Viva Lavandula's lavender fields
Food blogger Paola Duque-Westbeek discovers a tiny bit of Provence in the Netherlands. And it smells good!
The spirit of France
Francophiles living in The Netherlands have a new reason to rejoice--they no longer have to embark on a trip to Provence to alleviate nostalgia for long, lush pastures of lavender. Since the opening of Viva Lavandula in April 2009, the spirit of la douce France has come to the Lowlands in the form of ten hectares of fragrant lavender fields. But it's not only Francophiles who are in luck. Anyone looking to leave their everyday stress behind them is bound to emerge a happier person after a visit to these peaceful surroundings.
Situated in Markensse, amidst the Flevopolder’s unspoiled countryside, Viva Lavandula is a magnificent place to indulge all of your senses. A visit during the bloom season which runs from June until the end of September, promises an explosion of colour and perfume. Row upon row of bright purple flowers offer spectacular views while embalming you in the invigorating and relaxing scent of lavender.
Beauty, knowledge and relaxation
After paying a small entrance fee, you are free to wander through the lavender fields. This is definitely something you'll want to savour, so make sure you plan your visit when time is not an issue. You'll probably be tempted to make frequent stops along the way to take deep breaths or to simply run your hands through the sweet- smelling blooms, hoping to ‘catch’ even more of their relaxing fragrance. Of course, you can also choose to sit in the gazebo strategically placed on an elevated area in the middle of the fields—permitting yourself the pleasure of quietly taking it all in.
Viva Lavandula's unique concept is the brainwave of Elsbeth van Andel and Joop van der Molen. Their idea was to provide visitors with a beautifully serene retreat where, simultaneously, they could also acquire more knowledge about the versatile lavender plant. And indeed, there is a wealth of information to be gained through the various indoor and outdoor displays and in the books available at the reading tables.
Did you know, for example, that lavender is not only beautiful and soothing to the senses, but that it lends itself superbly to various culinary uses? Lavender pairs exceptionally well with chocolate for example. Just the tiniest amount can add a touch of elegance to any traditional chocolate cake recipe. Why not sprinkle a little bit into your usual sugar cookie recipe or pair it with summer berries in a refreshing compote to serve over ice-cream? If you’re not that adventurous in the kitchen, just make a stop at Viva Lavandula's café to enjoy a cup of lavender tea or spoil yourself with a slice of their amazing lavender cream cake.
Before leaving Viva Lavandula, make sure to drop into their well- stocked souvenir shop. You'll find everything from decorative bunches of dried lavender to lavender lip balm and even lavender liqueur. All paying visitors are entitled to a small discount which can either be used in the shop or in the café.
A perfect idea for the next sunny day
Viva Lavandula is at its prettiest until the end of September, so take advantage of the next sunny day and escape to this tiny bit of Provence- right here in The Netherlands! And to get you in the mood, here is a delicious recipe for thin, crispy chocolate lavender cookies. Bon appétit!
Thin Chocolate Lavender Cookies
Makes about 40 cookies
- 200g self-raising flour
- 200g caster sugar
- 225g butter, softened
- 1 tbsp dried lavender flowers (edible lavender!)
- 2 tbsps quality cocoa powder
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 180C and line a cookie sheet with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. I used my Kitchen Aid for this. Add the egg and continue beating. Beat in the flour, chocolate, salt and lavender, making sure that the lavender is evenly distributed. Take small teaspoonfuls of the dough and form into fat, little discs of about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place on prepared cookie sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart and bake for 15-18 minutes. Carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cookies will be soft when they come out of the oven but will crisp while cooling.
Note: It is extremely important that you use lavender which is suitable for consumption. Don't purchase your culinary lavender from a garden centre as the plants are usually sprayed with pesticides.
More tips around lavender
- Insomnia? Keep a small sachet of dried lavender on your night table. To ease a headache, gently rub a few drops of lavender oil on your temples. For stress, hang your head above a bowl of hot water with a few drops of lavender oil.
- Keep the lavender in your garden pretty by trimming it twice a year- once around the end of April and then again after the bloom. Don't cut into the woody portion though. Make sure to leave some green on the plant.
- If you want to dry your harvested lavender, tie as much as you can hold in one hand with a rubber band. Hang your lavender bunches upside down for about two weeks in a cool, dry place, preferably a shed.
- Throw a few lavender stems into your outdoor evening fire- an excellent (and fragrant) way to repel mosquitoes!
Interested in cooking with lavender? Mijn Zoete Leven conducts all sorts of culinary workshops. In the near future we will officially launch our new company La Douce Vie. Contact us for unforgettable creative/ culinary weekends in France. Another excellent way to leave everyday stress behind you!
Paola Duque-Westbeek / Expatica
Paola Duque-Westbeek has a passion for good food and the Dutch culture of the Golden Age. She has a BA in Dutch Studies from the University of Leiden with an emphasis on Dutch 17th century painting. Her interest in pure food and eating well has grown into a small and flourishing business. For more information visit Mijn Zoete Leven.
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