Saturday, December 19, 2009

We're in Lavender Country!

Next stop was the lavender museum in the small town of Coustellet, which is about 40 km east of Avignon. I wasn't sure what to expect, as I had to wonder what could be of interest there...

The first thing you learn is that there are two types of lavender used in the perfume industry. Since I am very interested in plants, it immediately became interesting.

Neither of these are the ornamental lavenders we grow in our gardens. One is referred to as fine lavender and it is distilled and sold as a perfume, which is very expensive. It is very hardy and and grows from 800 mt (~2500') to 1400 mt (~4500') in altitude.

The other is a hybrid that was developed to produce more flowers and therefore more perfume. It has many branches whereas the ornamental one has more compact flowers and the flowers are on an unbranched stem.

(taken from the website of the Lavender Museum)

The hybrid lavender is referred to as lavandine. It grows in limestone soils, below 600 mt (~2000'). The perfume has a camphor smell, though you can still tell that it is lavender. It is used to scent things like wash detergent and is called an industrial perfume. It is no longer cultivated in France.

(one of the very early stills used to extract the essential oil)

Once in the actual museum we were handed an object about the same size as a walkie-talkie, which explained all the exhibits to us. They have them available in many languages. We simply pressed the button of the display and we got an excellent explanation. This made a huge difference to our enjoyment of the museum. The tour went at whatever pace you wanted it to and you didn't have to read anything.

A lovely watercolour poster about the production of the essential oil. It takes 130 kg of lavender flowers to make one kg of essential oil and 20 to 25 kg of essential oil is produced per hectare (2.5 acres).

Lavender blooms in June, July and early August and is harvested when in full bloom. The countryside is a patchwork of purple fields during bloom-time and many artists are inspired to paint the scene.

The boutique has beautiful (but expensive) products...lotions, massage oil, soaps, bubble bath, eau de toilette, shower gel, etc.

We truly enjoyed this museum!

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