The Lavender Fields of Sénanque Abbey
Photo by Cees Kassenberg Photography
Close your eyes and picture a summer morning before the sun has risen too far. Warm but pleasant as a breeze carries the scent of lavender to you. Listen to the wind whistling through the trees and over the slopes of the hills. Slowly open your eyes and behold row upon row of bushy lavender plants, brilliant purple flowers gently swaying. Just beyond the lavender lies the stone walls of a nearly one-thousand-year-old architectural jewel.
The monks of Sénanque Abbey welcome you.
The History of the Abbey
“Calandra had heard of the legendary lavender fields of Provence. But she wasn’t prepared for the stunning beauty of it in person. A stone church sat at the base of tree-covered hills, surrounded by thick bushes nearly bursting with violet-colored flowers lined up, one after another.”
Travel back in time to 23rd of June, 1148, and you would be present at the founding of the Abbey by a dozen Cistercian monks. The Abbey was founded in a narrow valley and, by order of Saint Benedict, maintained its own mill, garden and bakery so the monks could live in seclusion. A nearby river served as a lifeline and, as the Abbey theorizes on its history
page, was probably the source of the name; the Sénancole. It took 60 years to complete the Abbey, which quickly found success thanks to the dedication of the monks and monetary supports from a wealthy family in the nearby village of Gordes and several other generous benefactors. At its peak, the Abbey operated four mills, a hospital, a hospice and multiple houses.
Unfortunately, this period only lasted a couple hundred years. The Abbey survived a series of horrific events, including wars, the plague and even a direct attack on the Abbey that resulted in the hanging of twelve monks and a fire that destroyed the south part of the monastery. The Abbey was sold in 1792 and signs of its religious affiliation were destroyed. Over the years, monks occupied the monastery several times but were evicted by police.
While the Abbey changed hands several times in the 20th century, including an occupation of 45 years by monks, it earned the designation of being a national historic monument. This led to multiple repairs and, in November of 1988, Cistercian monks moved back into the Abbey. Today, it still functions as a monastery. The brothers manage not only their religious lifestyles and the maintenance of this historic property, but also grow lavender and olives trees, produce honey and operate tours and a gift shop on-site.
Where is the Abbey located?
“Alejandro gestured to the north. A village perched on a hilltop, the collection of white stone buildings arranged in a charming cluster on the mountainside.”
The Abbey is located eleven minutes from the village of Gordes, described as one of the most beautiful villages in France, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Gordes is just over an hour north of Marseille, but over seven hours south of Paris.
Can I visit?
“They walked up the drive, the walls of the abbey growing larger as they neared. She found herself entranced by the ancient stone, the elegantly carved windows and the tower that stood proudly against the backdrop of the tree-covered hills. The soothing scent of the lavender surrounded them, floral and sweet. ‘It doesn’t seem real,’ Calandra finally said. ‘Like a fairy tale.’”
The Abbey welcomes visitors and offers tours of the dormitory, cloister, warming room and chapter house, all built between the 12th and 13th centuries. The church itself is closed for renovations and will open again soon. One-hour tours are offered in French, as well as complimentary tablets with 10 different languages. Prices are incredibly affordable (8,50 € per adult), and visitors can stop by the store afterwards and purchase items made from the lavender and honey harvested on-site.
Photo from Sénanque Abbey website
Not planning a trip to France anytime soon? You can still purchase items via their online store.
I also recommend exploring, either in-person or virtually, the village of Gordes. The pictures I came across were absolutely stunning. In finding a place to strand Calandra and Alejandro for a night so they could physically reconnect after opening up to each other emotionally, I
was delighted to base the Lavender Inn off the real-life Hotel Les Bories & Spa, which is also now on my mom’s and my travel bucket list (I’m going to use all my royalties traveling to the places I come across in my research!).
“They drove by the front two lavender fields, the first a large open area with at least a dozen rows of thick, bushy lavender plants. Across a small bridge and behind a line of trees lay another field, smaller but still boasting the same vibrant purple flowers.”
I knew I wanted to set one of my scenes amongst the lavender fields of Provence. But finding THE lavender field was a challenge. Enter travel bloggers and their wonderful research, including Ellie, aka the Ginger Wanderlust. Her post on the best lavender fields for photos, including Sénanque Abbey, helped me find not only the Abbey and its beautiful lavender but the nearby village of Gordes.
Photos by The Ginger Wanderlust
However, if you decide to travel to France and add the lavender fields to your travel list, make sure to research the numerous possibilities. Also, as Ellie mentions, it’s important for visitors to be respectful of the lavender fields they take photos in. This includes buying lavender from vendors before photos versus plucking on site, not stepping on plants and picking up trash so the fields can be around for generations to come.
Fun fact: Lavender is a flowering shrub, not an herb, as I found out when I dove into its history (think I can convince my local nursery/hardware store to switch what category they list lavender under?). Lavender has been around for at least 2,500 years, and I can’t wait to share more on my upcoming blog post (hint, hint: check back September 14th for a post dedicated to lavender and my attempts to make a lavender-scented lotion for my mother-in-law).
Proof of Their One Hot Night: Releasing September 28th
She turned her head, probably to deliver a cutting remark, but whatever she was about to say was lost as their eyes met. The coldness disappeared once more, steel softening into misty gray that flared bright with desire, longing and…
He blinked. Something so sad it tugged at his heart.
She shook her head and reached for the door.
“Goodbye, Señor Cabrera.”
The door slammed shut, and the taxi sped off. He watched it until it was swallowed up in the sea of New York traffic.
Do Calandra and Alejandro reunite? Does she tell him about their baby? Will they find true love in each other’s arms?
The answer is, of course, yes (I never write UHEA—UnHappy Ever Afters), but the journey is so much fun! I love, love, loved writing Calandra and Alejandro’s verbal spars and tortured journeys to finding healing as they fell deeper in love. I hope you enjoy their story, too!
Missed out on Everleigh and Adrian’s love story, set amongst the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Spain? Pick up your copy today with:
As always, I came across amazing articles and photos for this post. Learn more about each topic by clicking on the accompanying links or the photos to reach the websites and photographers who captured the stunning imagery.
Photo 1: Cees Kassenberg Photography
Photo 2: https://www.instagram.com/labastidedesansebastien/
Photo 3: https://www.instagram.com/amandanippoldt/
Photo 4: Sénanque Abbey
Photo 5: https://www.temptingplaces.com/_files/_media/222/Bories/transat.jpg
Photos 6 & 7: https://thegingerwanderlust.com/2019/07/05/where-to-find-the-best-lavender-fields-in-provence/