By Sherri Telenko
There’s a gentle breeze today, and that’s a good thing, otherwise the blistering sun would be unbearable as I get my feet massaged under umbrellas in a lavender field. Yes, public massage on a farm. At first, I’m a little uncomfortable, wondering where to look as the young, white-coat clad professional masseur perches on a blue exercise ball at my feet, slowly rubbing essential oil over my aching arches and up my calves. It’s a remarkably personal experience to have your toes caressed while others picnic within earshot or tour the Bleu Lavande property in Quebec learning about the therapeutic benefits of this fragrant tufted purple plant.
But eventually I relax and listen to the distance sound of tractors humming. It’s the first time I’ve heard the sound of machinery during a spa treatment, but this is a working farm first and foremost called Bleu Lavandre atop of Applegrove Hill near Fitch Bay about a 90-minute drive from Montreal.
Bleu Lavande is textbook agri-tourism – or perhaps best case scenario example – of how to develop a crop, resulting product (or product line as in this case) and public interest by offering an experience at the farm that’s worth the price of admission ($7 per person or $20 seasons pass). At the door, visitors are first guided to a video presentation in a barn explaining the evolution of this family-run cottage industry that opened in 1999.
Bleu Lavande – both agricultural and retail operations – is the entrepreneurial offspring of Pierre Pellerin, an electrical engineer who prides himself on being able to modify farm equipment specific for lavender cultivation, and Christine Deschesnes who oversees the boutique and product marking component.
The couple bought the property twelve years ago and opened it to the public in 2004. Today they have more than 200,000 lavender plants on 60 acres distilling essential oils and waters from 17.5 tonnes of flowers each season.
Bleu Lavande in Quebec, a working farm and spa
The business has its own lavender-based products made from both essential oils and plant water, such as bath and massage oil, antibacterial gel, soap, cleaning products and even chocolate. The products are sold in the white-shelved on-site boutique (expanded three times since opening) and in five company-owned stores in Montreal, and one in Quebec City.
Bleu Lavande now the largest certified organic lavender producer in Canada.
After the introductory video, visitors join a tour of the farm (45-minutes including film), enter the educational barn containing wall charts and a distiller and learn how lavender is grown, harvested and pressed into both essential oil and distilled lavender water.
According to tour guide Jim Strew, it takes about 500 kg of plants to produce about 3 to 4 litres of oil. “The oil has antibacterial properties,” he says. “It keeps away insects and animals and is very relaxing, soothing headaches when rubbed on your temples and wrists.”
While the therapeutic properties of essential oils are not definitively proven, advocates are enthusiastic. Some, like Robert Achal of Busy Bee Gardens and Neob product line in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, say that lavender can relieve stomach, head and back aches, help complicated skin irritations including burns and when used aromatically can assist with opening breathing passages and lungs, clearing sinuses and helping headaches. What’s important is that the essential oil or hydrosol is real, organic, and not synthetic.
For some people, a drive to Bleu Lavande in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is a chance to stock up on high quality products that sooth body and soul. For others, it’s a trip out of the city to the country for the day, enjoying fresh air and a slower pace. Picnic tables dot the slopping fields of lavender for those who bring their lunch and want to spend the afternoon. Or new this summer is a terrace serving bistro-style lunches (such as plates of assorted Quebec cheeses and smoked fish) and the addition of outdoor massage services.
Lavender products are about restoration and relaxation, so the idea of a spa among the fields maybe isn’t so peculiar. Foot massages are done on the crest of a purple blanketed valley and the full-body (yes, full-body) treatments happen one field over, outside the view of strolling families and couples taking photos among the plants. The a sultan-like square tents hide massage tables behind gauze curtains, providing privacy without blocking the view of lavender shrubs gently swaying in the breeze miles from traffic jams and congested streets.
Bleu Lavande, 891 Narrow (Route 247), Stanstead (Fitch Bay), Quebec, www.bleulavande.ca. It’s open daily from 10 am to 5pm June to Labour Day