Monday, 26 July 2010

Aromatours - On the lavender road - alpes haute provence to Mount Ventoux

Today I am 'en famille'. The sun is out. we have cycled the Gorges du Vederon (europes answer to the grand canyon) after camping at Riez. Riez lies on the great plain around Valensole on which aromatic plants are grown for the perfume trade in Grasse and the beauty trade in Manosque, the home of L'Occitaine. Everywhere farmers are no longer watching the crops grow and harvest is in full swing.

Pictured are fields near Mount Ventoux and Montbrun les Bains.  Vast fields of purple lavandin are being harvested. Everywhere there is the hum of the honeybees kept by apicurists near the lavender and flocks of butterflies near water. Some of the most stiking images are of the smaller fields of lavender and sunflowers found unexpectedly around a corner and I have taken a few photos to share.

We are also visiting our small family distillers as well as the great names who deal in thousands of tonnes of lavendin but supply also oils suitable for aromatherapy though it cannot be economic for them. Some of those smaller family distillers are in the area around Mount Ventoux which is the most charming area. Mountains and a patchwork quilt of blue lavender and green harvested fields. And so it is 'bon courage' and up Mount Ventoux.

Pictured are Mme Magnans famous honey shop in Valensole, a typical provencal market stall with aroma ingredients, the view from the promenade at Sault towards Mt Ventoux to which neither camera nor artist can do justice, aroma crops being distilled,
Lavender facts.  French and Bulgarian lavender is the most popular..  Lavender grown and distilled at a higher altitude 600m to 1500m is reputed to be the finest.  France dominates lavender production with 100,000 tonnes per annum compared to the UK's 50 tonnes.  Three quarters of that produced is Lavendin which has a high yield and is easily harvested.  Then comes the Mailette clone which is commonly described as Lavender Fine, Lavender vera or angustifolia.  Both have a full floral fragrance while the angustifolia favoured by aromatherapists tends to have less aroma.  In practice farmers tend to propogate their angustifolia from the plants most resistent to disease, drought and flood so most true lavender production tends to be a mixture of angustifolias.
Lavender Vera harvesed at Banon.

Sadly adulteration of Lavender is a hazard. In order to comply with the standards of the fragrance trade synthetic linalool is added.  One complaint of the growers in upland areas is that the excellent lavender they produce which is high in esters do not comply with agricultural standards!  Lavendin is also added to Lavender fine and most Lavender Fine Angustifolia is from Lavender Mailette clone rather than P.Miller.  Always read the label and ask for certification.  If it is not forthcoming move on.  Ref Battaglia The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy p 217.

True Lavender and Lavendin

Notes: We travel in July to avoid the high season which is very busy in August
Reliable campsites can be found in the Mitchelin guide
Gites and Chambres d'hotel are available at reasonable cost
There is an excellent peage system of motorways on which you can travel at a mile a minute.
Lyons, Avignon airports.  The TGV.

For those with limited time here are some edited highlights of La Drome Aroma Tour this year. 

Ferry Portsmouth - Le Harve
Night 1, Haute Normandie Campsite La Foret, Norman dinner overlooking the Seine
Night 2  Beaune, Sauvigny Campsite, explore the Cote d'or

Night 3  Crest and mountain lavender distiller growers in la Drome
Night 4  Banon Epi Bleu campsite to explore Banon, Sault, MontBrun les Bains, Mt Ventoux
Night 5  Riez to explore the Valensole plateau in Provence

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