Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Museum of Lavender

Six months of travel includes a lot of museums so one would think that after awhile you’d stop wanting to visit them. Strangely, this is not the case. I look forward to them. So even though the museum was called, “The Museum of Lavender”, I approached it with anticipation. I know what you’re thinking. The Museum of Lavender? Aren’t we becoming a wee bit desperate to spend quality tourism hours at a museum devoted to a smelly purple plant? I mean, other than the female octogenarian set with their blue rinse hair and sensible shoes, who would purposefully subject themselves to a whole afternoon enveloped by the heady scent of lavender? How much does one really need to know? Well, I’m glad you asked.

The museum is set up well with a brief introduction by a tour guide who will answer questions, a movie to place you in centre field, several displays and an audioguide to describe what you are seeing. I can tell you that this is the winning museum formula. Here’s what you want to know about lavender. It only grows in Provence. Yep, real lavender, the most pure kind will only grow above 1100ft in Provence. The rest of the world has to suffer with its close cousin, lavendine. Real lavender grows on one branch and produces only a fraction of what lavendine can produce. Real lavender has medicinal uses. It can help you sleep, soothe a cut or burn, make a calming tea and other things I can’t remember. In fact, we’re pretty sure that if you combined it with pure olive oil and smeared it on your body, you’d be invincible.

To produce the essence, they stuff a bunch of the plants into a huge cauldron. They use pitchforks to get rid of air pockets. Then they heat water below and the vapour rises through the plant matter. It wends its way through several coils, cooling and condensing into a liquid. One of these cauldrons full of lavender produces one cup or so of pure liquid essence. The picture on the left shows one of the first cauldrons to be used. There have been many improvements to production over the years but the process is essentially the same.

Lavender really became world renowned when tanners began using it to mask the smell of tannins used in producing gloves. Both the gloves and the lavender became huge successes. The picture on the right shows a travelling still. It was designed to produce wine but when laws changed and not just any Pierre, Jacques or Andres could produce wine, this still became a lavender production centre for awhile. Have lavender, will travel?

These people are serious about their lavender and even breed their own bees to aid in production. The bees that work in the lavender fields produce an exclusive honey which has a lighter, more delicate flavour. This honey can ONLY be produced in Provence. The beekeepers and lavender producers have a symbiotic relationship until harvest time when each believes their product should determine the correct time to reap the lavender. Now, we haven’t tried the honey but if we do, it will be with all the other gourmet products sold only in Provence. This place is a gastronomic connoisseur’s delight!


Steve said...

But where do the Epsom salts come from then? : )

maryanncart@shaw.ca said...

Loved reading about the lavender. Just talked to Jean and told her your Directoress story. She said Glen has left 3 messages regarding the blinds and received no reply. Vern is moving better as of yesterday. Off to Costco...
Love Mom

Mynnette said...

Dang- wish you could have been with the Orange Ladies when we traveled. We missed so many museums(Lawn mower, etc) but never took a chance on the Lavender museum.How smart you are to see it ALL now. And the wine tasting! Who drove? Maybe Rhys should have a chauffeur license.... Keep it up- I am bragging about you to any who will listen- Love, Mynnette