The Abbaye de Senanque, with lavender fieldsLavender looks lovely but it works hard for its living. Its flowers are prized for their honey, perfume and health-giving oils. Chefs use them in cooking.

And of course the lavender fields of Provence are a major tourist attraction.

Lavender has been grown since the late 1960s at the mediaeval Cistercian Abbaye de Sénanque, in Vaucluse, captured here in an iconic picture postcard image.

Some of the lavender fields around the abbey are left fallow (unplanted) in rotation from time to time to allow the soil to rest, so the view may not be exactly as in the photo when you visit.

The Romans brought lavender to Provence over two millennia ago, but it has been farmed here in earnest for barely more than a century.

Provence needs lavender: it grows in tough climatic conditions on dry stony soil where no other crop can thrive.

Lavender cultivation has been through a series of crises, which are by no means over: see below under C for Cicadelle.

But those seas of blue are still an essential feature of Haute Provence, Vaucluse and (slightly outside Provence proper) the southern part of the Drôme in high summer.

The season reaches its peak between the end of June and early August: the exact time of the harvest varies, obviously, depending on the geographical location and annual climate variations.

Whether you're lucky enough to be coming to Provence, or are just dreaming about it, our two-part Little Lexicon of Lavender offers some fun facts, a little hard history and a guide to what to expect. We also visit the Arôma'Plantes lavender farm and distillery near Sault. Scroll down the page to read more. logoClick here to book a hotel in Provence

lavender saultThese are our maps of the best lavender routes in Provence, from the Côte d'Azur to the foothills of the Alps, with the best times to see it in flower and other top attractions along the way.

lavender harvest smallJust outside Sault on the route towards Mont Ventoux, this organic lavender farm and distillery offers a delightful range of activities, most of them free, and is especially well set up for children.

Acvertisement for Le Male perfume by Jean-Paul l GaultierThe difference between lavender and lavandin, a history of lavender loving, the year lavender bloomed on the Old Port of Marseille, the surprisingly masculine image of lavender water and Provence's pretty version of the lavender bag.

Close-up of lavender flowerAll about the man who invented aromatherapy, where bees go on their summer holidays, lavender in cooking and in literature and the crisis facing farmers today in the first part of our Little Lavender Lexicon.

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