A highlight of a Viking cruise to Provence is a full-day excursion to the heart of southern France’s lavender country. However, plan your trip accordingly – timing is everything when it comes to this aromatic plant. It must be sown at a certain time of year and harvested precisely during dry warm conditions. And for those coming to be inspired by its visual appeal, there is a certain time of year for that as well. The lavender fields hit their peak of visual beauty during the month of July – usually the fields are in bloom for short period between the end of June and early August.
One needs at least a full day to for an introduction to lavender – beginning your exploration at the Lavender Museum in Cabrieres-d’Avignon about a 40 minute drive from the center of Avignon. Visitors learn about the rich history of lavender and are introduced to the historical innovations which made processing the flowers much more efficient. The impressive amount of lavender needed to accumulate a minuscule amount of essential oil is remarkable (for example distilling 250 pounds of lavender flowers equals approximately 1 pound of essential oil).
Visitors also learn the important differences between fine lavender, lavandin and spike lavender (and how to visually recognize the differences). Altitude is important; fine lavender grows at an elevation of 800 meters or higher and only a single flower grows on each stem.
Lavender enthusiasts certainly will want to spend some time browsing the “Le Château du Bois” shop for a variety of lavender based essential oils, cosmetics, perfumes, massage oils, soaps and more. And if you visit the museum during July and most of August you can watch the distillation of lavendin using a historical process requiring an open flame.
Visiting the lavender fields is certainly the highlight of this full day excursion but so to is a stop at the Restaurant Les Lavandes located in a tiny village of only several hundred inhabitants (so small this outpost isn’t even named on the map). Food is always a great opportunity to meet fellow cruise passengers. We relaxed outdoors at a long table with a warm breeze blowing; the wine flowed easily as did the conversation. Part of taking a Viking cruise is the opportunity to meet interesting people often those with a strong interest in travel, food and wine – and a setting as bucolic as this one certainly facilitated interesting conversation among previous strangers.
The larger village of Sault is arguably Provence’s lavender capital and a visit to one of several lavender farms and distilleries with Viking Cruises is educational and offers a rare opportunity to purchase fine lavender products directly from the source.
Timing is everything on this particular tour; its not to late to start planning your trip for next summer!
Lavender Fields + Distillery
Restaurant Les Lavandes