Two Christmas’ ago I received a calendar on a region in France called Aix-en-Provence. I’d never heard of it before, but the calendar inspired me – full of lavender and poppy fields it looked so beautiful and made it part of the must-see’s while in France. For something that was such a priority, there really wasn’t a lot of planning that took place before leaving Barcelona, which is why we ended up doing this the crazy, somewhat longish way. We had massive issues trying to get from Barcelona to Nice.
Eurail was giving us nothing with their confusing online timetables, so we decided to go stand in the endless line at the Valencia train station. It was here we found out that the timetables were in fact correct and there were no direct trains going to Nice. It would take us 15 hours to get there, with three stops along the way. Time being of the essence, we decided to fly to Nice (Niza) from Barcelona. This was my mistake. It was only after Gus hit the confirm button on the Spanair website, that I whispered “What about Provence?” knowing the response would less than favourable and we would lose both our money and the plot if we cancelled the flights. We settled on the idea that we would drive to Provence from Nice Airport.
As we were driving to Provence, we saw lots of signs heading back to Barcelona. So for those going there, driving from Barcelona would probably be easier or you can also fly to Marseille and drive from there. Regardless of which route you choose, you will need a car. The drive from Nice took us three hours, from Marseille it should take a bit less.
We stayed the night at a cheap and simple hotel in Provence, but it would only be a quick stay as we had to drive to the Lavender Museum early the next day in Avignon, which was an hour away. We also had to drive back to Nice that afternoon and return the car back to the airport by 6pm. We had breakfast and headed off. I was so excited when I walked into the Lavender Museum. Obviously we expected fields and fields of purple lavender just like the calendar – but obviously we were wrong. Instead, we were told it wasn’t the blooming season for lavender and shown the barren plants outside. Rightly so, there was no lavender – just flowerless plants.
Convinced there had to be lavender somewhere in the area, we asked the lady at the “Lavender” museum if there was anywhere else we could see it – she stated there was only lavender in the highest mountains in Provence and that we would have to head towards Sault (another two hours away from Avignon) to see them, if we saw any at all. With no time to waste, we jumped straight into the car and headed towards Sault. The drive itself was very mountainous but extremely picturesque. We could see the potential for lavender, as there were the odd buds that had burst through – but nothing as dramatically purple as the calendar had shown.
After an hour and a half of driving, we hadn’t seen any thing remotely resembling the fields and we were over it! I had written off the calendar, declaring Photoshop was at work and Gus had started planning our next trip to Provence. Deciding it would probably be wiser to come back during the season July – August and perhaps stay up in Avignon for a week. We came to terms that there wouldn’t be any lavender fields that day and that we would settle on having lunch in Sault and then heading back to Nice for the next week.
But just when we’d lost all hope and were about to run over some cyclists, out of the blue appeared a magical field of wild flowers. With a gorgeous snow capped mountain backdrop there they were – Lavender plants by the hundreds. We hit the brakes and got out of the car. We stood and just admired the fields with our cyclist friends for a whole 10 seconds before we happy snapped like crazy. We stayed there for about 30 minutes – it was stunning, but the bees, mosquito’s and spiders make sure you don’t overstay your visit! The stop was about 15 minutes away from Sault at a place called St Jean and it really was worth it! And even though only about 20% of the lavender fields were in bloom it was still stunning, I’d love to see what it would be like in season.
We headed to Sault for some much deserved late lunch and a stroll in the town. It was a beautiful little town, with lots of cafes and souvenir shops decorated in abundance of brightly coloured pot plants and, of course, lavender. We had a quick bite and headed back towards Nice. With a four-hour drive in front of us, again we just made it back to the rental car place on time.
The whole area of Provence is really very underrated. We were originally going to also see the Verdon Gorge that is used in all the L’Occtaine advertising but the lavender fields took a bit longer to find than we thought. Provence is beautiful and we really wished we could have stayed longer, instead of speeding through all the smaller towns. It would have been awesome to have a couple of days in each town. But then again we got to see what we originally wanted to see and we’re pretty happy with achieving another item off the bucket list. Although now the Verdon Gorge is a new item on our list…it just never ends!