What makes summer truly iconic are the lavender fields in the south of France. The ones in Provence are the most-famous, and thousands of tourists from all over the world come to visit them every year. The Provencal lavenders have a short season between late June and early August, but they only reach their peak in early July. Because of this, summer in Provence becomes absolutely inundated with tourists who want a piece of that lavish lavender bloom.
Even though I had been living in France for the past four years, I never got the chance to see the lavender fields of Provence. I would often return home to the U.S. in the summer, so I would miss my chance of visiting. However, with my four-year stint abroad coming to a close this summer, I was determined to stay around long enough to head south of the country to see the lavenders for myself. Considering that I would be leaving France for good, it was my last chance before it was too late.
Getting to the lavender fields can be a little tricky, especially if you choose not to rent a car. This is because regional buses are extremely limited as to where they go, even with the “special summer services.” Also, many of the fields are actually unmarked, located in the middle of nowhere. Unless you’re a local or got a tip-off, you won’t be able to pinpoint them on Google Maps. Having a car would be easier, as you have the freedom to drive around the region until you find those lush lavenders.
I knew that I did not want to rent a car, for a few reasons: 1) I was solo-traveling, so renting for one person would be expensive, and 2) I cannot drive manual cars (common in Europe), nor was I comfortable navigating the roads in France, e.g. small, one-way streets and roundabouts. With car rental out of the question, I had to find an alternative.
Fortunately, I found a half-day tour to the lavender fields on Viator (available in summer only) that cost a reasonable 70€. While it wouldn’t give me complete freedom to see the lavenders at my own pace, I would still at least see them along with a couple of the picturesque villages (Gordes and Roussillon). With that said, I went ahead and reserved a spot before heading to Avignon as my base for getting over there.
The tour was to start at 9:00. I headed to the office du Tourisme where the tour was to start at. Dozens of tourists were outside, waiting for their assigned groups. There were different tours leaving at the same time — some going to the lavender fields, and others to wine-tastings and other parts of the region. After much confusion, I finally found my group. It was a small one of eight people in a mini-van, and I was the last person to be picked up. Soon enough, we headed off towards the countryside, our adventure to begin.
The drive to the countryside took longer than I’d thought. It took a solid 45 minutes getting out into the middle of nowhere, where we traded cobblestone streets with remote dirt roads. Our guide and driver explained to us the Provence region, specifically that of Luberon in which we were situated. Luberon is the most-famous area within Provence, as it’s home to dozens of picturesque villages and sweeping agricultural fields with dramatic mountain ranges in the backdrop. I had to agree that it was a gorgeous view, and it got me excited to see more, along with the lavender fields.
Our first stop was l’abbaye de Sénanque, located not too far from the village of Gordes. This mid-12th century abbey appears small and unassuming, but in fact is world-renown for its well-kept lavender fields just outside. Monks grow the lavenders as their job, and visitors are welcomed in every summer to see the beauty of it all.
Unfortunately, the abbey wasn’t open the day I toured; we couldn’t enter the premises, and instead could only admire the abbey and the lavender fields from afar. It was a little disappointing, but our guide gave us a few minutes to get off and take a few photos. We did that before hastily returning to the van and continuing with our journey.
We had visits to Gordes and Roussillon (more in another post), and then we spent the rest of our time driving to various lavender fields in the countryside. Our guide knew exactly where they were, even if they were impossible to find on Google Maps. That said, I can’t give you the exact locations of the ones I visited, but I’ll give a rough idea of where such fields are in relation to the nearest village or landmark to narrow down the choices.
Our guide drove us to three more lavender stops in the countryside. The first stop was perhaps a 15-minute drive from Gordes. It was a small, but large enough field, and the lavenders were a fair shade of violet. The plants were about ankle-high, but still noticeable in the numerous photos we took.
Our guide told us that such fields in Provence didn’t grow pure lavender, but rather lavandin, a hybrid of the pure and spiked varieties. It ends up giving such plants that vibrant purple color, as well as its strong fragrant for perfumes and oils. PS There were lots of bees lazily enjoying the intoxicating lavandins while we were there. That said, be careful not to get too close to them!
The second stop was my personal favorite. After Roussillon, we drove for about another 15 minutes before we came across an actual, sweeping field. What made it so great was not only the darker purple color of the lavandins, but also the lone oak tree in the background as a contrast to the flowers. You could also get clear views of the Luberon massif in the backdrop, which made for the perfect, Provencal photo.
Final stop was at winery whose name I forgot. The lavenders weren’t abundant, but rather grew on the sides of the building’s entrance with olives trees dotted along the way. Especially if you’re going for that middle-of-the-road shot in your photos, the winery’s lavenders offer that dramatic look.
Besides our hunt for lavenders, our guide added in a change of scenery with a small patch of sunflowers just around the corner from our second lavender stop. Provence isn’t just limited to lavenders, but rather is also known for the bright, yellow plant. Not a surprise famous artists in history (e.g. van Gogh) were inspired to paint sunflowers as they create a sensual, almost-hypnotic scene in the French countryside.
Our tour only lasted a half-day, and we soon arrived back in Avignon by 14:00. It was a lot of driving around, and strangely, it didn’t feel too rushed. Our guide was a bit standoffish (understandable, since it was peak season and many tourists), but he was also pretty nice and showed us some off-the-beaten trails while offering to be our photographer for the lavenders. It was money and time well-spent, and I am extremely happy that I finally got to see the lavenders after all this time abroad in France.
More to come soon!