Lavender Fields Forever (Not Really)
I wasn’t sure I would get to see the lavender fields in Provence this year up until the last minute. My traveling partner came down with Covid-19 just like so many people I know. It seems that Omicron doesn’t test positively from the beginning, so people get sick with cold and flu symptoms, get tested with negative results, then think it’s nothing as contagious as Covid-19—then they head out and infect everyone around them. It seems everyone I know is getting sick these days, but getting through it a lot better than those who caught the first strains of the virus.
So, when Donna got sick (the last time we planned a trip I was the one who got sick), I realized this was the last chance all year long to see the lavender fields before the harvest. Missing it was not part of the plan. Fortunately, Jennifer Parrette agreed to accompany me and to do the driving, too! I was thrilled!
I booked what seemed like a nice boutique hotel in Gréoux-les-Bains, in the heart of the lavender region, Lou Paradou. Learning to pronounce the name of the town was tough enough, but we learned that the inhabitants are called “Gryséliens.” (Have fun with that one!) The neighboring communes are Valensole, Saint-Martin-de-Brômes, Esparron-de-Verdon, Saint-Julien-le-Montagnier and Vinon-sur-Verdon (Var department), Corbières-en-Provence, Sainte-Tulle and Manosque…all part of lavender country.
The hotel turned out to be absolutely perfect and lovely, as did the town. It was bustling with activity, tons of restaurants and vacationers. Our first night we were directed by the desk clerk to a restaurant just outside of the city, La Bergerie, that was worth the two minute drive. Seating was outside on the lawn and the food and service was excellent and pleasant. There was a couple seated at another table who I recognized from an exchange the woman had had at the hotel desk just minutes earlier. Her husband made a point of coming over to our table to extol his adoration of House Hunters International and my role on the show. He’s a real estate agent himself in the U.S., but dreaming of a life in France. We exchanged business cards…I have a feeling we’ll be seeing them both in the not-to-distant future!
To punctuate the drive over, we stopped in the town of Cotignac for a drink and a quick visit. It’s a small town of about 2,000 inhabitants in the Var department that has seen a lot of growth since 1968—its budding craft industry is evident by the number of boutiques filled with local artisans’ offerings. We enjoyed our stroll through these boutiques and a “smoothie” compliments of a local café under the trees next to a fountain in the city center.
On route to the hotel from Cotignac, we saw not a single lavender field until just outside of Gréoux. That seemed awfully strange, but once we saw the field, we knew we were in the right place. It was the first of many to come. Thanks to advice from Patty Sadauskas, the “maven” on lavender fields, we mapped out a route from Gréoux to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and back, where the best of the fields are. (Believe it or not, if you Google “champs de lavande,” Google actually spots the fields for you!)
We took the northern route of the loop and that was perfect. More than half of the fields had already been harvested, but we had the good fortune of watching a harvester move through a field while an open truck alongside was the receptacle for the cut stems from a tube that vacuumed them up and spit them out.
Every field is not the same—some are brighter in color than others and some are clearly better tended than others. Either way, the fields are plentiful and stretch on for miles and miles on the slightly rolling hills, often next to fields of sunflowers, olive groves and oaks planted specifically to grow truffles.
This season was earlier than in the past due to the heat of global warming, so our timing was at the tail end. We lucked out to not miss it entirely. Next year we must plan to go one to two weeks earlier to see them in full bloom…my guess is that the end of June will be best. The color of the fields is eye candy, but what’s even better is the scent. It’s one of my favorites, although my daughter associates it with bathrooms and therefore finds it repulsive. Funny…but I get it!
The first field we stopped at remains my favorite of all we visited, because not only were the buds a beautiful color, but it was absolutely alive with bees, wasps and butterflies—so much so that you could actually hear it buzzing. The sound was intoxicating.
We were by no means the only lookie-loos on the road. Everywhere we went there were tourists doing what we were doing, but be warned: one day of lavender hunting is enough. Sort of like going to the Loire Valley to visit châteaux and at the end you say, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve see them all”…the same is true of lavender fields. One full day was perfectly satisfying.
Along the route, we did take time for lunch in the town of Puimoisson at the Café des Arts (route de Riez, 04410 Puimoisson). Petanque players were on a nearby court, the food was quite good, although the flies were annoying, reminding us we were definitely in the countryside. There are various kiosks and shops along the route at which we could purchase a variety of different lavender products, and we took advantage. I came home with soaps, oils, sachets and diffusers.
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is worth a special trip, and is conveniently positioned at one end of the lavender fields region. Moustiers is one of France’s most beautiful towns. Nestled against a rocky escarpment, the town has obtained the official label “Villages et Cités de Caractère” and is a member of the associations “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” and “Ville et Métiers d’Art.” (Be forewarned of its steep inclines and that one must park in a lot outside of town and walk in.)
It was awash with tourists licking up the artisanal ice cream and buying up Provençal products, such as local hand-made pottery and “faïence.” The faïence (pottery named after the Italian city of Faenza) from Moustiers became so famous that once upon a time every European monarch, king and ruler wanted their own workshops of the ceramics. People watching in Moustiers was one of the best pastimes, especially watching the large group of Russian girls with their collagen lips and sexy garb making quite a scene as they were being photographed from every angle.
Our tour didn’t stop there. Just a few minutes further down the road you can easily have a view of the Gorges du Verdon to see its beauty, even if currently seriously dry. The news reported that the Gorges was so low from drought that boating and swimming was prohibited, but that was not the case at all—there were tons of boats and rafts of all kinds and swimmers, too. With their emerald waters, the five lakes and gorges form the largest canyon in Europe. We wanted to dive right in, but weren’t prepared to do, so we just ogled the scene.
We drove back to Gréoux with our bags of goodies plus the satisfaction of having done it all in a very short time, topping it off with a dip in the hotel pool, dinner on the terrace of a large restaurant in town and a stroll around the beautiful Provençal town of Gréoux-les-Bains. When we walked home about 10 p.m. we realized how much we accomplished in one day…and how satisfying it all was.
Would we do it again? In a heart beat…next year, the same place but not exactly the same time.
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian with Jennifer Parrette in the lavender fields
P.S. Get ready for a report next week on Bastille Day in Paris with a picnic on the Champ de Mars to watch the fireworks at sundown and all the festivities Paris has to offer during this special time of year.
Adrian — I so admire you and have for close to 30 years. Maybe a bit jealous too. Loved this story, the photos and insights. Your devoted fan, John D
I had to chuckle when you commented that your daughter didn’t like the smell of lavender due to smelling it in bathrooms. I’ve thought the same thing, after visiting Schiphol Amsterdam airport multiple times. They clean all the bathrooms with a lavender scented cleaner and it can be a bit much! And I”ve always wanted to see those lavender fields.
Loved the article and wonderful description of the lavender fields! I felt like I could smell the sweet fragrance, which has always been my favorite. I’ve been to Provence twice but unfortunately not when the lavender was blooming. I am a faithful House Hunters International watcher and love seeing you in wonderful places in France. Thank you .