So you have been hearing about the legendar lavender fields of Provence on TV or seeing them all over Instagram these past few years and are now dying to go? Symbol of the South of France, those picturesque purple flowers effectively attract people from the entire world every year, even if they are not the only fields to admire in Provence! Let me give you all the tips you need to not only find them and explore them at the fullest but also discover the other gems of this French region and plan the trip of your dreams!
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First thing first, where are they exactly?
Lavender fields can be found in 4 departments of the South of France (see the map below), the most famous spot of all being Valensole plateau, pointed with the little heart on the map. The different shades below indicate the density and quantity of fields, the darkest purple therefore designating the most extensive concentration of lavender.
So if Valensole is the most popular and usual place to go to when it comes to lavender, it is simply because it gathers the largest amount of fields. They are also known as the most beautiful of all Provence, as some of them stretch as far as the eyes can see, for what seems endlessly. The roads D8 from Oraison to Puimoisson and D6 or “route de Manosque” in particular are where you will find this type of views; they pass through the most famous fields and both meet in Valensole village itself.
Don’t only stick with the overcrowded D6 and D8 like most of the tourists or photographers do though. You can find many of other impressive spots along smaller routes, which will also be way more peaceful. Most of the fields are simply bordering the road anyway, so you just have to drive through the area and stop whenever you want to admire the flowers a little closer.
But please don’t damage the fields while doing so! Keep the walkways, respect the indications and above all, don’t pick lavender sprigs yourself! Don’t forget that these fields are first the property of local farmers, and their main source of income. By the way, you can buy lavender directly from the producers in the farms next to the fields. In general, it will cost you between 2 and 5€. This way you can have a way nicer bouquet while supporting the local activities and everybody wins!
I only got the time to visit Valensole this year, as I went to Provence for 48h only, but do not hesitate to check other areas too! Sault for instance is another famous plateau for lavender; popular enough to even have a route called “chemin de la lavande” (meaning “lavender path”) leading you to all the prettiest spots. As this region is more hilly, the fields are quite different, wilder and less “clean”. But I have heard that they are just as beautiful! Another option too, even less explored, is to go to the Drôme Provençale. Filled with lavender too, this department is still more secret and hidden, so you will definitely be on your own there (or almost)!
When is the best moment to go?
If the first (or only) reason of your trip to Provence is admiring the lavender fields, then you must be careful with when you are going. Indeed, they are not in full bloom for very long, and it also varies depending on the area.
The blooming season in the lower part, including Valensole, is usually from mid-June to mid-July, when they harvest. However, sometimes it can be postponed or advanced a tiny bit depending on the climate and on the rainfall in the year. The safest moment to visit is then during the first week of July when the lavender is usually at its peak, or at least already in bloom.
For the upper plateaux, like Sault, the season starts a bit later, and you can admire the blooming fields from the beginning of July to the beginning of August in general. The higher the elevation is, the later the lavender blooms. Mid-July is the ideal moment for those, so if you want to do several spots in Provence, start by Valensole in the first days of July, and then drive up to Sault and the Drôme Provençale after that!
Photography tips & info
In terms of hours, sunrise & sunset are the ideal moments for pictures. First for the lighting of course, but also because it is when you will be able to admire the whole panel of lavender shades. From reddish pink to vibrant blue before hitting the famous magnificent purple at midday, the colors of the fields actually change one after the other in a magic show. Trust me it is worth waking up at 4am to hunt the best spots! You will feel like daydreaming. Also you will not suffer from the heat, which, for the record, can be quite intense at this period in Provence!
Don’t expect to be alone at sunrise though: for once, you will definitely not, as a lot of photographers especially come early too. However, don’t worry, the fields are wide enough to contain everybody in a different row and with different angles so that you easily get a photo with no one in.
At sunset, target the fields where you can have the sun appearing on the background; on the D6, they will be on the left if you are coming from Manosque, on the right if you are coming from Valensole. It is the opposite on the D8: left side if you have Valensole behind you. Having a picnic is a fun thing to do at this moment; just stay outside the field to do so please! You will be way more comfortable too!
Also make sure to avoid disturbing the bees, who are busy collecting pollen from the flowers all day. By the way, you will probably annoy them a bit less if you go at sunrise before they completely start, or sunset when they finish. It will also be easier for you in case you are scared of bees, even if they are really inoffensive. Remember, if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you! Be especially careful if you have a drone: obviously, bees don’t like drones, so they might try to attack it, and you might hurt them. Once again, you have less risks to injure those poor bees if you use your drone at sunrise or sunset when they are not in full activity.
Another amazing way to admire the beautiful lavender from above, but with your own eyes this time, is to take a hot air balloon ride. Yes, as you can see on some of the pictures above, some hot air balloons do fly over the fields at sunrise! The complete experience lasts around 3 or 4h, usually including a typical breakfast with local specialties (before or after), the briefing, preparation of the balloon and the flight of course (from 45min to 1h30 depending on the company). You will find several companies organizing it, mostly in Valensole or Riez villages. It costs between 190€ and 250€ per person depending on the company you fly with and the day you select. More information here: Aero Provence or Balloon Rides Provence.
You can also enjoy the hot air balloons from the ground only though, like I did, as they look amazing in pictures! To do so, drive to Riez and park there before walking to the nearby lavender fields at sunrise. You can also go by car a bit further but the roads are not easy. In any case, this is the best spot to experience the sky filled with hot air balloons over the purple horizon. Balloons don’t fly every day though, depending on demand and on the wind. For instance, I was not very lucky, I only saw a couple of them, while I heard that one week before there was a dozen floating in the sky. Going there on the weekend is probably when you’ll have the biggest chance to see them flying, because more people book it on those days.
But what about the other fields?
Apart from lavender, it is indeed the season of many other flowers and cultures in the South of France, who are really worth the attention too. Bordering the routes as well, a lot of different fields fill the air with various amazing scents and our eyes with stunning vibrant colors.
The first other star of the show taking place in Provence at this time of the year is irrefutably the sunflower. As it blooms hardly one or two weeks after the lavender, you will probably get the chance to admire the bright yellow sunflower fields next to the purple ones! Surreal!
Secondly, you could also find some poppy fields if you are lucky. I personally arrived too late unfortunately, as poppies usually bloom until the very end of June. But you might have more chance than me! Most of the fields are located near Riez.
Thirdly, a lot of sage fields are surrounding the expanses of lavender. As you drive up the plateau you will see miles and miles of them, cultivated besides the lavender. And their smell is actually the strongest! But careful, getting inside the sage fields for pictures is more tricky, as the paths are not carved out like in the lavender fields. Therefore, there is also a lot more insects inside, so think it twice if you are scared of tiny critters!
Finally, the last type of field you could see, more “common” but still so photogenic, is… wheat field of course! And you can actually admire it in two forms: before harvest, when they are still waving in the breeze in their golden robe, and after harvest, when every strand’s head has been picked and the left body is now rolled with the others as haystacks. If you want to take pictures with this second option, be careful, as the freshly cut roots of wheat are quite solid in the ground, and then painful under the feet. You might hurt yourself if you wear open shoes like sandals! But pay attention, wander slowly and it will be fine. That will also allow you to be more respectful and soft with the cultures. Don’t forget here again that they are locals’ source of income!
Best spots for pictures – sum up:
- The superstar tiny house with mountains in the background (the most famous, on D8 near Puimoisson “route de Digne”, great for sunrise) – GPS coordinates are 43.8937511, 6.1161919
- Lavandes Angelvin (the best one for sunset, on the D6/Route de Manosque) – GPS coordinates are 43.8235124, 5.9363056
- Sunflower fields (best with the morning light or during golden hour, on the D6) – GPS coordinates are 43.820179, 5.933046
- Haystacks and wheat fields (a bit more hidden, but no need to go at a specific time) – GPS coordinates are 43.840179, 5.964717
- Lavender fields with hot air balloons in the sky (near Riez, only at sunrise) – GPS coordinates are 43.8361318, 6.1181744 – approximately
Where to stay?
Last but not least, in order to explore around all those fields, you need to find the proper location to sleep at! I would recommend you to stay in either Valensole, Riez or Oraison, as you can see on the map above. Valensole and Riez are way more expensive and crowded, as they are the most central villages, so if you don’t find a suitable option there, Oraison is also a nice alternative. Located only 20 minutes by car from most of the fields, through direct roads, it is more peaceful and cheaper. You also have more chance to find an accomodation with a swimming pool there, which is not negligible considering the temperatures in this area during summer! We stayed in a basic hotel called La Grande Bastide, ideally located, not too expensive for the area and with a pool. The perfect compromise for us!
If there is one single advice I can give you, it is to BOOK IN ADVANCE. Valensole area is full from mid-June to mid-July, so finding a place at the last minute is quite impossible. It will also make you save a lot of money. For instance, I booked this place in January for early July. We payed our double room 176€ for 2 nights; in April it had already increased to 250€, and in May it was full. Book your accommodation via my Booking.com link to enjoy a €15 refund off your stay! Double interest in using this link is that Booking.com provides a free cancellation option: very practical when you have to book so much in advance, in case your plans had to change.
If there is one thing you need to know on this matter, is that you can’t truly enjoy this part of France if you’re not “independent”, as the villages and fields are quite far from each other (around 20/30 minutes to more than one hour depending on the spots). There is not a lot of public transportation implemented, we actually didn’t cross one single bus during our whole stay. It will definitely be way easier for you if you have your own car.
If you live abroad, you will probably need to fly to France first. It is the occasion to also combine different areas and explore them at the same time, like passing through Paris or somewhere else closer in the south, by landing in Nice, Marseille or Lyon for instance. Feel free to plan several places, especially if you are coming from far away! On the contrary, in you live in France, it will probably not be necessary, especially as plane is not the most affordable way to go in the south.
In any case, the easiest way to get there from most of the French big cities you would depart from is by train or by car.
First option: take a train from the city you are in to Aix-en-Provence, and from there rent a car. It is the most direct way, the fastest, but also the most expensive in general, especially in that period.
Second option: if you are somewhere else in France but already have a car, drive through the country to Valensole directly. If you are coming from Paris for instance, it will take you around 10 hours. From Rennes, where we were living at that time, it took us 15h with our car, as it is the complete opposite in France. But car stays the cheapest solution, even more if you take passengers in carpooling as we did, to share and divide the costs.
It is up to you! But whatever you decide or can do, definitely plan on having a car on site. It is the safest and easiest way to wander around all those wonderful fields!
Did you know this above is not actually “lavender” (lavande in French)? Indeed, there is a difference between two types of flowers: the “lavande” and the “lavandin”. The lavandin is a hybrid form that grows between 200 and 600m above sea level, while the lavande can only grow way higher, over 800m. Lavande is much more expensive, because much more delicate and then precious, and it is used in high-end perfumes. Lavandin is more easily produced, and you can find it in all the household products for instance. The fields in Valensole are of lavandin!
So that’s it about the lavender fields! Hope I gave you all the tips you needed about those wonderful purple expanses, stretching to the horizon and exhaling a unique fragrance. But did you know that there is way much more to see around? Provence is full of gems and once the fields done, in general at sunrise and sunset, you have a whole day to spend! So why not exploring around and know the region even better? Check this blogpost to learn everything about all the other places you need to discover in the South of France! See you there!
Do not hesitate to leave me a comment or send me a message on my Instagram to share your experience, give me your feedback or ask me any question I would not have replied to!
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