Blue lavender fields and lavender fragrance are trademarks of the Provence. There are many producing areas. We recommend two, which are of particular importance:
Plateau d'Albion, the sparsely populated area between Sault and Simiane la Rotonde, is like a sea of lavender in June and July. Take a closer look at this area in our Alpes de Haute Provence section.
Drôme Provençale, the area north and east of Vaison la Romaine is a major lavender producing area. We like especially the mountainous region to the east, which is known as les Baronnies, the Baronial lands. Well tended lavender fields, remote villages, the green mountains, the pure air .... voilà, the Provence at its best!
There are numerous enterprises arranging various "Route de la Lavande" tours. One word of caution: It is only worthwhile to visit the lavender fields during the flowering season and harvest. This depends on the area, low altitudes first, higher elevations later, the type of lavender and how early the growing season gets under way each year. Your best bet is from mid June to late July in the lower areas and from mid July to mid August in higher elevations. But again, it depends on the year.
In various guidebooks and websites you find a lot of pollyannish stories about lavender in the Provence. Here is an excerpt from the "Lavender in Provence" website: "In summer, the area pays homage to lavender, the distilleries play open house, flower festivals are prepared and the big day arrives... Flower laden floats proudly cruise down the perfume laden streets of the village, craft producers exhibit their products, honey, essential oils, eau de toilette, soaps, dried flowers...ther's normally a craft fair, to tittilate you taste buds with goats' cheese, olive oil, local hams and wonderful fresh bread...". Unfortunately reality is a bit different, the industry survives largely on subsidies from the EU's CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) funds; life for small growers is harsh, many distilleries have closed. Tourism is a way to keep things going to some extent and local festivals and markets are one way to promote the industry. Knowing what is really going on will make your visit more worthwhile, you will appreciate the hard labour and effort involved.
There are three types of lavender common in the Provence:
True lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), in French "lavande vraie". Grows wild in higher elevations but is also cultivated. Grows best in areas between 600 and 1 500 metres. It has the best aromatic fragance and is cultivated to extract its essence.
Large lavender (Lavandula latifolia), in French"lavande aspic", grows wild up to 600 - 800 metres altitude. Its essence is very camphorated and it is rarely used.
Hybrid lavender (Lavandula X intermedia), in French "lavandin", a hybrid between the true and the large lavender. The frequently cultivated lavender, very resistant and high yields. It's the most frequently cultivated lavender in the Provence.
Since 1981 l'huile essentielle de lavande (essential oils of lavender) can carry the quality label "AOC", which stands for Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. This quality control system was established in the 1930s and covers a wide array of agricultural products, such as wine, cheese, sausages, sweets and aromathology products. It goes by the regional system; the goal is to protect a region's specific product and tradition. The Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) in Paris is the regulator. It is illegal to sell a product under one of the A.O.C. labels if it does not comply with the criteria set by INAO. In the case of lavender, it must be grown in designated regions from seeds, not from cloned plants in an altitude higher than 790 meters, the distilling must not involve shredding and the oil must pass an olfactory test.
Lavender & Aromathology Stores
Distillerie Bleu Provence in Nyons opposite the large parking area next to the Pont de l'Europe. They sell a wide range of lavender based products, great selection. (58 Promenade de la Digue, 26110 Nyons, Tel: 04 75 26 10 42)
Durance en Provence, a highly regarded manufacturer located in Grignan in the Drôme Provençal, sells a wide range of lavender based products and aromathology in its factory store and online. Located on Rt.D541 Grignan to Montélimar. (Durance en Provence, ZA Dagasse, 26230 Grignan, Tel: 04 75 46 51 84)
Musée de la Lavande in Coustellet in the Luberon has a great shop adjacent to the museum. They sell lavender based products, such as natural cosmetics, oil, eau de toilette, soaps, shower gels, body cremes and lavender sachets. (Route de Gordes, Coustellet, 84220 Cabrières d'Avignon, Tel: 04 90 76 91 23)
l'Occitane en Provence, the major manufacturer, well known in France and abroad with stores all over the world. Sells over 500 products. Free factory tours are available, you need to contact the Tourist Office in Manosque (Tel : 04 92 72 16 00). There is a store adjacent to their factory outside Manosque on Rt.D4. Reportedly prices are 10% lower than in their retail stores in France.(l'Occitane en Provence, ZI St.Maurice, 04100 Manosque, Tel: 0810 195 195)
Plateau d'Albion (Sault - Simiane la Rotonde):
La Coopérative des Producteurs de Plantes à Parfums in Simiane la Rotonde, a beautiful historic village on the southern fringes of the Plateau d'Albion, roughly 20km South of Sault. This is one of the largest lavender cooperatives in France with 325 members. You can buy natural aromatic oils here. Open: 2:00PM - 5:00PM. Le Faubourg, 04150 Simiane la Rotonde, Tel: 04 92 75 91 91.
La Ferme aux Lavandes in Sault, a small lavender based botanical garden with a store selling lavender based products. Catherine Liardet, Rt.du Mont Ventoux, 84390 Sault, Tel: 04 90 64 13 08.
Laboratoire Sainte Victoire, a small but highly regarded manufacturer of aromathology products in Simiane la Rotonde. Arranges workshops on lavender and essential oils distillation. Château de la Rotonde, 04150 Simiane la Rotonde, Tel: O4 92 75 98 90.
Lavande 1100 on Rt.D34 9km south of St.Christol, small distiller of l'huile essentielle de lavande AOC; only open during the harvest season mid-July to mid-August. Notre Dame Le Village 84400 Lagarde d'Apt, Tel: 04 90 75 01 42.
Maison des Producteurs de Sault, the local cooperative of lavender growers. They have a nice exhibit and sell all types of lavender products. Open: April - mid November, Mo - Fri 10:00AM to 12:30PM, 2:30PM - 6:00PM. Rue de la République, 84390 Sault, Tel: 04 90 64 08 98.
Savonnerie Brunarôme in Sault, a small soap manufacturer, including lavender soap. Watch the production process on video. Call to inquire about opening times. Rt.de St. Trinit, 84390 Sault, Tel: 04 90 64 17 99.
Codina, a Paris based manufacturer and distributor of 50 essential oils, natural soaps, shampoos and sheabutter products in Europe. 24 Rue Violet, 75015 Paris, 01 45 78 88 88.
Durance en Provence, see above.
l'Occitane en Provence, see above.
Life in Provence, online Provence boutique in the US