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Jul 7, 2009 08:11 AM

Lunch and Dinner in and around the Lavender Fields of Provence

I'll be visiting western Liguria later this month, and my friends and I are planning on taking a day trip to Provence to take in the sights and scents of the lavender fields. We're likely to be in the area of Valensole and also the Senanque Abbey . For lunch we'd like to pick up some local wine, cheese and bread and picnic outdoors. For dinner, we'd like to go somewhere wonderful but not necessarily expensive. Can anyone help us with recommendations? Thanks!

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  1. Seems like quite a long drive for a "day trip" from Liguria to Senanque Abbey, which is itself quite far from Valensole. Caution #1: the Abbaye de Senanque is not available for visiting all day long, so you had better verify its hours before you go all the way there and find you can't visit any part of the abbey except the bookstore (this happened to us last summer). If you are going that far, I would expect you to go on to Coustellet, home of the Musee de Lavande. They offer guided tours of the (small) factory so you can see how they process the flowers, then you can buy various lavender products in the store. There are several restaurants in Coustellet, including a small one directly opposite the old train station (no train stops there now) which offers authentic cous-cous. Makes a nice dinner and is reasonably priced. If that interests you, ask the Musee staff where to find the old station (it is south of N100 highway which cuts right through Coustellet (at the traffic light, go north to the museum, south to the old train station.

    13 Replies
    1. re: CJT

      We'll be staying in Dolceacqua, which is fairly close to the border with France. From studying the map, a day trip seems manageable.

      The Musee de Lavande does sound interesting. I'm hoping we can make it there.

      1. re: CindyJ

        I don't mean to throw water on your plans but, having driven a lot in France over nearly 50 years, I think you need to check routes and distances more carefully so you don't spoil your outing by being unable to reach the 2 destinations you mentioned. What matters is the kind of road or highway you will find from Dolceacqua to either of the 2 locations. Using a large France road atlas and observing the highways available to get where you want to go, I see little hope that you could go from your stay in Italy and reach both Valensole AND Senanque the same day and get back to Italy that night -- that is, if you want to enjoy any part of the trip. If, on the other hand, you plan an overnight stay in France with return to Italy the next afternoon, you can do what you are seeking. Driving from Italy to Valensole most directly means you have a lot of mountains to climb and windy roads -- this will slow you down. The alternative route is from Italy south to the French border and taking the Provencale superhighway west, riding it all the way to Cavaillon, then driving up to Senanque. Menton to Cavaillon is not a short drive, even on a superhighway with 130 kph limits. Your idea to visit these places is good and I don't mean to discourage your doing it, but the distances suggest that you adjust your plan to make it a 2-day trip, otherwise, you will spend virtually ALL your time in the car. Making it a 2-day trip will allow you to see other lovely parts of Provence as well.

        1. re: CJT

          I've been looking closely at the map, and I see your point. Senanque is a stretch for a 1-day outing. I do think Valensole is doable, though. Thanks for your advice.

          I'll be back in Provence in early September, and I'll be staying in Venasque for a week, so I'll get to explore the area then, but I have a feeling the lavender harvest will be over by that time.

          1. re: CindyJ

            On the bright side, the Musee de Lavande will be open then.

            1. re: CJT

              but the melons will be gone. ;(

              1. re: ChefJune

                We visited Dolceaqua last year while vacationing on the Riviera in Beaulieu sur Mer. (Loved the old bridge in town). Valensole is about 75 min from Aix, so I think you're looking at a 4 hour ride each way.

                Any way of spending the night in that area? If you do go to a good restaurant in Provence and get finished between 10-11pm, you won't get back until the wee hours.

                Also, be aware that you will mostly see Lavandin, which is not as potent as real lavender for making perfume and scents. It looks pretty, though.

                Any good restaurant recs for Dolceaqua? We will go back this year, but found most of the good spots are in Bordighera.

                1. re: menton1

                  Wow! I had no idea it would take that long to cover the distance between Dolceacqua and Valensole. We're renting a home in Dolceacqua, already paid for, and we're trying to minimize expenses, so it's unlikely that we'll spend the night in Provence. Perhaps this side trip is just too ambitious.

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    The Via Michelin estimates tend to be quite reliable.

                  2. re: menton1

                    We had a wonderful dinner one night at Ristorante Apricale da Delio, about a 15-minute drive from Dolceacqua. It was there that we had our first taste of a really good Rossese di Dolceacqua. We had just about given up on the local wine, despite reading so many good things about it.

                2. re: CJT

                  Where, exactly, is the Musee de Lavande?

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    In the town of Coustellet in the region of Gordes, Fontaine de Vaucluse. N100 passes through the town and there are signs along the highway and at the traffic light in the heart of the town showing where to find the Musee.

          2. re: CJT

            I realize I am late in responding, but I thought I might help regarding the couscous restaurant in Coustellet. Although there may be more than one, you might have been thinking of BABOUSHKA, a very simple restaurant that serves delicious tajine w/prunes, wonderful bastilla(pastilla) that needs to be ordered in advance, as well as coucous. As for the Abbaye de Sénanque, a warning for any CHOWHOUNDs who might read this in 2010/2011: the abbaye has replaced much of the lavender (with wheat, I believe) in order to allow the lavender to recycle/replenish. Not being a farmer myself, I can only say that this process takes several years and is necessary for the lavender to not die out completely.

          3. Just as a side question, any good restaurant recs around Dolceaqua?

            1 Reply
            1. re: menton1

              Sorry it took so long -- I didn't see your question until just now. See my note above re. Ristorante Apricale da Delio. We had one of the best dinners of our trip there. Apricale is a beautiful little hillside town a short distance north of Dolceacqua. You go through Dolceacqua, with the bridge on your right, and then follow the road up, up, up, UP to Apricale.

            2. Probably too late, so this is for anyone else who is interested (I also agree with the comments about driving from Menton, which is very far (and I certainly wouldn't drive that far just to see the Abbey - it's nice, but not a 3+ hours' drive nice)) but the Auberge de la Fontaine in Venasque (very close to the Abbey) is my favorite restaurant in the area (I have had a house in the area for 25 years) (full disclosure, the chef, Christian, has become a good friend over the years). Christian's cooking is excellent, tied to the area, and is very reasonable (40 euros for 5 courses, including the most amazing cheese platter) it's not the largest (maybe 20 at any given time, but they are always the best). He even knows the goats which provide his chevre! The restaurant is very small, only about 30 seats, and he does all of the cooking himself. He is also extremely knowledgeable about food, and is happy to discuss techniques, concepts and anything else having to do with food (how it is grown, how animals are raised, etc.; he is a real student of the culinary arts). He also teaches cooking classes which are supposed to be amazing and extremely well priced (I have not attended any of his formal lessons myself, but just the other day he showed me a new way of breaking down a lobster when I stopped by - it was quite informative). Finally, he is a classical music aficionado and keeps a piano in the restaurant and on some nights invites pianists to give a concert before the meal. In such cases, you arrive around 8 and there is a one hour concert before dinner. On such nights, unlike most nights, the entire dinner is pre-set. You can find the restaurant's website here:


              6 Replies
              1. re: demo5

                Thanks for the recommendation, demo5. I'm looking forward to this trip, and to dining at Auberge de la Fontaine. I really want to find out more about Christian's cooking classes. What's the best way to get information about them? And, does it matter that I am not fluent in French?

                1. re: demo5

                  I've just looked at the web site for Auberge de la Fontaine and I've emailed Christian for information about dining reservations and his cooking classes. Are there any other restaurants in the area that you particularly enjoy?

                  1. re: demo5

                    I've contacted Auberge la Fontaine for dinner reservations on our anniversary on Sept. 6. Unfortunately, there are no dinner concerts during that week, but I'm sure dinner will be a wonderful event just the same. Should I tell Christian we're there because of your recommendation?

                    1. re: CindyJ


                      Please do let him know I sent you. I'm sorry I haven't replied earlier but I have been out of town. Tell him Jonathan from New York sent you. He is an extremely nice man. I do hope you get a chance to do a cooking class with him, as he is great to learn from. Otherwise, you can chat with him in the dining room, as he is always happy to talk about food and its preparation.

                      1. re: demo5

                        I'll do that, Jonathan. I'll be there in a couple of weeks.

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          Depending on how long you are in the area and what your plan are, I would also check out the following:

                          Mas Capoun, an extremely good value
                          For a blow-the-budget meal, Oustau de Baumaniere
                          The pizza at Chez Cherge in Carpentras (don't bother with the rest of the menu, it's only so-so
                          )Gouin is a great value - La Maison Gouin
                          44 Route d'Apt
                          Phone: 04 90 76 90 18

                          And, for, in my opinion, the best chocolatier in Fance, Joel Durand