Passion for Lavender
Have you ever heard about the “blue gold”? It is this little plant that charms you with its bright blue and bewitching fragrance – known since antiquity for its medicinal properties. To discover these large stretches of lavender, from Digne les Bains, take the road to Nice, then go through the small villages of Mézel, Estoublon, Bras d’Asse to finally reach the Valensole plateau. You won’t be able to resist the temptation to stop and capture the purple hues in the middle of the wheat fields while being surrounded by this fragrant sea stretching out as far as the eye can see.
A Bit of History
The true story of lavender starts at the beginning of the 19th century, when it grew in the wild and was harvested by shepherds and peasants. Today, hybrid lavender – lavandin – resulting from a crossing between true lavender (lavandula officinalis) and spike lavender, or aspic, is increasingly being cultivated. Indeed, hybridisation has enabled to expand the productivity of the lavender crop – towards the middle of the 20th century – to meet the growing demand from perfumers in Grasse.
Let yourself be carried away by the story of lavender through an audiovisual exhibition at the Lavender Museum, in the centre of Digne les Bains.
True lavender or hybrid lavender?
There are two species grown in Provence: true lavender and hybrid lavender. True or fine lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia) is the noblest of lavender and its essential oil has been credited since 1981 with the AOC certified mark (registered designation of origin): “Haute Provence lavender essential oil”. It is characterized by a long branch with one single flower spike and grows in a bushier form. You can find it at an altitude between 500 and 1500 metres, on the sunny slopes of our mountains. Hybrid lavender is a cross between true lavender and aspic lavender (Lavandula Spica). It grows easily in natural environment but is essentially cultivated. Its branched stem with three flower spikes makes it larger than fine lavender. Its productivity is much higher than that of true lavender. Hybrid lavender is unable to reproduce itself and its fragrance is lighter than that of true lavender.
Make sure you don’t miss out on the flowering period and lavender festivities! To see the beautiful lavender fields in blossom, plan your visit between June 15 and the end of July. Flowering continues into the end of August but the lavender is harvested from the second half of July.
The “lavande month”
In Digne les Bains, August is known as “the lavender month”. Corso de la Lavande takes place every year on the first weekend of the month during which – since 1939 – the city is adorned in its most beautiful colours and takes visitors and inhabitants to the land of dreams, scents and flavours with its stunning floats parade, musical groups and great funfair.
Foire de la Lavande, on the large square of the city in late August, is a must-attend event in Digne les Bains. It’s the best place to find high quality lavender products: lavender essence, soaps, honey… This fair has been held annually since the 1920s. At first, it was intended to celebrate the end of the cutting season. It was originally a lavender essence samples fair to promote the lavender properties to the greatest perfumers in the world. Over the years, the fair became a very popular event where everyone – individuals and professionals – came to buy other products from Haute Provence (honey, syrups, soaps, cakes …).
Now, during these festivities, local producers show their traditional distillery techniques. The opportunity to meet people from just about everywhere in Haute Provence and share their Provencal “Art de Vivre”!