting to go just to get their perfect Insta shot worthy of a thousand likes. A tick off the “bucket list”.
The hoards were trampling over the fields with little or no respect for the fact that these plants are somebody’s livelihood, not just a prop to their viral aspirations. Coachloads of tourists were creating traffic jams and farmers started putting up fences to keep the overly-enthusiastic mobs out. Sadly I began to reconcile myself to keeping the memories from that visit in 2013 untouched. I didn’t want to join the throngs and add to the problem. I’d seen the fields of purple once. That would have to do.
And then Coronavirus hit. Who’d ever have expected such a horrific turn of events? In such an extraordinary global crisis it was the little positives that helped me get through. The news that Venice’s canals were clear enough to see fish, that pollution in Beijing had fallen drastically, that wildlife was being seen in unusual places, that the skies were clear of vapour trails (even if I longed to be on a plane exploring somewhere new…)
And so I realised that this was the year to go back to the lavender fields. There simply could not be the coach tours and mobs of foreign visitors. It had to be a good thing; for me and more importantly the farmers and lavender itself.
This time we planned a little more. We aimed to be in the lavender for the end of the afternoon, golden hour and sunset. Being the 2nd to longest day of the year, this meant sunset was not till after 9 pm giving us plenty of time to get things done at home before setting off mid-afternoon for the very scenic drive.
It takes about 2.5 hours without stops from home (Lou Messugo) to the Plateau de Valensole, our destination. However, this was not just about charging up the motorway, we took our time and stopped for countless photos. The route took us along the shore of Lac de Ste Croix, the lake that ends in the Gorges de Verdon. The colour of this lake is such a vibrant blue it looks edited in photos. It’s not! It’s simply breathtaking. (And my photo doesn’t do it justice!)
Having passed the lake the lavender begins. There’s something almost childish in my excitement when we see the first field. But it’s only the start and it gets better and better. We had set the GPS to take us to the Lavandes Angelvin, a popular spot and an easy reference point.
It is near here that some of the most iconic scenes of the lavender fields are photographed: the perfectly placed trees on the horizon with miles and miles of purple. And it is here that we see the only other tourists (you can see 4 people in the photo above). The carpark is full, but there are no buses and while there are people all around, it cannot be considered crowded.
The almost unimaginable beauty of the lavender fields strikes me again and again, despite having been before and having seen countless images over the years, there’s nothing like actually being surrounded by them again. The uninterrupted view of purple is magnificent, mesmerizing and captivating.
We move on from this populated spot and decide to get lost taking small side roads. This pays off and we soon find ourselves alone in the fields.
To be among the flowers, gently rustling in the breeze, with the somnolent sound of millions of bees busy collecting nectar and crickets softly chirping is heavenly. Together with the potent scent of lavender it’s almost hard to stay awake.
We take our time, there’s no reason to rush, sunset is still hours away and the light is getting better and better. As well as lavender this year we find ourselves surrounded by fields of clary sage (salvia sclarea), a delicate pink, with intricate flowers, complementing the purple of the lavender.
This crop is grown for its essential oil and I don’t remember seeing it before. We note that this year there don’t seem to be any sunflowers which usually grow alongside the lavender. Perhaps the sage has replaced them?
As the afternoon blurs into evening we are joined by a deer, who pops up out of the purple haze. I feel this must be a result of fewer people around, we are alone with the beautiful animal. What a privilege.
As sunset draws near we look for west-facing fields. But no matter which direction we turn the light is gorgeous. Waiting for the end of the day has definitely been worth it. I feel utterly satiated with beauty.
Stunning is a word that’s vastly over-used these days, but there is no doubt, the lavender fields are worthy of it. They are Stunning with a capital S! I feel blessed to have seen them again, and in such perfect conditions.
So where can you see these endless lavender fields in Provence and when are they at their best?
There is so much written about the lavender fields in Provence and in a bid not to add even more to their over-popularisation I have decided not to give our exact itinerary.
I’m struggling with my love of sharing this corner of paradise with you and my desire to keep it just a tiny bit “secret”. (I realise that bird has long flown hence the inverted commas, but by not detailing the exact roads we took I feel I’m offering a compromise that I’m happy with).
The Valensole Plateau is the general area we visited and probably the most astonishingly beautiful location to view lavender in Provence owing to its vast size, with perfectly picturesque mountains in the distance.
There are other places in other parts of Provence, all fully discoverable with a little online research. I have seen the fields in the Luberon and at the Abbaye de Sénanque, both of which are utterly gorgeous, but for me, the ultimate place really is around Valensole.
The best time to view the fields is late June to mid-July, approximately, not an exact science. We took these photos (I have to give JF credit for some!) on 20 June 2020 and as you can see the lavender (and sage) is in full bloom.
If you visit the lavender fields of Provence, take nothing but photographs, please don’t pick the flowers. If you want to pose with flowers in your hand you can buy bunches at farm shops in the area. Have respect for the farmers whose livelihoods depend on a good crop and give back by purchasing their produce.
I can’t help but wonder whether once travel is back to normal, the lavender fields of Provence will once again be mobbed. It’s such a delicate balancing act, getting it right: allowing as many people to see them as want to, but not ruining the place.
Much of the beauty for me lies in the peace and solitude of the location; the idea of having to wait my turn while influencers and wedding parties pose for hours destroys a huge part of the charm.
What do you think? Have you been to the lavender fields of Provence or are they on your travel list? How can we stop over-tourism becoming a problem again? I’d love to hear from you.
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