Provence, in southern France is renowned for it’s vast fields of lavender. Magrit and I have recently returned to the USA after conducting a seven-day photo tour in this area.
The Luberon region of Provence is a great base for exploring the lavender fields. Many thanks to Kathy and Charley Wood of The Luberon Experience for their suggestion of a fantastic hotel in the small village of Bonnieux where we spent our seven nights. Think quintessential, elegant French charm — everyone greatly enjoyed it. From this base we had easy access to the lavender fields around Roussillon, Apt and Gordes as well as a more plentiful selection to the NW on the high plateau around Sault at the foot of Mont Ventoux. We also ventured to the east to the fabulous Valensole Plateau in the southern part of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. This flat plateau at an elevation of 500 meters is home to vast fields of lavender and wheat with some sunflowers thrown in.
Lavender blooms from the end of June until the first part of August. The peak time for full bloom is mid July but this can vary with altitude and rainfall. Last year the bloom was late and this year it was early. Our tour took place from July 12 to July 19 and the timing was just about perfect. We did experience some fields that were already harvested (and also got to watch the process of harvesting) but there is so much lavender that it was not an issue.
It is hard to describe in words just how wonderful it is to be standing in one of these lavender fields in full bloom. The scent is quite powerful, the bees are busy working and buzzing and, visually, it is just amazing which is why we venture into southern France with our cameras and tripods.
You might think that it easy to get great photographs of lavender if you visit these famous fields in Provence but I actually find it quite challenging. We are always searching for more elements in addition to the lavender to make our photographic compositions successful. These elements include:
- Rolling terrain. This really adds movement and dimension to the rows of lavender.
- Sky with clouds. Blue sky can be quite boring. Big, puffy clouds are great and stormy clouds are even better.
- Farmhouses, abbeys, rustic outbuildings, barns. Nothing modern. The older the better.
- Trees. I love lone trees in the middle of a lavender field.
- Other crops. Wheat and sunflowers are great next to lavender if you can find them.
One of the most popular lavender sites to visit is the famous Abbey of Senanque. A field of lavender leading to the front of the abbey allows for a perfect composition. We find that the afternoon light is best here. The beautifully austere interior of the abbey and church are also very much worth a visit with a camera and tripod. Our group spent a productive and satisfying two hours in the interior one morning. It helps to arrive early to avoid the crowds.
To add balance to this tour we also visited many charming villages. The Luberon region alone has five villages ranked among “The Most Beautiful Villages in France.”
Lacoste, only 10 minutes from Bonnieux, was one our favorites. This was the most well preserved village that I’ve experienced in Provence. Many of the villages have actually applied asphalt to their lanes while in Lacoste it is pure medieval cobblestone. We experienced a great evening “blue hour” session here, with a nice balance between the artificial street light and the ambient blue light in the sky roughly 45 minutes past sunset.
Roussillon is another very special village. The Romans used the distinctive ochre earth from this village for their pottery glazes. The village itself is made from the reddish local stone. The red and orange hues of the buildings accented with Provencal Blue window shutters make for very tasty photographs. I never tire of visiting this quaint village.
Speaking of tasty, the food in Provence is every bit as good as it’s great reputation. Delicious fresh ingredients expertly prepared and visually stunning abound. We would usually take our big meal midday when the light was harsh for photography and the temperatures were the warmest. And, of course, we always had to take photos before taking the first bite.
Our 2015 Lavender Tour will take place from July 11 to July 18. We will spend four nights in Bonnieux and three nights in Manosque to be closer to the lavender fields of the Valensole Plateau.
To learn more, please check out Lavender, Sunflowers & Village Tour.