A Sensory Summer

Smell: the lavender of Provence
The final part of my trip to Italy was two days spent in lavender country in Provence. In planning my trip, I realized I’d be driving back into France right around peak lavender bloom, so I made arrangements for a few nights in Valensole, right in the heart of the action. I arrived a week before the local lavender festival, so I guess the timing was about right!

Four years of drought and the lateness of this year’s spring rains had left the lavender plants in a state of distress, not as full, lush and vivid as in other years. That said, it was my first view of the stunning blue-purple fields, and they were gorgeous!

Fat, straight violet lines, rounded on top, lead the eye across the landscape and toward mountains turned hazy blue in the distance. The sky above is a brighter blue, and adjacent fallow fields are pale gold. In the midst of many of the lavender fields, one spies a single tree or a stone hut.

These stone huts, called cabanes, are old, built in a drystack technique (no mortar or cement) that is all but lost in modern times. Cabanes were generally built from the late 1600s to the late 1800s, and had a variety of uses: shelter for animals or people, storage of tools or food, and—less common—to protect a water well or spring. They were outbuildings of a farm, often built as part of a stone wall. They are a basic aspect of the rural landscape of southern France. In Provence, the warm gold hue and rough stone texture of these cabanes make a great foil for the perfumed purple glory of all that lavender. It is a feast for the senses.

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