Each time I go to Provence during lavender season, which lasts from late June to mid-August, I remember the first time. There’s the hum of cicadas drifting on warm air through the open car windows; the narrow road descending, with more twists than a French braid, to the 869-year-old Sénanque Abbey and its famous rows of blooming lavender; the heather-gray color of the abbey’s weathered stone walls; and the nearly intoxicating scent of an entire lavender field just before harvest.
During my sixth visit, last summer, I realized yet again how this journey can fill the senses. The purple perennials — along with swaths of sunflowers and grapevines — create a vibrant patchwork of lavender, yellow and green all across this region of farmland and craggy hills dotted with ancient villages. I tasted it in the honey sold everywhere, from abbey shops to roadside stands. I got a noseful of its intense bouquet while touring a distillery where the plant’s essential oil is extracted from its flowers.
But there was much more than lavender to induce a pleasant haze of sensory overload. In the outdoor markets that pop up at least weekly in virtually every village, vendors touted the merits of their produce toshoppers passing small mountains of golden apricots and deep red peppers. Sellers of linens snapped open colorful country-print tablecloths while the yeasty aroma of fresh baguettes wafted around bakers’ stands. All practically demanded that I stop to make a purchase. I happily complied.
The villages themselves are among the greatest pleasures of Provence. Two of the most famous are Gordes, whose stone houses cling to the summit of a rocky outcropping, and Roussillon, which glows in earthy, reddish colors, thanks to the ocher cliffs that surround it. I love visiting them early in the morning, when the air is fresh and streets are hushed.
Mealtimes have always been a highlight of my travels in Provence, where even at a humble bistro, local specialties such as slow-cooked ratatouille or a refreshing salade Niçoise — paired with a chilled rosé — make for astonishingly good eating.
This most recent time, I armed myself with provisions from an outdoor market and set out on a long, slow country walk. Midway, I stopped to picnic in the shade of an oak. Nearby, lavender swayed in the breeze, and I could hear the buzz of bees working the field. La vie est belle, I thought, while drifting into a post-lunch nap. Life is beautiful.
What Else to Do in Provence
Beyond the lavender, there are countless cultural, natural and historical must-see sites in this lovely corner of France.
Courtesy of Carriére de Leumiére
Carrières de Lumières
Visitors are awed by this unique multimedia art museum in Les Baux, housed in a former bauxite quarry.
Calanques National Park
View and hike this stunning area located at the outskirts of Marseille. Towering white cliffs abut turquoise waters.
Palace of the Popes
Tour this Gothic symbol of the medieval papacy’s power in Avignon, the 14th-century seat of Western Christianity.