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Provence: Day Two

July 16, 2013


Lavender. Provence is so much about lavender. You hear this all the time, and then you get here and you finally understand. It grows everywhere, and is such an inherent part of the area’s economy, an entire museum is devoted to it.

The aptly named Lavender Museum in Coustellet will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about its history, growth and production. Know the difference between fine lavender and lavandine? I didn’t either, but now I do (fine grows by seeding, is cultivated carefully by hand, and used medicinally; lavandine is cloned, mass-produced, and is distilled into soaps, oils and candles). Curious about the distillation process of lavender, and how it has improved since the 17th century? Well, this museum is for you.

Of course, no museum experience would be complete without the tour steering you to the gift shop/boutique, where very attractive young people lovingly spread essential oils on your hands and wrists. Resistance is futile; we walked out with a sachet and several soaps.

As charming and fun as that was, nothing really prepares you for the lavender fields when you see them. The one we visited was at the Abbey Notre-Dame de Senanque (photo above), just outside the hill town of Gordes. As you pass through Gordes and begin descending the hillside towards the Abbey, the sight of what appears to be a massive carpet of violet immediately strikes you. As you close in on it, you can’t help but be amazed by its enormity and beauty.

The still-functioning Cistercian Abbey was built in the 12th century, and its sheer simplicity provides a breathtaking backdrop to the fields. The aroma is as intoxicating as you would imagine, but standed or seated amongst lavender in this monastic setting can’t help but quiet your mind. I found it had a sincere meditative quality that I did not expect—so much so that I didn’t mind the preponderance of bees, despite my allergies. The bees also were as uninterested in me, clearly finding the lavender just as captivating.

The photos do not do it justice, and the descriptions are not hyperbolic—you haven’t really experienced lavender until you’ve experienced it in Provence.

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