The Saffron Fields of Provence

Hidden twenty minutes outside of Marseille in the spectacular hills of the Mont du Marseillais, the tiny village of Lascours is host to fields of what is locally known as “Red gold”, or the Saffron fields of Provence.

Saffron Fields of Provence - Saffron Fields in Marseille - Lascours Saffron Fields - 13or RougeWhen you think of Saffron, you probably think of golden hues, exotic scents, and warm climates in faraway places.  But Provence?  Olives and Lavender, yes…  But never once did I consider it as a viable Saffron growing territory.  The Crocus bulbs that are responsible for Saffron (Crocus sativus (Iridaceae) have one very important soil requirement – excellent drainage. Crocus bulbs hate wet feet…  So, after all, what better place than Provence with its rocky terrain and hot dry climate!

Saffron Production in France

Saffron Fields of Provence - Saffron Fields in Marseille - Lascours Saffron Fields - 13or RougeFrance is just a hiccup on the Saffron scene with a mere few kilos per year, but back in the day Provence once had a bustling Saffron activity.  It’s one of the reasons you can still see many abandoned “Restanques” (tiered planting terraces) around Provence.  Cultivating Saffron is a very labor intense process, and with the world wars all the available labor was otherwise occupied leaving the fields abandoned.

Today there are 6 Saffron producers in Provence, with a scattering of other producers across France.  They are mostly small family run affairs, nothing in comparison to Iran which produces about 300 tons of Saffron (90% of the worlds Saffron production).  Other major Saffron producing countries include Morocco, Kashmir, and Greece.

Saffron Field Visits

Saffron Fields of Provence - Saffron Fields in Marseille - Lascours Saffron Fields - 13or RougeYou can tour the fields by joining the passionate and delightful owner Delphine Douet of “13or Rouge” (as in “trésor rouge”) every October as she opens her fields and her heart to the public.

This is a family love affair.  When we arrived, her mother was in the fields picking flowers… A bit later, her daughter with a cousin showed up to lend a hand.  Then her uncle.  Next her husband.  The harvest season is short, and the blooms wilt quickly.  The flowers lose their brilliant color and aromas if not attended to fast enough.  Harvesting (and absolutely everything else) is done entirely by hand, organically, so each and every available hand is essential!

In a whirlwind guided hands-on tour, Delphine escorts you to her fields where she describes her planting and harvesting methods, the virtues and many uses of Saffron, how to choose quality Saffron.  She then demonstrates how to harvest the blooms and stigmas invites you on to the fields to experience it for yourself.

Delphine can pick 1800 blooms in an hour.  It took me about 15 minutes to pick 30 blooms and I thought I was moving fast!  If you happen to visit in the month of May, you can also participate in the unearthing and replanting of the bulbs.

At the end of the visit, you will get to taste the products that 13or-rouge.com produces from the harvests.  Flavored syrups, jams, salt, and vinegars are available in addition to the Saffron filaments themselves.

A Few Local Saffron Producers in Provence:

Why not make a day of it?

Saffron Fields of Provence - Saffron Fields in Marseille - Lascours Saffron Fields - 13or RougeThe area around the Lascours, Roquevaire, and Garlaban Saffron Fields is simply breathtaking.  The tiny provencal villages have ancient city centers and churches that a worth a quick peak, with a charming marché Provençal that takes place every week in the season.  Activities include the “Foire aux Anes” (donkey festival) in May, and the International Orgue Festival in September.  The Restaurant L’Origan in Roquevaire has a pleasant terrace for dining on sunny days.

Saffron Fields of Provence - Saffron Fields in Marseille - Lascours Saffron Fields - 13or RougeHowever, what makes the area famous (in an off-the-beaten-track kind of way) is Marcel Pagnol.  His two literary masterpieces “La Gloire de mon père” and “Le Château de ma mère” are set here in the mountains where Pagnol spent his youth vacationing with his parents.  Make a day of it by hiking in the area and retracing Marcel Pagnol’s steps.

Saffron Fields of Provence - Saffron Fields in Marseille - Lascours Saffron Fields - 13or Rouge

While you are out there, try to find (or not) the famous “La Baumo dei Rato-Pennado” or Bat Cave in Provencal.  Careful though, hunting is allowed in the area from mid-September through February.

Popular Hikes

  • Mont du Marseillais The trail continues past the 13or-Rouge crocus fields in Lascours, cuminating at the Mont du Marseillais (628 m), NE of Garlaban. The views are incredible. 12km (Balisage Jaune). There is a shorter variation that can be done in 2+ hours.
  • Le Col du Marseillais – This is also a popular VTT and rock climbing area.
  • Sentier des Dansaïres – This popular trail leads you to the summit of «Mont du Garlaban». Beautiful views of the farms and cultivated crocus fields abound, with distant views of the villages of Lastour and Roquevaire. 3h (7.5km).
  • Les Marmites du Grand Vallon – Another splendid hike but with some non-technical rock climbing by aid of chains embedded in the rock. The “Marmites” are deep wide holes carved into the stone by ancient cascades now disappeared.    3h30

There’s plenty more coming up in my next post about French Saffron – fascinating facts, ancient legends, fraud alerts, intriguing medicinal uses, and exotic culinary recipes.   All from that ambiguous red gold…

Happy Travels,
-Girl Gone Gallic

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  11 comments for “The Saffron Fields of Provence

  1. November 29, 2016 at 7:47 am

    How sad so few saffron farms still exist and I would love to see the flowers being harvested. Their colour is stunning. #AllAboutFrance

  2. November 14, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    I love saffron and knew it was grown in Provence, but I’d always imagined the harvest to take place much later in the year. A visit to the farm sounds like a great idea, but the fact that there are the links to Pagnol too makes it even better- La Gloire de Mon Père is my favourite & a walk to the summit of the iconic Garalvan sounds just perfect!

  3. November 14, 2016 at 2:05 am

    Another great thing to do not so far from home, discovered thanks to your blog GGG. I’m sorry we’ve missed the harvest for this year, but perhaps next year we’ll try and get there. I had no idea saffron was grown so close to me, though I did know about it in SW France thanks to last month’s link up and Vanessa’s post. Thanks for sharing with #AllAboutFrance

  4. Diane
    November 12, 2016 at 7:26 am

    Lovely! Lavender and saffron…more reasons to love Provence.

  5. November 10, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Well, who would have associated Provence with saffron? What a great find – thanks for sharing it.

  6. November 10, 2016 at 8:07 am

    What a great day out! I’d love to see how they harvest the pistils.

  7. November 10, 2016 at 6:31 am

    Oh my goodness – this is the coolest! I had no idea how they harvested the saffron! Beautiful pictures – what an amazing thing to be part of! Thank you for sharing, Erin #AllAboutFrance Cheers from Copenhagen!

  8. November 10, 2016 at 5:52 am

    I didn’t realise saffron is grown in Provence as well as over here in SW France. It’s grown in a number of places here, but production is centred in particular on Cajarc on the Lot. They have a saffron festival each October, about which I wrote on my own blog. Fascinating facts and great pictures in your post – I look forward to the next one. I love the Marcel Pagnol novels.

    • November 10, 2016 at 5:53 am

      …and, of course, I should have said I was commenting as part of #AllAboutFrance.

  9. Clare Thomson
    November 10, 2016 at 2:05 am

    What a fun idea for a trip! I’m sure I’d be extremely slow about picking the blooms. I also really like the idea of combining it with a Marcel Pagnol tour – I loved reading his books as a child. #AllAboutFrance

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