I have written of the remarkable expanse of lavender around the Abbey at Senanque just north of Gordes in the chapter ‘Our week in Provence’ in my book on Amazon – THYME for PROVENCE but it is worth briefly pointing out some other areas that should be on your ‘must see’ list if you are a lover of this beautiful fragrant plant. I appreciate that there are many people for whom a visit to Provence must be made in the lavender season as it is crucial to their experience of the region. My wife Niamh is one of those people.
Our old friend the village of Banon is a good starting point for a lavender tour as around the village are some magnificent lavender fields and a climb to the church at the top of the village will reveal it all in its stupendous glory. If you briefly go out of the village on the D950 in the direction of Forcalquier you can stop and go down one of the minor roads on your left and experience driving as if you are in a lavender field and there are some fantastic photo opportunities.
After that you can then go back through Banon and take the D950 in the opposite direction to Revest du Bion and I am afraid in writing this section on Provence’s most famous and beautiful product that it is difficult to stop using all the usual clichés but this route is truly spectacular at this time of year. It is also not a busy route and is usually missed by most of the lavender tourists.
Moving on by the D950 over the plateau to Sault we passed by mile after mile of gorgeous Lavender fields. You will find little here in terms of civilization but then you may suddenly come across a roadside stall that begs you to stop. These stalls will be selling honey and specifically Lavender honey. Be warned the produce is not cheap but quality of this standard has to be paid for and it will be a delight to you. This is a spectacular drive via Reveste or you can also experience more of the same sights and smells going around via St Christol and these routes should not be missed. Sault, perhaps the unofficial lavender capital, is the most incredible destination for views of the Lavender fields because you can easily attain the height needed to look down on the patchwork quilt of fields. This road – the D950 and the area to the south east of Banon – however, are I feel probably as good as it gets if you are a lavender junkie.
Most generic tourist guides will generally say to go to Sault if you want to see the lavender and that is certainly true but this lesser known and very quiet route of the D950 is quite incredible. Field after field of vibrant colours, the air heady with the scent and the expanse of lavender carries on endlessly on the D34 to St Christol and on to Lagarde d’Apt. Quite a quantity in this area also grows wild so your conscience stays clear when you find some lavender to take and dry for home. This route and region are not to be missed and we were there at the height of the tourist season and we barely neither passed nor saw any other vehicle on the drive around this circuit. Dropping down from this high vantage point (around 3000 feet) to St Saturnin gives you the most stunning panoramas and a deep sense of thanks for being inside your car as you pass the exhausted cyclists breathing in from oxygen cylinders on their way up.
Before leaving the subject of the area around Sault I would also mention that if you have the time or inclination and really it is well worth a special trip at any time there is the most dramatic of gorges on the way back down towards Mazan from Sault. There is no lavender on this route but it will give you an interlude you will never forget. Instead of staying on the D1 take the D942 towards Monieux and onwards and you will find this lesser known gorge – Gorges de la Nesque. It is barely mentioned in most guide books but I will not attempt superlatives about this gorge but just encourage you to take this route if you have a head for heights and a love of spectacular scenery.
The area I mentioned south east of Banon going towards Forcalquier has another claim to fame for you lovers of all things fragrant. It is the interesting site that is used by L’Occitane to gather and distil their lavender that they use in the products that grace their stores around the world.
It is very old worldly in appearance, like an old farm in the American plains and not seeming at all to be high tech. If you stumble upon it be sure to get out of your vehicle as you get the most intense concentrated aroma of lavender that you will ever experience. There are as Niamh unfortunately discovered no free samples on offer.
You can find lavender all over Provence but for us this area I have described is the best you will experience and you can for the most part enjoy it in solitude. It is worth a special trip in its own right.