National Geographic : 1960 Jun
of jagged granite peaks led away to infinity. That afternoon we picnicked on the grassy slopes of La Fl6gre, on the other side of the valley, where hikers of all ages could enjoy Alpine exercise without needing the skill of a human fly. On a Sunday morning in early September we stood on the high balcony of our hotel room overlooking Ribeauvill, one of the necklace of picturesque old wine towns strung along the strip of vineyards that cloak the eastern foothills of the Vosges Mountains. Before us stretched a fertile plain between the Vosges and the River Rhine, 14 miles dis tant. This land constitutes the greater part of rich Alsace, French once more after being under German occupation for 53 years out of the past 90. Above us and to our left rose the ruins of three of the many old castles that, centuries ago, dominated the valley from the wooded heights. A knock on the door announced the cham bermaid, carrying a large French flag. "Today is the Festival of the Mbnvtriers wandering minstrels," she said. "I have come to decorate your balcony." She noted our nationality and disappeared for a short time. To our surprise, she re KODACHROMES © NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY clumps remain where the cutters have already passed. At right a slender chimney rises from the still which extracts the essence. Blue haze shrouds the rugged Alps of Provence. Sickle Swinger Harvests Lavender From a Field Near Puimoisson Pickers collect the spikes in August. Taken directly to a still, the flowers give up their aromatic oil through steam distillation. An acre of lavender yields 10 to 30 pounds of oil, depending on the weather. Southern France reigns as the floral-oil center of the world. Farmers patiently watch calendar and clock for the exact moment to pluck their ripened crops of jasmine, roses, orange blossoms, violets, and carnations.