Take a Day Trip through the Lavender in Provence

June through August each year, the Provence lavender fields come alive.

 

From muted mauves to vibrant violets, the lavender in Provence, France, is a rich array of colorful hues and refreshing scents that tantalize the senses. It was my dream for many years to see the lavender fields in bloom, and when that dream finally came true, it was one of the loveliest trips I have ever taken. In just one day, you can visit several small provincial towns and villages, stopping along the route to walk among fragrant fields of lavender or gaze at the stunning landscapes.

If you’re in France throughout the summer months, I highly recommend renting a car and heading to Provence for a day or two—I promise you won’t be disappointed. In addition to lavender, you’ll find no shortage of heritage, history, culture, and cuisine.

Lavender in Provence

When to Go

Typically, the lavender begins to bloom in June and is harvested in August. Of course, it’s up to Mother Nature to decide when the fields will be at their fullest, but if you visit sometime between the end of June and late July, you should have a good chance of seeing the lavender in all its glory. I visited at the end of June, and the lavender was at its prime. If I had visited any earlier, I think the blossoms would have been a lot less dense.

Lavender in Provence

Where to Stay

To make the most of your visit, you’ll want to hit the road early, so it’s a good idea to stay overnight in the area. Cavaillon is a small town in the center of the action. Located in Luberon National Park, it’s surrounded by beautiful vistas and quaint provincial towns. While there isn’t much to do in Cavaillon per se, it’s the perfect jumping off point for visiting many nearby attractions. I stayed at the Inter-Hotel Cavaillon Hôtel Du Parc, and I kid you not, it was the most delightful experience.

Lavender in Provence

Lavender in Provence

Lavender in Provence

Situated just off the main road, there is plenty of free parking right outside the hotel, which is ideal since it’s necessary to have a car for your stay if you want to visit the surrounding communities and take a tour through the lavender. Upon entering the adorable inn, we were immediately greeted by the owner. She was eager to show us around and gives us tips on what to see during our stay. She was helpful, friendly, and very knowledgeable. The pride she had for her inn and community were absolutely infectious. And we absorbed every bit of advice she gave us like the good little sponges we are.

Lavender in Provence

The charming decor is exactly what you would expect from a hotel in Provence, with antiques and other adornments filling every empty space. There’s a huge breakfast room where, for about 10 Euros, you can enjoy delicious pastries, teas, and other goodies each morning. The spacious rooms are immaculate, cozy, and offer all the amenities you need for a most amazing stay.

Lavender in Provence

Lavender in Provence

Lavender in Provence

Booking.com


Map Out Your Route

I am all about advance planning, but there are so many possibilities for things to see and do in this region of France that it’s hard to narrow things down. I had a high-level idea of the types of things I wanted to see and do but nothing concrete. I told the innkeeper my ideas, and she quickly went to work highlighting several routes on a map, giving us a variety of options for places to visit. She included the top spots to see the lavender, as well as great places to grab a bite to eat and check out the local culture. All of her suggestions were spot on.

The map shown here details the exact route we took. Click the “More options” link opens up step-by-step driving instructions so you can follow the same route on your visit to the Provence lavender fields.

Morning – Lavender Museum

Start your day with a visit to the Lavender Museum just a 15-minute drive from Cavaillon in the community of Coustellet. Here, you’ll learn all about the history of lavender farms in France and the evolution of the distillation process. You’ll also find out how to tell authentic lavender from synthetic products. The cost is just 7 Euros-ish per person, and it includes a self-guided audio tour.

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

Plan to spend about 45 minutes exploring the museum, which is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily from May through September. Be sure to arrive early to get ahead of the crowds. We got there just after opening, and by the time we left, tour buses were starting to arrive and carloads of people were pulling into the parking lot.

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

In addition to the exhibits, Le Chateau du Bois boutique sells locally made lavender products. After you’ve picked up a few souvenirs—I grabbed a sachet for my closet—head outside for a first glimpse at the lavender in bloom. There is a small but wonderfully fragrant field where you can snap a few shots. It’s also where we learned from the “Beware of Snakes” signs that vipers like to hide out beneath the lavender bushes, so watch your step when you’re wandering through the fields (or driving the back roads, as I well learned).

lavender in provence

Mid-Morning – Sénanque Abbey

Next, make your way to Sénanque Abbey on the fringes of Gordes, a stunning hilltop town. It’s just a 20-minute drive from Coustellet along scenic country roads that wind around Gordes for phenomenal views of the village that is considered one of the most beautiful in all of France. It was about 11 a.m. when we arrived, and it was already packed. We lucked out and quickly got a parking space near the entrance to the entrance, but be prepared to walk a ways or wait a while for a good spot.

lavender in provence

The abbey is the quintessential stop for lavender enthusiasts. In fact, when you Google lavender fields, the iconic image that comes up is one of the stone abbey surrounded by fields of purple flowers. It’s every bit as beautiful in person as it is in pictures, though don’t expect to walk through the lavender. At best, you can view it from behind a tall stone wall or from the side.

Founded in 1148 by Cistercian monks, the abbey is home to a small community of monks who make their living growing lavender and tending honey bees. You can purchase some of their products in the abbey boutique, as well as a delightful selection of other lavender-related products. Here, I picked up some homemade honey, a brick of soap, perfume, another sachet, and a tote bag. Expect to spend less than an hour at the abbey.

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

Lunchtime

By now, your stomach will likely be grumbling. Make your way back to Gordes and park in one of the public stalls in the center of town. It costs just a few dollars for the entire day, but you likely won’t spend more than an hour or two. It will take only five or ten minutes to walk into town, which is defined by the white stone buildings that rise from the high above the cliff side and the labyrinth of winding cobblestone streets.

lavender in provence

Take some time to explore the local shops, which sell much the same lavender products as the abbey and every other boutique in Provence. Then, grab a bite to eat at one of the many street-side cafes. We opted to grab a Caprese sandwich and a lemon meringue tart from a local bakery, which we ate sitting on a rocky stairwell in the middle of the action and watched the world go by—one of my favorite things to do. After, we wandered around a bit more and enjoyed the beautiful views of the farms below the village before heading back to the car to continue our road trip.

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

Afternoon

My trip to this part of France was solely inspired by my desire to see the lavender fields in bloom so we continued our road trip north toward Sault. Since the development of synthetic lavender, many farmers have stopped growing the good stuff—it’s a lot of work for not a lot of reward (as we learned at the museum earlier in our trek). However, many farmers between Gordes and Sault still earn a living growing lavender, so it’s a must for anyone who shares my passion to see the fields in bloom. The drive takes about an hour, and there isn’t much to do in Sault once you arrive, but the beautiful vistas en route are worth every mile you put on your rental.

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

We stopped numerous times along the highway to frolic in lavender fields and take pictures of the purple panoramas beneath the twisting road. I’m not going to lie, there’s a steep drop at times, and there are numerous turns on the impossibly narrow two-way route, but it’s not a long drive by North-American standards. You can take a break when you reach the top. Parking is a bit trickier here—you may need to circle around a few times before you can find a spot on a side street.

Sault itself is a small community. There are a handful of boutiques selling the tried and true lavender staples. Our fun find here was a nougat shop with the most delicious selection of flavors, including lavender, which we just had to try. Simply tell the shopkeeper how much you want, and she’ll chop off a chunk. You pay by weight.

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

We also went to a nearby lavender distillery on the edge of town called Aroma Plantes. Here, you can take a tour of the facility to see how farmers extract the essence from the lavender. There’s also a small, interactive exhibit and a well-stocked shop filled with everything from lavender-infused essential oils to hair products. Our favorite feature was the on-site cafe serving up lavender-infused beverages of all kinds, as well as a selection of delicious snacks. I had the apple lavender juice and a lavender honey crepe. Both were divine. Plan to spend about a half hour wandering through Sault and an hour or so at the distillery.

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

Early Evening

I love packing my days as full as I can when I’m on vacation, so we decided to make one last stop before returning to Cavaillon. Located at the base of the Mont de Vaucluse, Roussillon is a bit off the beaten path, but it’s truly a gem. About a 40-minute drive from Sault, the lavender landscape gives way to majestic red cliffs and magnificent ochre quarries. There’s a public parking zone on the edge of the city that costs just a few bucks.

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

We arrived around 5 p.m., which was early enough for the shops and restaurants to still be open but late enough that the crowds had died down a bit. We grabbed a gelato to tide us over and then made our rounds through the red stone streets. Roussillon looked quite different from the other towns we’d visited during the day, and we thoroughly enjoyed its uniqueness. Hands down, the most spectacular feature of this quaint community is the striking view of the vibrant cliffs jutting up over the towering trees and into the bright blue sky—amazing to behold. We spent about an hour and a half in Roussillon, which was plenty of time to walk through the maze of streets.

lavender in provence

Evening

The drive back to Cavaillon takes about 30 minutes. If you follow the same route we took and spend about the same amount of time in each location, means you’ll arrive back in Cavaillon around 7 p.m. Like most sleepy provincial towns, just about every restaurant is closed by this time. So I offer a few options to close out your evening with a delicious meal.

Across from the Roman Arch in the center of town, you’ll find a pizza truck. I know, you didn’t go all the way to France to eat pizza from a truck, but it’s good…like really good. They offer a ton of toppings, bake it fresh when you order, and it only costs about 10 Euros for an entire pie. There was a long lineup of people waiting for their orders when we arrived, so we figured it was worth a shot. We sat on the steps of the arch to eat and enjoyed a little more people watching.

Alternatively, make your way to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorge, a small but adorable community about 15 minutes from Cavaillon by car. Most of the restaurants close early, but there are a few who keep their doors open past 7 p.m.

lavender in provence

lavender in provence

If you want to see the lavender in Provence, follow this jam-packed itinerary, and you can’t go wrong. Driving through Luberon is as easy as pie, so it makes for a peaceful and relaxing journey. If you’d rather let someone else do the driving, there are plenty of great—and affordable—day trips you can take, too. For me, this was a bucket list trip and one of my favorites of all time. Considering I have been to more than 50 countries and hundreds of cities, it takes a lot to impress me, and I would happily do this trip again and again and never get bored.

Did I miss anything? Are there other places to see the lavender in Provence you’d recommend? Leave a comment here to share your ideas!

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lavender in provence

 

3 Ways to Travel Europe Cheap

There are so many great ways you can travel Europe cheap.

 

So you want to see as much of Europe as you can, but you have limited time and money. Lucky for you, there are a lot of options for getting around Europe for not a lot of money. Follow these easy tips make the most of your European travel budget.

1. Fly Someplace Central

One of the best things about Europe is its compact size. You can get to so many different places fast. But what’s even better? Europe is known for its budget airlines. On a good day, you can get a flight for just a few dollars. A great way to travel cheap is to fly into a central, or hub, city, and then catch a flight someplace else from there. Look for the cheapest deal. If you have time to see a few places, simply look for cheap flights from one city to the next. Another option is to take a train from the hub city. Europe’s rail system is unparalleled. It’s fast, frugal, and easy. It’s especially great for travel within a single country. You can get from Venice to Rome for just a few dollars. And it’s faster than traveling to the airport and waiting for a flight.

For a recent vacation, I found a super cheap flight deal to London Gatwick. As much as I love London, I’ve been there a lot, so I wanted to spend part of my vacation in another country. I found a flight deal to Algarve, Portugal, where I stayed for five days before returning to London for the rest of my trip.

2. Business Travel Advantage

Do you travel for work? If you ever fly overseas, consider tacking a few vacations days onto the beginning or end of your trip. Your company will pay for you to fly overseas, and from there, the world is your oyster. You’ll need to pay out of pocket for airfares and accommodations in any other places you visit, but usually the most expensive part of a trip to Europe is the flight overseas. The rest is just frosting, and you can always find a good deal on the extras, like hotels and activities.

I used to fly to Frankfurt each year for work. I would fly in a few days early and immediately dash off to a different destination. One year, I got a $30 flight to Athens. Another year, it was Prague. The options are endless.

3. Rent a Boat

A great way to travel Europe cheap is by boat with cheap boat rentals . With so many canals and rivers running throughout Europe, there are quite a few companies that offer affordable boat rentals. For a few hundred dollars a week, you can be the captain of your own adventure. Whether you travel via traditional penichette in France or narrowboat in England, your rental fee covers both your transportation costs and accommodations for your entire vacation. Not to mention, you can moor up just about anyplace you want, giving you the opportunity to check out villages and towns you might not otherwise have known existed. And you can save even more money by cooking your own meals on the boat.

These are just a few great ways to travel Europe cheap. What other ideas do you have? Join the conversation by becoming a member of the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

New Year’s Eve in Paris: A Wanderlust Experience

What could be better than New Year’s Eve in Paris? It is the City of Lights after all.

 

Paris is one of the most beautiful, romantic, decadent cities in the world, so it’s a real treat to ring in the new year in this amazing place. Throughout the holiday season, the city is filled with festive lights and holiday cheer. There’s are even Christmas markets all about town, including one that runs along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, where you can grab a cup of steaming gluhwein or a sweet boules de Noel to enjoy as you shop.

If you’re heading to Paris for New Year’s Eve, here are the top three things you need to know.

1. No Official Events

Believe it or not, there are no official New Year’s Eve events in Paris. The city does not put on a fireworks show or anything of that nature. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of fun things to do around town. Like any other big city, parties take place at most restaurants and bars—it all comes down to how much you money you want to spend and what you feel like doing.

If you’ve got a lean budget, you can make your way to the Eiffel Tower at midnight. Sacre Coeur is also a great place to take in a beautiful panoramic of Paris. for Many people head down to the Champs-Élysées, have a meal at one of the many restaurants there, and then watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle as the clock strikes 12. If you’re prepared to shell out the big bucks, the infamous Moulin Rouge. A table for two in the cheap seats will run you a cool 800 Euros. Alternatively, you could check out the show at the Lido, which also comes with a lofty price tag. On the low end, tickets for two come in around 600 Euro.

2. Book a Boat Cruise

If you’re looking for something special that won’t break the bank, a late-night sailing on the Bateaux Parisiens is a lovely idea. For as little as 65 Euros, you can take a quiet cruise along the Seine for a view of the city lights. The tour departs from the dock just below the Eiffel Tower or near Notre Dame Cathedral and includes a half-bottle of champagne, a packet of macarons, and party favors, such as a hat and horn. This is how I spent New Year’s Eve in Paris, and it was wonderful. Even if it’s cold outside, you’ll be toasty warm sailing along the Seine. We chose to depart from the Eiffel Tower, which is also where we docked at the end of the cruise. We returned just in time to see the tower twinkling in all its glory, and though I had seen it many times before, it seemed just a little more special this time round.

3. Midnight Kisses

Whether or not you’re looking for a midnight kiss, be prepared to get one. Strangers will walk up to you on the street and plant a peck on your lips or cheek. They don’t mean any harm—they’re just a little drunk and a whole lot excited. No one seemed to understand what I was saying—or maybe they simply didn’t care. I’m a happily married woman, but it seemed a lot easier to go with the flow than to cause a ruckus. It’s all in the name of fun after all.

These are just a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Paris. Have other tips you’d like to share? Head on over to the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

One Day in Paris: From the Champs E’Lysées to Notre Dame

Believe it or not, there’s a lot you can see with just one day in Paris.

Sometimes the best you can do is make a quick layover in a fabulous city on your way to another fabulous city. I know because I’ve done just that—a lot. Follow this itinerary, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Morning

Paris caters to tourists, so most of the things you really want to see will be open fairly late. That said, I recommend waking up at a reasonable hour so you can make the most of your day without feeling rushed. Paris is the kind of place that’s best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

To get better value for your dollar, stay someplace central but a bit off the beaten path. I like boutique hotels best—they have a certain je ne c’est quoi (See what I did there)! Two that I highly recommend are the Hotel Eiffel Seine and Hotel Eiffel Saint Charles. They are just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Eiffel Tower. Okay, it’s a long jump. But that’s what keeps the prices affordable for service and style that’s otherwise be out of my price range. Still, it’s only a 10 to 15-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower. You can enjoy the local sights and sounds on your stroll. And both hotels are located very near public transport (metro and train).

It’s possible your hotel will offer a free breakfast, many do. Skip it in favor of a street-side café. I know, it’s hard to pass up free, and your budget is tight, but you don’t get to do this every day. Treat yourself—and by that, I mean head to a nearby patisserie. There will be half a dozen in a three block radius, and you can purchase a vanilla cream croissant for about $2. Sit down, relax, and watch the world go by. But only for a half hour or so. There’s a lot left to do, and this won’t be the only café you visit today.



Booking.com

champs-elysee

The first stop of the day is the Arc de Triomphe. For 8 Euro you can climb to the top to see the Champs E’Lysées in all its glory. I usually save my money for a ride up the Eiffel Tower later in the day. Instead, I take my pictures of the Arc from the iconic shopping street itself. Then, I meander from shop to shop for the next two hours or so. You do only have one day in Paris after all, and you don’t want to waste all your time shopping at chain stores you can find in any city back home.

Pro tip: only go into the shops that are unique to Paris, have something you’re actually interested in looking at, and are within your budget. This will save you some much-needed time. And it will help mitigate the potential risk of blowing your entire budget on that one pair of shoes…you know the ones, I know you do. It’s sort of like shopping for a wedding dress. Never try on one outside your budget. It only ever ends in heartbreak. Splurge on a few French treasures, like a nice perfume.

Before you know it, the mid-day sun will be shining overhead and your tummy will be growling for lunch. There are a ton of great options, from inexpensive street food to lavish restaurants. Again, I like to save my money for later in the day, so I keep it light. A nice option if you want to feel truly posh is Ladurée. It’s ornate décor and luxe offerings will leave your mouth watering. But there is often a line to get inside. If you know in advance this is something you want to do and don’t want to waste time, book a table in advance.

If you forget to reserve a table, fear not. The line moves fairly fast. Or to keep costs down and get in a bit quicker, you can go to Le Bar. It’s part of the larger establishment, but it’s got just a few seats around a counter. Here, you can order a drink and a pastry. I can attest to the decadence of the religieuse. So good.

Ladurée’s lofty prices and long lines aren’t for everyone. For a budget-friendly alternative, head to Brioche Dorée across the street. This French bakery chain offers sandwiches, pastries, and other gastronomic delights at a fraction of the cost. And they’re simply delish. With a more fast food type of atmosphere, you can get in and out in a jiff, leaving you more time for exploring.

I know you just ate, but before you get too far, do yourself a favor and pick up a few macarons for your afternoon trek. It doesn’t matter if you shell out the big bucks at Ladurée or buy the low-budget version at the McCafé, just treat yourself. They all taste a little bit like heaven no matter where you buy them in Paris. And you’ve got a lot to do before you can stop again for food, so you’ll be glad to have a stash of something to nibble on.

Mid-Day

Now that your stomach is sated, it’s off to the Louvre. For all intents and purposes, if you were to walk straight down the Champs E’Lysées from one end to the other without stopping, you could reach the Louvre in about 45 minutes. But I recommend reserving at least two or three hours to make this trek. If you hit the shops right at opening—say 10 a.m.—you’ll be at the Louvre around 1 p.m.

louvre

There’s not a lot of time to stop and stare at all of the beautiful art work on display when you only have one day in Paris. In fact, you really only have time to see the Mona Lisa and a few other pieces along the way. Once inside, you’ll need to go through a quick security check before heading to the ticket counter. (If you’re on your game, you can buy your tickets online in advance, saving you a few precious minutes.) The total cost of entry is 15 Euro, which may seem like a lot for a quick look at a portrait, but do you really want to be the person who spends one day in Paris and doesn’t see the Mona Lisa? I didn’t think so.

To make your life easier, the Louvre has lovely “visitor trails” that take you to what you most want to see: Venus de Milo, the Victory of Samothrace, and Mona Lisa. These guides are foolproof and can be downloaded online if you want to map your route in advance. Or you can just pick up a copy when you arrive. Depending on how long you want to stare at each masterpiece, you can be in and out in an hour or two tops.

Next, it’s time for a stroll along the Seine toward the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral. Take the Pont des Art bridge, where, at one time, I would have told you to take along an engraved lock to add to the thousands of locks lovers affixed to it over the years. But in 2015 the locks were cut off. The bridge was literally collapsing under their weight.

Once you’ve crossed the bridge, walk along the Quai des Grands Augustin, where you’ll find countless kiosks of everything from used books to postcards and street art. It’s a delightful little journey. Before you know it, you’ll come to the Quai Saint-Michel, which will lead you, more or less, to the steps of the famed Notre Dame. It’s only a 20-minute walk, but it will likely take you an hour or more.

Notre Dame Cathedral

I have a penchant for all things gothic…I did write a series of vampire novels, after all. And the Notre Dame is no exception. I could spend the entire day taking pictures of its buttresses and gargoyles in various lighting. But alas, when you have only one day in Paris, there’s no time for such luxuries. Pop in, see the stained glass and the sanctuary, and pop out.

The area around Notre Dame is bustling. There are all sorts of restaurants and shops. I recommend taking some time to grab a bite to eat—have the mussels and fries, trust me. Be sure to stop in a few stores, and rest your feet. You’ve already covered a lot of ground, and the day is not even close to done.

Evening

Just because you’ve lost daylight doesn’t mean the fun has to end. After dinner, take an evening tour by boat or double-decker bus. Either way, you’ll get to see the sights in a new light—literally. You may even catch a glimpse of a few places you didn’t have time to walk to on your whirlwind tour throughout the day. At only $20 to $50 bucks, it’s a great way to cap off your day.

eiffel tower

Now, for the pièce de résistance and the very last stop of your one day in Paris itinerary, make your way toward the infamous Eiffel Tower. You thought I was going to forget about it, didn’t you? I believe in saving the best for last—not to mention I personally think it’s most beautiful at night. It’s open until midnight in the summer months, and I really believe there’s nothing quite like seeing the tower’s columns glittering in the moonlight.

Spring for the tickets to the top floor, even if you’re afraid of heights like me. At 17 Euro it’s a steal and an experience you won’t soon forget. When you reach the ground, grab a crepe from one of the street vendors for the twilight walk back to your hotel. It’s the perfect way to cap off your jam-packed day in Paris.

If you’ve only got one day in Paris, don’t fret. Following this easy itinerary, you can catch a glimpse at a lot of the main sights. How would you spend one day in Paris? Head on over to Facebook or Twitter and share your ideas!

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