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Le Plateau d'Albion - A Hike in High Lavender Country
Easy hike, 7.5km, 3 hours
This 7.5km walk follows a loop through field after field of lavender with an occasional interlude as you pass through small strands of oak and pine. Magnificent vistas await almost everywhere you turn. You'll be at roughly 1,000 meters of elevation (3,300 feet) on a plateau with the Monts du Vaucluse dropping off to the south and the Montagne de Lure rising to the north. The imposing Mount Ventoux is everpresent and on a clear day you'll see right across the Durance River valley to the Plateau de Valensole and finally, the snow-covered Alps dotting the horizon.
The combination of oceans of lavender and stunning 360-degree views make for a truly unforgettable experience.
This hike could not be easier technically speaking. It follows well-kept dirt paths, for the most part, with one stretch along a paved back-country road. You'll need good, comfortable walking shoes or sneakers. The maximum change in elevation is only 200 meters and there isn't a single steep slope going up or down. At a leisurely pace, it should take no more than three hours.
A good map, however, is essential as there aren't any trail blazes. I recommend the IGN "Carte de Randonné" for Apt (#3242 OT). I never leave home without it!
When to Go
I did this hike on a beautiful, crisp October day well after the lavender harvest. But no matter, it was still jaw-droppingly beautiful. I found myself trying to imagine the scene in the early summer when the fields are in full bloom. It must be surreal.
Go any time of the year and if you can maange during the height of the lavender season (late June to early August), all the better. If possible, try to pick a day when a light Mistral wind (a Mistralette) is blowing. You'll be rewarded with deep blue skies and views of mountains 100+ km away. And especially in the summer, go either early morning or later afternoon to avoid the mid-day sun.
If you could start around 5:00pm on a day in early July with a nice Mistral breeze blowing and a well-stocked picnic basket in hand – well, you'd find yourself as close to heaven on Earth as is legally possible!
This hike does not follow a specific trail. It's just a walk I made up as I went along with my trusty IGN 3242 map in hand.
I started out at the Notre Dame de Lamaron chapel just north of the tiny (population 33) village of Lagarde-d'Apt. After a nice little snack (cheese, bread and pears) in the sunshine, I started down a dirt path heading east from the chapel. Within minutes, I found myself walking between fields of lavender that seemed to stretch on forever – up and over little hills like waves crashing up against the distant mountains. (Sorry for the poetic license – but it was just that kind of spot!).
For about another kilometre, the path wound it’s way down the valley to a farm (la Grand Fayette), which being clearly a lavender farm was quite quiet this time of year. View-wise, I got the whole package: the Mount Ventoux, the Drôme Provençal, the Montagne de Lure (so close it felt like you could reach out and grab it), the Durance River valley, the Plateau de Valensole ending abruptly with the pre-Alps, and finally the snow-covered Alps blending like clouds into the horizon.
Shortly after the farm, I entered a small forest that was pleasant enough, but didn’t make me want to break out in song, as I had almost done earlier. I left the woods at another farm (La Resclave) and turned south on a very small paved backcountry road. I stayed on this road for another few kilometres and enjoyed once again sweeping views and field after field of neatly trimmed lavender. There was not another soul around, just the occasional sound of a tracker off in the distance. The sun felt great and the only thing slowing me down was the urge every 50 meters to take out my camera. I passed two other lavender farms along the way. One was the very aptly named "le Grand Bel-Air" which had views in every direction. I wondered whether the owners ever got blasé and hoped the answer was "non".
I now turned north and followed a likely looking path for another few kilometres back to the Notre Dame de Lamaron chapel where I started. It felt nice to get off the paved road and the path I had chosen ended up taking me literally through a few more lavender fields and small groves of trees with the same views I had at the beginning of the walk. At one point, I took a wrong turn and stumbled on a flock of sheep grazing away with the Mount Ventoux looming up above. Out came the camera once again!
Finally, coming back to my starting point, there was the pretty little chapel looking proudly abandoned in yet another field of lavender. I couldn’t help making the comparison to the Abbey of Sénanque. As much as I love Sénanque, there is definately something to be said for getting away from it all.
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