When I am asked about my favorite travel experience, I like to say that I once carried 20 pounds of chocolate while hitchhiking across lavender fields in the south of France.
France will always feel like home to me. During my early 20’s, I lived in Paris and several places in Northern France for 18 months, and I love all things French. From the first time I heard of the Plateau de Valensole, I daydreamed of visiting and walking through the fields of lavender.
This story takes place a year after I moved away from France. I spent a summer interning in Ireland and my best friend Alena was a marketing intern at a German chocolate factory. She and I I decided to spend a few days in Paris and one day in the lavender fields. We both had to take time off, so Alena’s boss asked us to stage a photo shoot of their products in the fields.
After a few golden days visiting my Parisian friends and old stomping grounds, Alena and I woke up early to catch a train that would take us out of the city. Our bags were heavy with camera gear and chocolate. I had never felt so excited for an adventure.
We traveled to Aix-en-Provence and took an hourlong bus ride to another station. From there, we walked into the small town of Manosque. We bought lunch for later in the day and ice to keep the chocolate cool, and I found a bus driver willing to make an unofficial stop near the Plateau de Valensole.
The bus rolled along country roads and eventually wheezed to a halt next to a sea of purple. We thanked the driver and went down the bus stairs, each step feeling surreal. For years, I had rehearsed in my mind how it would be to explore the lavender fields, but the reality was better than anything I had imagined.
There was no one in sight, so Alena and I ditched our bags at the field’s edge and roamed. The soil was rich and red, capped with purple mounds in neat rows. The midsummer sky was a perfect blue with wispy clouds drifting by. Bees hummed. Perfume hung in the air, subtle at first, but more intoxicating with each minute. Everything about the Plateau de Valensole was hypnotic.
The lavender rows slanted upward, so I set out to ascend the rolling hill, not even noticing if Alena was following. The white-hot sun made me squint, but I didn’t put on my sunglasses. I didn’t want to distort the colors of the scene I had dreamed about for so long. And now that I had arrived, after weeks of planning and hours of traveling, I wanted to form an unfiltered memory.
When I looked over my shoulder, I saw Alena a few rows over. She looked as awestruck as I felt, breathing in the earthy air and feeling the heat on our arms and faces. We stayed in the middle of the field for a few minutes, returning to our backpacks in a daze.
Alena unpacked her gear and snapped several photos of the chocolate packages among the lavender. I modeled for her, which meant nibbling chocolates and beaming at the camera. I’m usually camera-shy, but smiling has never felt as natural as it did that day.
We eventually decided to move on, so we hitchhiked to the village of Valensole. An Italian couple picked us up, explaining that they lived in Tuscany but visited France every summer. When they let us out of the car, we found purple storefronts and a bubbling fountain in the town center. We bought postcards and hitchhiked again, this time asking a local woman to drop us off at her favorite lavender field.
The woman had excellent taste.
The second field included an abandoned stone hut where we ate our picnic. Our baguette, tabbouleh, and fruit were delicious, and it felt nice to retreat from the dazzling sun. I couldn’t stop peeking through the hut’s glassless window at the lavender that engulfed us entirely.
Even though we were close to town, we saw little traffic. Camera-toting people tumbled from a few cars, but everyone spread out and claimed their own section of the fields.
I never knew isolation could feel so nice, but there’s something special about that purple dot on our blue-green planet.
Alena and I spent a few hours taking pictures of melting chocolate and running through lavender. I felt like I was floating. I danced up and down the rows, savoring every moment and wishing the day didn’t have to end. The entire afternoon still glows in my memory.
Alena and I began trekking back to Manosque, where a bus would take us to Aix-en-Provence so we could return to Paris. We gave a thumbs-up to each passing vehicle and a car pulled over before too long. Jacques and Patricia, a friendly couple from Marseille, asked where we were going and invited us into their backseat.
Alena didn’t speak French, but she communicated with hand gestures during the car ride. I got to know Jacques and Patricia and I told them about our lives in the U.S. and our summers in Europe. As we moved into a discussion about politics and art, the couple volunteered to drive us all the way to the train station in Aix-en-Provence.
I translated for Alena. We were both surprised by their kindness, and we thanked them and accepted the offer. The conversation kept going, just as animated when we reached the train station as it had been when the ride began.
Right before we got out of the car, we gifted Jacques and Patricia with chocolates, promising that they would resolidify and taste just fine. Patricia gave me her phone number so we could stay in touch. I’ve never felt more grateful for a pair of strangers.
We waved goodbye as they drove out of the parking lot, and then we turned to walk inside the station.
Any passerby would tell you that we trudged inside, heavy backpacks pushing our weight into the ground. But to me, we glided in, weightless. I could still smell lavender when I breathed deeply, and I could still see purple when I closed my eyes. Our afternoon had become my new favorite daydream.