When is the best time to visit France's lavender fields?

A field of lavender in the Vaucluse department of southeast France

The purple lavender fields of Provence are France at its beautiful best

Mid-June to mid-July is the perfect time to visit the lavender fields of Provence, when the flowering season is at its peak, though in some areas it goes on longer, into mid-August.

Lavender is principally found in the Drôme, Alpes-Maritimes, Haute-Alpes, Alpes de Haute-Provence and the Vaucluse.

You can follow different parts of a Lavender Route - www.routes-lavande.com - which takes you through the growing areas in these departments with a choice from nearly 1,000km of road. Along the way there are farms, distilleries and shops to visit.

Different varieties of lavender flower at different times, according to the weather and altitude. You can ring tourist offices to find out where it is best to go on a given day.

This map highlights where lavender is likely to be in bloom at different times this summer.

Vaucluse rules lavender roost in France

The Vaucluse is the main department for lavender. It accounts for 13% of the planted area in France and produces 37% of the French production of essential oil. The Sault area is an immense limestone plateau where most of the lavender and lavendin grown in Vaucluse comes from. It is in flower throughout July and up to the beginning of August.

Near to the village there is a 5km sign posted path winding through the fields. You can park near to the Vallon Distillery which is open to visits as long as you telephone in advance. They also have a boutique (masks obligatory).

Traders show off their lavender wares at the market in Sault
The lavender market at Sault

Flower festival

Another famous area is the Plateau de Valensole, near to Sisteron in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Here the flowers are usually harvested in the last two weeks of July. There is usually a Lavender Festival in the village of Valensole in July, but it has been cancelled this year because of coronavirus.

Lavender grown at the Abbé de Sénanque
Abbé de Sénanque

Luberon lavender fields best in June-July

Mid-June to mid-July is the best time to visit the lavender files in the Luberon. You can visit Les Agnels distillery, find out all there is to know about lavender at the Musée de la Lavande at Cabrières-d’Avignon and enjoy the wonderful setting of Sénanque Abbey, near Gordes, Vaucluse.

Lavender field in southeast France

Lavender types grown in France

There are two main types of lavender. One is the Lavandula angustifolia - regarded as the highest quality lavender. It is characterised by its individual flower per stem and grows at altitudes of between 500 and 1500 metres on sunny slopes.

The largest growing area in Europe is around Sault.

Lavendin is a hybrid of Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula Latifolia, or Spica, which was created in the early 20th century when demand for lavender was at its height. It has three flowers per stem and is a bushier and more productive plant

Harvesting is mainly carried out by machine rather than by hand these days, and the majority of the crop is distilled to produce essential oil used in the perfume industry, soaps, detergents and aromatherapy. Bi-products are lavender honey used mostly in nougat.

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