Interesting facts about France as a tourist destination
France is considered the world’s most popular tourist destination attracting close to 90 million visitors every year (excluding COVID-19 years).
The reason for the country’s popularity stems from its postcard-scenery, its strategic location, the beautiful countryside lined with olive trees, vineyards and lavender fields, outstanding food and wine; art, history, and culture to name but a few.
An interesting statistic for my travel buddy, Petra, (who absolutely loves McDonalds) is that France is the second largest consumer of Big Macs after the United States.
A tour through the lavender fields
It has always been a dream of mine to experience the lavender fields in the south of France. Provence is synonymous with lavender fields, right?
My perception of the south of France stems from the tourism hype that is created on travel websites and social media pages which projects Provence as a mixture of olive groves, vineyards, pine forests, lavender fields, and abandoned farmers’ cottages.
An in-depth discussion with Petra soon revealed that this is mostly a non-European way of thinking. Moreover, Petra and I often discussed, (prior to our trip through Italy, France, and Switzerland) that I must manage my expectations about the lavender fields, as these types of experiences are many times inflated in the media and on social media pages and it could lead to me being greatly disappointed with the lavender field. Although I did my best to lower my expectations, I am happy to report that my expectations of the lavender fields were not only met but also surpassed. It was so much more than I could ever imaged.
Note that the routes we discovered and explored may be somewhat different to what other travel pages may suggest. However, we can assure you, if you’re after unprecedent views and not crowded fields, continue reading about our less travelled roads and the most charming place to stay near the lavender fields.
Our route from the Côte D’Azur to the Rhône valley
If you followed our trip on Instagram (during mid-June 2022), you probably know that we started our trip in Lake Como, Italy, (where we stayed for one night at Hotel Fioroni – go check out our article). From here we travelled to the Côte D’Azur where we spent three nights (read our article about Monaco and surroundings) before we continued our journey to the Provence.
We started our journey to the lavender fields from the Cote D’Azur over down-to-earth Nice (Bernie’s favourite place for shopping), film-festival Cannes and Grasse (this lovely place is worth having an article of its own). From there we continued out journey with the D6085 and D952 (taking a few wrong turns thanks to Google maps) towards Gorges du Verdon. At the end of the Gorge, we continued with the D952 towards Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. We chose this route because it included some of France’s most magnificent landscapes and least travelled roads starting with extraordinary limestone peaks and ending in the most breath-taking (not crowded) lavender fields. The best part about the journey was watching how the landscape changed from a vibey green landscape in Nice to into the hilly, dry barren limestone massifs near the Alpine foothills near our destination in Moustiers Sainte Marie.
Best time to visit France and the lavender fields
Like most European countries deciding on the best time to visit can be challenging. We believe the best criteria to consider is not only the weather but also the crowds. Moreover, the south of France is significantly warmer than some part of Europe, particularly the areas nearest to the Mediterranean coastline. In addition, the peak of the European holiday season starts from July and ends towards the end of August.
Late spring to early fall (late May through September) is always considered a perfect time for France. Spring is filled with mild days ideal for hiking, and marks the return of wildflowers and lush greenery. Summer, on the other hand (June to August) draws massive crowds and gets extremely hot.
Unfortunately, the lavender seasons in France is not an all-year-round phenomenon. Therefore, best time to visit the south of France and the lavender fields are from May to June and early autumn and September to October. The peak of the lavender season is mid-July but depending on the rainfall and climate change. We believe the best time to visit the fields are from the last week in June to beginning of August. We visited the lavender fields in mid-June and although the flowers were not in full bloom yet, we were very happy with the quality of our photos and experiences we had without the crowds (which are apparently a nightmare in July in terms of accommodation and photo opportunities in the lavender fields). In contrast to English lavender (that only blooms for four weeks), the French lavender can bloom for up to three months.
In the Provence region, two types of lavender are grown: the lavender (also referred to as the true or English lavender) and Lavandin. We were lucky enough to spot both types and take photos in both lavender fields.
Lavender is mostly used for its medicinal properties and is typical of Provence. It is also used to create perfumes and essential oils known for its relaxing and stress relieving agencies. Lavandin smells much stronger and is not suitable for medicinal purposes. It is mostly used to enhance the smell of products sold in souvenir and gift shops.
What to wear in the lavender fields?
We took photos on two different days with different outfits. We found that the photos we took of Petra with her white dress worked the best and the photos of me wearing my white shorts and pastel coloured top. We also found that the dress I wore (with the green and purple tones) got lost against the purple hues of the lavender.
Where are the best fields?
Depending on what you are looking for, the lavender fields all looked much the same to us. The only difference being the time of day that we visited each field. We particularly enjoyed spending time in the fields at sunset. We saw several couples having a romantic picnic in the fields which looked really nice.
Here are the coordinates of the places where we took our best photos:
- 43,85254° N, 6,18123 O on the D952 between Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and Roumoules.
- 43,85199° N, 6,11057° O on D953 between Puimoisson and Valensol.
- 43,87315° N, 6,13047° O on D953 between Puimousson and Bras d`Asse.
Moustiers Sainte Marie
Moustiers Sainte Marie is located between Valensole and Aigiones. It is considered the gateway to the Verdon gorges and has been listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. It has an exceptional geographical location between the rocky slopes and has an altitude of 630-meter. We stumbled upon this picturesque village on our way from the gorges as we were looking for an overnight place (after an almost four hours’ drive from the Cote D’Azur).
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie lies at the base of towering limestone cliffs and signifies the start of the Alps and the end of the Haute Provence’s rolling prairies. It is the ideal spot for exploring many of the main sightseeing routes of the Gorges du Verdon and the Saint-Croix Lake.
Being so tired from our travels, we almost missed the opportunity to explore the village had it not been for the persistence of the receptionist at our guesthouse asking us several times if we had been to the village up on the hill. Not wanting to disappoint the friendly lady (who pointed out in much detail on a map the key attraction of the village) we decided to “quickly” make our way to the village after breakfast. This turned out to be an incredible two hours’ exploration of an ancient village with more than twenty restaurants, several local arts and crafts stores and being totally disappointed with ourselves that we didn’t head to the desperate insistence of the receptionist the previous night. If you miss all the suggestions in our article, please do NOT skip this little village. This village is absolutely worth a visit and considering for an overnight stay.
The village consists of winding coble-stoned streets with tiled roof houses (many people still live in this town), connected by arched historical bridges spanning the creek that flows through the village. There is a steep trail that can be followed beside the waterfall to an ancient chapel. A word of caution, apparently this little village gets extremely crowed during peak season.
Must you book accommodation in advance?
We didn’t have any accommodation pre-booked near the fields and managed to find the most amazing place on our arrival in Moustiers-Saint-Marie. If you however travel in high season (July and August) you must book months in advance as there are few places in the area to stay.
Gorges du Verdon
Gorges du Verdon is the deepest gorge in France. It is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Europe with its breath-taking 25km of roads through Haute Provence’s limestone plateau. The canyon is a natural phenomenon characterised by narrow roads with several hairpin bends and turquoise waters at the bottom of the canyons (it is only 8m to 90m wide). If you’re lucky you can spot Grifton vultures. Although there are no roads to the canyon floor there is a fantastic circular ‘corniche’ route around the rim of the gorge (although we did not drive the entire route). At the lower end of the gorge, which is only accessible by foot, there are several water activities such as rafting (the main activity in the canyon), kayaking and boating. Along the route you will notice people jumping into the waters, enjoying the remote beaches, and climbing up the rocky gorge.
The gorge attracts visitors for many different reasons: to enjoy the spectacular road trip, to enjoy the exhilarating hiking trails, to admire the bird life, to enjoy a paddle boat ride or canoe trip at the bottom end of the gorge (France Tourism, 2022).
Overview of our accommodation
Hotel Les Restanques de Moustiers is located at the heart of one of the world’s most beautiful lavender fields. It lies at the foot of the Moustiers Sainte Marie village offering breath-taking views over Haute Provence. The hotel is a classical French countryside three-star hotel with all the required features to enjoy a relaxing and convenient stay near the lavender field. The hotel is also a short drive from the Gorge du Verdon.
Who would enjoy this hotel?
The hotel is ideal for anyone looking to explore the roads and hiking trails of the area and being near the best lavender fields. Families will find this hotel particularly suitable due to their unique room types which include not only family rooms but also triple rooms.
There are 20 airconditioned and soundproofed rooms, some with terraces and others with direct access to the hotel’s heated pool. There are various categories of room starting with double rooms, family rooms and triple rooms. There are stable and free Wi-Fi in all rooms and public areas. The rooms are fitted with flat screen TVs and comfortable desk spaces for the ‘aways-on-duty’ businesspeople.
Features of the hotel
As mentioned previously, the hotel has a large, heated pool with many pool loungers and a sun terrace. The bonus feature is being within short walking distance of the village Moustiers Sainte Marie. Besides breakfast the hotel does not offer any other dining options but there any many great restaurants in the village of Moustiers Sainte Marie or just outside the entrance of the hotel. Unfortunately, we cannot recommend the restaurant that we had dinner at (just outside the hotel’s gate) as they were busy packing up chairs around us shortly after we arrived. We would rather recommend that you select one of the fabulous restaurants (that we discover the next morning) in the village.
What we most enjoyed about the hotel
The hotel serves the most amazing breakfast in a lovely country setting. The best part about staying so close to the ‘hot spot’ of the lavender fields is that we could capture fabulous sunset photographs.
We highly recommend the hotel for its proximity to the lavender fields and Gorges du Verdon. It offers some of the best mountain views and is perfectly located within walking distance to the lovely village of Moustiers Sainte Marie.
The hotel’s breakfast is worth leaving your home for.
The staff is extremely help and friendly and will do everything in their power to make your stay enjoyable and comfortable.
How to get there
Petra never goes anywhere without a car (hers preferably). But for those who prefer flying and hiring a car, the nearest airport to Moustiers Sainte Marie is Marseille (MRS) airport. There is also a bus route from Nice (NCE) to Valensole via Aix en Provence – Gare Routière and Gare SNCF, which takes around 5 hours and 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can take a train (Petra’s least favourite form of transport) from Turin (TRN) to Valensole via Torino. However, this route will take much longer because it has several stops, around 11 hours.
- Fair size rooms with great mountain views
- Great proximity to lavender fields and Gorges du Verdon
- Their breakfast is outstanding and served in the most beautiful country setting
- Lavender fields
- Gorges du verdon
Value for money
The hotel offers excellent value for money. Although their double rooms were fully booked, they offered us a family room for the two of us for 150€ for the night.
Breakfast was an additional 12€ per person but we can honestly say this was our best breakfast we enjoyed during our entire trip.
5 Tips for taking the best photos in the lavender fields:
- Try to take photos of the rows head-on. It also looks great if you take a picture from the top.
- Take a photo of the lavender rows from the side. This works well to show the curves in the lavender rows.
- Use the portrait mode on your camera to show the dimensions of the fields.
- Take a close-up of the fields to show the bees in action.
- Take a landscape photograph to show the entirety of the fields.
Our reviews are a true reflection of our experiences during our stay at the establishment.
This allow us to comply to strong ethical practices to ensure our reviews are fair and trustworthy. We only do reviews of establishments that we have personally visited.
This was not a hosted review.
We were in no way influenced by any person/s in our opinions, views or experiences.