For the pleasures of the senses, the Lavender Route (Routes de la Lavande) is sure to seduce you on its great journey, from the Vaucluse to the Alpes-Maritimes. Never ever, will you have enjoyed a road as much as when you lose yourself in these picturesque landscapes. Here, filling your eyes with wonder takes on a whole new dimension as unique fragrances tickle your nose in summer, prime lavender season.
Gordes and Roussillon
From Carpentras, pass fields of cherry trees and discover Venasque, perched on a rock face that announces the arrival of the slopes. We are in the Luberon, where the world-renowned Abbaye de Sénanque merits a first stop before you savor the three-dimensional panorama offered by the village of Gordes. It is reached by making your way between the dry-stone walls that form the bories, the little, ancient huts for which Gordes is known. Don’t forget that we’re next to Roussillon, as ravishing in shades of red, as Toulouse is in pink. Missing out on the fascinating ochre quarries would be a sacrilege!
The silhouette of Mont Ventoux will accompany you to Sault, the capital of lavender, where you can still admire this “Giant of Provence” from a terrace on the promenade. When you resume the route, you’ll head to the Plateau de l’Albion. Here, there are very few houses, but lots of goats, honey producers and lavender fields, which mature in june, before they are harvested from mid July to mid-August. Stop, sit down, look around, and breathe in the intoxicating scents!
Head to Simiane-la-Rotonde, taking the back roads towards Saint-Michel-l’Observatoire, named for its famous astronomy centre. Two kilometres after Mane, you will spot Forcalquier proud on its outcrop: after so many small villages it almost feels like a big city. Head east, again on a pleasant, open road: check out the almond trees, then the wheat fields. Valensole is your focal point. Its plateau is a mecca for lavender. Let your eyes wander as far as they can see on this sea of blue spikes waving in the wind. Inhale their delicate perfume until you are infused with it. The lavender flourishes all around you, filling almost every inch of space. Are you ready to be blown away?
Bidding farewell to the plateau, we go on towards the town of Valensole, then Allemagne-en Provence via the D15. A slice of pleasure, this little road bends and zigzags through lovely oak groves. Before Mézel, at the side of the road, a Maison de Pays shows off the handicrafts and produce of the Verdon terroir. Then make a detour and go up to the little village of Thoard, via Digne-les-Bains, where you can admire the lavender fields. Have a glass of something cool before proceeding on the D3, registered as a “Route du Temps” (Road through Time) by the geological reserve of Haute Provence. If it’s a bit bumpy, there’s nothing here to suggest that we are in the 21st century. Descend the Col du Bonnet among the oaks, and you are back on the N85 until Châteauredon.
Verging on the magnificent, the high walls of the Clue de Chabrière will send shivers down your spine. Still on the N85 heading to Castellane, the road follows the track of the famous little Train des Pignes. In Barème, Saint-André-les-Alpes is signposted to the left. Let’s go! Looking north, you can imagine the first ski resorts, while just 40 km south as the crow flies, you’ll spot a few imperturbable vultures circling over the most famous canyon in Europe, the Verdon! At Saint Julien-du-Verdon, cruise down 15 km along the Verdon, which will soon widen into the Lac de Castillon. Divine curves above turquoise water.
In Castellane, with its buzz, shops, tourists and white water sports fans, you will re-acclimate to civilisation. The Route Napoleon leads you on a descent towards le Sud. You don’t have to dream about it anymore, you are here! Luens, Valfière, follow the sequence of passes and fantasize how in winter, white often replaces green in this breathtaking, limestone landscape. In the distance, by the seaside, the amazing Marina Baie des Anges building indicates that the end of your jaunt is close. Besides, you are entering Grasse, the city of flowers and perfumes. Lean on the balcony of the Côte d’Azur, which overlooks the Mediterranean, before you visit a few well-known factories to stock up on perfume. Then, and only then, can you go home to tell your friends about your wonderful journey.