Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04210) Population: 2,202 Altitude: 595 m
Valensole is a very interesting little town built on the side of a hill overlooking a small river valley. It's located at the northern edge of the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon, on the Valensole Plateau, famous for the lavender fields. Market day 2nd Wed, Sat.
The town is quite large and the streets are interesting, so you'll need a few hours (or a couple of days) and some energy to see it all. The town center has a compact main street with shop, restaurants and cafés, a wonderful old fountain, a wonderful old sundial, and a large and interesting lavoir. The cafés are open, friendly places, light inside and shady outside.
Our latest visit to Valensole was on their annual vide grenier (flea market) day, lending the town a lot more activity than normal for a Sunday. Even without the added activity, though, this is a dynamic and interesting little town.
The streets of the old town traverse back and forth from the center up to the top of the hill. The houses are neatly restored, many decorated with lovely Provençal colors, and often outlined in a soft grey trim. We found many picturesque old shutters, little wrought-iron balconies and ancient doorways.
With the Vide Grenier de la Grande-Rue, residents set up their individual flea-market stalls in front of their houses. With many of the residents sitting or standing about in the streets, and the leisurely shoppers wandering about, the old town had the festive air of one huge family party.
Many lavender distilleries are scattered about the countryside surrounding Valensole. We saw a few just on our drive into town, up the valley from Gréoux.
We were told that one of the Valensole distilleries is the only one left [in the region?] that still uses the classic method: separating the flowers from the stalks, using the stalks to fuel the furnace and cooking the flowers - rather than throwing everything together into an hermetic pressure-cooker type of still. The Office de Tourisme was closed on Sunday, where we had hoped to get more information on this.
The sundial, near the fountain, high above the boulangerie, is "only" a century old. Dated 1903, with subtle colors, it has a simple but pretty design.
Other than Saint Mayeul, Valensole was the home of the Admiral of Villeneuve, who commanded the French fleet at Trafalgar.
History of Valensole
Celto-Ligurian: Valensole was an ancient rural commune (pagus) of the Variacens tribe, later occupied by the Romans. The primitive habitation was located on the plane near the hamlet of Arlane, about 4 km east of the current town. Following the Barbarian invasions, it was moved to the hilltop of the current location.
Gallo-Roman: Gallo-Roman vestiges have been discovered here, including tombs an medals.
Medieval: The Wars of Religion were particularly bloody here during the second half of the 16th century.
The town became important from the 10th century, owned half and half by the Counts of Provence and the domain of the Fauchers. The last of the Faucher family was Saint Mayeul (906-994), Abbey of Cluny. Mayeul gave over all his worldly belongings to the Count of Provence; on the Count's death, he gave Valensole to Cluny who became the town's lord.
Market day: 2nd Wed, Sat.
June - Foire de la St Jean
July - Fête de la Lavande - all-day events, markets; Visit to fields and distilleries; Folklorique groups; Floats
• GPS: 43.837223, 5.984011
IGN (1/25,000) #3342 ET "Plateau de Valensole"
There are a few loop hikes from Valensole, but they are more through farmland and lavender fields than wooded hills, so not great for hot summer days.
Department 04, Alpes-de-Haute Provence Buses
- See Beyond's Alpes-de-Haute Provence (04) Bus Schedules for downloading Alpes-de-Haute Provence bus-lines map and bus-line schedules [pdf for each line] (link for PDF files).