CULTIVATION AND REPRODUCTION OF LAVENDER

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While the lavender fields are ‘resting’, November is the month of the season when the farmers take time to prepare the reproduction of the lavender.  It can be done by the propagation of seeds or by cuttings depending on the species of the plant.

Propagation by seedlings

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The fine lavender (lavandula angustifolia) reproduces only by seedlings. Grains from the finest specimens are collected and are sowed in a specially prepared soil in the nursery just before the winter frosts set in. First technique: producers want to keep a homogeneous race secreting its own defenses. Either they collect the seeds from the whole plantation, or they choose from the best plants for reproduction, hoping to have the best qualities. lavenderyp1-276x300

A second technique is to pick up the fallen seeds on the ground of the distillery while loading the stills, which excludes any selection of seeds.  These seeds will germinate and we will have to wait around 3 years before we can use these plants for a new plantation.

Propagation by cuttings

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Lavandine, a hybrid of lavender and aspic which produces 4 times more than the fine lavender. It is sterile, therefore, the propagation is done mainly by cuttings. During the autumn season, selected clumps are selected from the best quality plants from which hundreds of cuttings can be taken. They are prepared and stored in a well-ventilated and frost-free nursury. Come spring, in March, planting begins when the soil starts warming up, so that they might take root during the 12 months preceding transplantation. They are planted every 30cm and the rows are 1m50 apart.  planting-lavander

Depending on the soil type and climatic conditions, a young lavender plant can last from 8-10 years.

AROMATHERAPY : LAVENDER

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Though the lavender season is finished, the farmers still have work to do. During the month of October, they will take care of those lavender plants that are more than 10 years old. They will be pulled up, burnt and then the farmers will prepare the land for March planting by plouging to aerate the soil.

soin-voyage-apaisant-et-rparateur-1Lavender oil is one of the most versatile essential oils in the world and the therapeutic usages are endless and it’s often used in the Aromatherapy. An alternative medical treatment that basically uses naturally extracted aroma essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the well-being of body, mind and spirit. It is also used as an antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial treatment. 

250px-rene-maurice_gattefosseThe word ‘Aromatherapy’ was invented by a french scientist René Gattefossé (1881 – 1950). When his hands were severly burnt in a laboratory explosion, the only liquid nearby was the lavender essential oil and thus he grabbed it and plunged his hand into it. He discovered the healing properties and that the burns were healed quickly with very little scarring. Following this incident, he later used the wound healing and antiseptic properties of essential oils in the care of soldiers in military hospitals during the First World War. By the 1950s massage therapists, beauticians, nurses, physiotherapists, doctors, and other health care providers began using aromatherapy.

Beware that the use of essential oils can have severe consequences, if not done correctly and safely.

The benefical effects of essential oils to the body are applied many ways, through baths, massage, compresses, vaporisers, atomisers and inhulations. Some examples of aromatherapy with lavender essential oil are:

Lavender Bathbath

Excellent for aching muscles, relaxation, stress relief. Add 6-8 drops lavender essential oil after running the water and vigorously agitate the water

Lavender Tissues/Handkerchief

Good for instant relief from flu, sinusitis and anxiety. Use 1-3 drops Lavender oil and inhale immediately as required.

Lavender Steam Inhalation

Great for colds and flu. Add 4-6 drops to a bowl of hot water. Place a towel over your head and breathe in the vapour. Keep your eyes shut. Continue to breathe deeply for a few minutes, occasionally removing the towel and your head from the bowl.

Lavender Hand/Foot Bath

Great for tired feet, fatigue or sore/dry hands. Add 4-6 drops Lavender oil to a large bowl of warm water and soak for approx 10 minutes. Then apply a lavender lotion for added benefits. lavender-oil

GRAPE HARVESTING

Lavender season is over. We are now in September and it’s the turn of the grape-growers busy preparing for the grape-harvesting period in France which is between August and October. This is also a very important month for the winemakers as it’s one of the most crucial steps in the process of wine-making. grapes1

Based on the style of wine they wish to produce, the wine-makers will determine the time of harvest by the ripeness of the grape as measured by sugar, acid and tanin levels. Weather conditions are also a very important factor.  Threats of heat, rain, hail and frost can damage the grapes as well. In addition to determining the time of the harvest, wine-makers must also decide whether to use hand pickers or mechanical harvesters.grapes2

However in some regions, the method of harvest and the grapes varieties used in the making of wine are mandated by rules.

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For example, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, various rules for the production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, were drawn up and promulgated in 1923, were the first Appellation Contrôlée rules in France, and provided the prototype for subsequent AOC rules. Here, only hand picking is allowed and grapes are transported in small containers. Minimum natural alcohol degree is 12.5%. Only 13 grapes varieties are authorised. 95% production of red wine and 5% of white wine, No rosé wine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 220px-chateauneuf_du_pape_rouge

The first producer of wine in France is Bordeaux and followed by the South of the Rhône River Valley. (Côte du Rhône), Last but not least is Burgundy region.

The Drome Provençal

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We have come to an end of the 2016 lavender season. All the fields are already harvested by mid-August and so is the distillation. The essential oil that is produced will then be used for either in the perfumery, medical, massage and body and face care beauty products. This is also the period when the weeding process must begin again as the grass has started to grow since the beginning of June.

In Provence, we find 2 different species of lavender; Fine lavender (lavandula angustifolia) or the hybrid – Lavandin (lavandula hyrbida). Depending on the altitude and the soil type, they may grow at different areas of Provence. lavande-lavandin

Drome ProvençaleAs part of the Routes de la Lavande, the itinerary laced through the country roads between the lavandin fields that is mostly cultivated in this Drome Provençal region. From Montélimar (famous for its Nougat – a candy made up of at least 30% almonds and honey, passing through historical hilltop villages like Pont de Barret, La Bégude-de-Mazenc, Poët-Laval, Dieulefit, Teyssières, Grignan, Roussas, Clansayes, St Paul Trois Château, Valréas, Vinsobres and Nyons.

One of the highlights of this region is Nyons. Settled in the 6th century BC as Nyrax by a Gallic tribe, it is situated next to the river Aigues or Eygues, which is crossed by an ancient bridge. It is famed for its olives. Take some time to visit the Musée de l’Olivier which through the exhibits, the visitors will learn the ancient and more recent history of the cultivation of olive trees of Nyons and its surroundings, making the olive oil from the seventeenth to the twentieth century and its various uses.

Not to be missed is the sumptuous Château de Grignan which is built on a rocky promontory overlooking the village of Grignan situated at the heart of the Drome Provençal. Witness the architecture Renaissance and French classicism. First mentioned in the 11th century, it is transformed during the Renaissance into a prestigious country residence by the family of Adhemar. In the 17th century, the Marquise de Sevigne stayed there with her daughter Françoise-Marguerite.

 

ROUTES DE LAVANDE

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Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur (PACA) is the South-Eastern administrative region of France that includes six départements (districts): the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04) with Digne, the Hautes-Alpes with Gap (05), the Alpes-Maritimes with Nice (06), the Bouches-du Rhône with Marseille, the Var with Toulon and Saint-Tropez, and the Vaucluse with Avignon.

PACA is the third richest region in France mostly because of its attractiveness in terms of tourism. With a diversified geological landscape from the Alps Mountains to its plains and coastal sand beaches, it is indeed one of the favourite worldwide touristic destination welcoming about 34 million foreign tourists each year.

The in-land Lavender Routes are proposed to the lavender enthusiasts, who seek to discover this symbol image of Provence travelling through a thousand kilometres of roads with exceptional sceneries and a rich cultural heritage. From the north to the south, one may enjoy:

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  • The Drôme Valley, on the edges of the Vercors cliffs, with the locally famous Clairette-de-Die fresh white wine and the Picodon goat cheese;

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  • The Drôme Provençale and the northern Vaucluse, with the earth ware village of Dieulefit, the lavender-surrounded castle of Grignan and the small black olives of Nyons;

 

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  • From the Provence Barronnies to the Ouvèze and Buech River valleys, where the cicadas sing among lavender fields and orchards, west of the antique city of Vaison-la-Romaine on the way to Sisteron;

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  • From the Ventoux and Lure mountains in the north to the Natural Park of the Luberon near the Valley of the Durance in the south-east, with the “capital of the lavender” village of Sault;         MAP HAUTE PROVENCE

  •   From the Haute-Provence plateau of Valensole covered with lavender fields to the village of Sainte-Croix where the Gorges-du-Verdon canyon starts, with the picturesque village of Moustiers famous for its earthenware and superb view on the valley;

 

The choice of the route(s) you follow partially depends on the season: the higher altitudes induce later flowering seasons, with a harvesting period starting mid-July in the Drôme Provençale east of Montélimar to mid-August near Sault and Valensole. The lavender varieties and the local climate also influence the harvesting periods.

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HARVEST OF LAVENDER

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We are now in July whereby the lavender are ready to be harvested. The producers observe their flowers to gauge their maturity and then fix a date for the harvest ‘campaign’. Fields that are situated in the low altitude have been cut since a couple of weeks ago. All the local producers are at their busiest time of the year. Tractors are now out every day harvesting the lavender which is ready.

The flowers are then left in the fields for 2 – 3 days to dry before transporting them to the distillery. If rain does not interrupt their work, the harvest campaign will last over 15 days. Extra manpower is recruited to work in the distillery. The process is still much manhandled like in the old days. No automation.

The maturity of the lavender in the higher altitude is always around late July. One of the biggest lavender growing area in Provence is around the Plateau d’Albion which is bordered by the department of Vaucluse, Drôme et Alpes-de-Haute- Provence. Surrounded by the Mt Ventoux the highest mountain in Provence and the chain of Lure mountains, this area has the idea terroir for the lavender and spelt agriculture that dates back centuries ago.

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Situated at an altitude of about 765m, Sault (which name means ‘mountainous and wooden place’ in Latin) is a village of about 1,400 inhabitants (2,800 in the year 1850) and is named as the capital of lavender. We can visit many picturesque villages like Simiane-la-Rotonde, Aurel, Saint-Christol, Banon etc. The Lavender Museum of Coustellet has their property there; Château du Bois in the commune of Lagarde-d’Apt.

It’s an experience to come and visit now, as we are able to share the highlights of the distillation process by the local producers.

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Gordes

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The village of Gordes (2000 inhabitants today) is located at the entrance of the Apt Valley, along the steep calcareous Northern side of the Vaucluse Mounts, and looking southward to the “Petit Luberon” Mountain. It is among one of the most beautiful villages of France, thanks to a superb site, dry stone-built houses and walls, and a typical Provence touch.

P1020661It is built around an 11th Century castle (rebuilt and expanded at the Renaissance, 16th century), which shelters local art exhibitions, and used to be the headquarters of the Vasarely painter’s foundation. It is since 1996 showing the work of Pol Mara, a modern Belgium painter.

The historical wealth of the village is due to the presence of two rivers: the Senancole and the Veroncle, allowing watermills for grinding flour and wool spinning, dams and irrigation canals until the end of the 19th century, when an earthquake made most of the water disappear underground. The watermills were then replaced by windmills over time. Until then, Gordes was known for cultivating grains, olives, garance (a plant which roots produce the rubis-red dye, used in the military uniforms until the First Word War), figs and almonds, together with silkworms. The work of leather was also famous in Gordes, with numerous shoemakers. Today, the traditional agriculture focuses on olives, lavender, truffles, cherries, honey and vineyards.  P1020617

The village was badly hit at the end of the Second World War (the retreating Germans did bomb the village from the “Roc du Bel Air”, the place where today most tourists take a picture of the village), and during the reconstruction time, many artists came to Gordes such as Marc Chagall and Vasarely. Since then, the economy of the village is centered on real estate and tourism, focusing on the conservation of the site, high-class hotels and home-gîtes for tourists.

P1000406The “Village des Bories”, these drystone huts used by shepherds just west of the village, is also an interesting visit, together with the Sénanque Abbey (2 km north-west).senanque 1 A local market taking place every Tuesday morning around the Gordes castle is a big favorite among the tourists as well as the locals. . A festival, “Les Soirées d’Été”, is organized with jazz music and theater during the first two weeks of August.

Distillation of Lavender Oil

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Summer is officially here.  The mercury of the thermometer is climbing and the flowers of the lavender is blooming almost fully.  The scent of the flowers are attracting the bees in the lavender fields.  LAVENDER BEE

This is also the moment that the distillers are getting their distillery ready : checking the distillation stills, contacting their seasonal workers, etc….

 

A sharing experience from a guide :

Distilation_Santal,_AlambicLast summer, I’ve discovered the way to distillate lavender essential oil. What a great experience ! Surrounded by a golden and purple patchwork of wheat and lavender, we turned on a little car track. Guided by a plume of smoke, we kept going till a kind of open-air hangar. Even being in the car, we already could smell the strong perfume exhaling from the still.

A tractor was carrying giant bales of lavender towards a vase 500 kilos each, told by the workers. Smiling but working hard, there were about 4 people trying to fill the vase with the “straw” of lavender. First, they put one bale, quickly joined by a second one. How could this quantity of flowers and stems enter into the vase ? lavande 1

The answer came with a huge tyre (like on the monster trucks) hanging from chains. It was filled with concrete and must weigh tons ! The workers placed it above the bales and jumped on it to press the lavender. Finally, everything was inside the vase and they could close it tightly.

The next stage was warming up the water at the bottom of the still. The dry lavender, already passed into the vase from a precedent distillation, was burnt into a big oven to boil the water and make it evaporate. I don’t know how they can work at this hot temperature all day long in the middle of summer !

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The steam then passed between the flowers, brought the essence of lavender and arrived to a tube (swan neck) going down. The producer asked us to follow him down the metal stairs as we could see the completion of  this activity : the essential oil. Turning on a little tap at the top of a small vat, he collected the liquid in a bottle. Keeping it still, we could observe the separation into two parts. The essential oil was much lighter than water, therefore it floats  to the top. So they could collect only the essential oil.

So easy to understand but so hard to do ! Thank you guys for this nice demonstration !

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Notre-Dame de Senanque Abbey

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The Abbey of Notre-Dame de Sénanque is a Cistercian monastery lying at the bottom of a deep canyon behind the village of Gordes, where the Sénancole River flows in the middle of the scrubland, dry oaks and lavender fields. It was built in 1148 by a community of 12 monks coming from the nearby Ardèche region, and is part of the “Three Provence Sisters” of the Cistercian Order, with the Abbey of Silvacane on the way to Aix-en-Provence and the one of the Thoronet closer to the Riviera.

The Cistercian Order is the major catholic monastic order of the 12th century in Europe, and comes from a branch of the Benedictine Order at the end of the 11th century inspired by the Gregorian Reform of the popes Leon IX and Gregory VII (1020-1085). It focuses on the improvement of the lands, agricultural work, rigour and an ascetic way of life.

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The success of the Abbey is such that it becomes richer and richer, to the point that during the religious wars (16th century), monks are hung and the convers building (where the agrarian monks live) is burnt. It is sold to a private family during the French Revolution, and by chance, it is maintained and consolidated. It is bought back by the Abbey of Lerins (near Cannes) in 1857, and returns to its original mandate with a congregation of 72 monks. Through a 1969 sponsorship contract with the Berliet Company (French luxury cars and heavy trucks), the monastery is further consolidated, and opens to public visits.senanque 4

The current community of monks works on a 10 ha exploitation of lavender, on beehives producing honey, and olive trees producing olive oil. They offer these products for sale at the bookshop near the entrance of the site.

The monks make their own bread, and eat essentially the vegetable they produce in their vegetable garden. They also welcome pilgrims (800 per year), who want to retreat during a few days and share the active monastic life of the community. The monastery can be visited only through a guided tour organized a few times per week.

The community of monks have catholic mass open to the public, which are on occasion with Gregorian chants.

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Your dreams come true ….

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Getting married in Provence is a wonderful sensation of being surrounded by nature, history and culture!  The lavender fields are the symbol of romantism and so many couples want to be the lucky ones to get a wedding picture in the fields.

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As a guide,  I have been witnessing the happiness of those couples that  come to visit us in Provence in the summer to tie the knots. I must say that our region has so much varieties to offer from June to August.  PHOTO 3

My biggest souvenir is a charming couple from Asia that was travelling for their first time in Provence.  I went to pick them up in their hotel, I knew from that moment that it was going to be an unique day not only for them but also for me .  They were just so excited !

I drove them to the lavender fields with the 2 friends that were with them. I remenber the eyes of those 4 persons as we are getting closer to the lavender fields. They were bewitched by the beauty and elegance of the landscape !

PHOTO 5We have spent about 4 hours driving around and stopping at diffèrent locations to catch the best light and the best shot in the lavender and sunflower fields. The joy was clearly shown in their expressions and I’m sure the photos that they will  have at the end will definitely make their dreams come true. We had time also to visit the village of Valensole and enjoy the local experience.PHOTO 8

I can not express the joy it give us as a tour guide to see the happiness of the people whenthey visit our wonderful region.  We welcome you at any time of the year to experience the extraordinary heritage whether as in historical sites, culture, wine and nature; there’s always something for you to do.

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