Camargue Horses & Provence Lavender 2017 Trip Report

By Jeff Vanuga on Jul 26, 2017

In past years Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris has run many tours featuring the White Horses of France’s Camargue and it is always an exceptional photographic trip.  This year we adjusted the timing of trip to the month of July to include the “Best of Provence,” focusing on the lavender and sunflower fields in full bloom and the region’s cultural and architectural treasures, as well as the Camargue horses.

Our group met in Marseilles and, after a day's rest and a welcome dinner, we drove north to L’ Isle-sur- la-Sorgue, a quaint little village famous for its many streamside cafés and restaurants along the Sorgue River.  After lunch we toured the ancient city before heading out to the impressive lavender fields that carpet the Plateau of Valensole for our first evening shoot.  This expansive plateau covers 300 square miles and is a central agricultural area for both lavender and sunflower production.  The air was fragrant with the flowers in full bloom and our group wasted no time in photographing the leading lines that the rows of flowers provided.  Lavender is the soul of Provence and products made from the plants, including soaps and perfumes, are sold in local shops or, like lavender honey and lavender sorbet, part of the local cuisine.

Photographing lavender in ProvenceOne of my favorite locations for shooting the lavender fields was outside the village of Aurel.  Here we found a sloping field in full bloom with beautiful leading lines of lavender taking the viewer’s eye directly to the village in the background.  We photographed at this location for most of the evening, making numerous compositions and dodging the thousands of bees that inhabit these magnificent fields of flowers.  As long as one does not move fast or in haste all is well, but if you are allergic to bee stings it is probably not the place to hang out!

An early morning departure the next day brought us to the village of Roussilon.  Perched on a high ochre ridge Roussilon overlooks a broad and scenic valley below.  The area is known for the ochre found in the clay surrounding the plateau and all the buildings in Roussilon have that characteristic red/yellow ochre color.  After shooting the village we roamed the streets and photographed details of the local architecture, including the windows, doors and archways that are always points of photographic interest throughout Europe.  The evening shoot brought us to the city of Avignon located along the Rhone River.  We had dinner at a wonderful restaurant, Le Bercail, situated on the bank of the river with stunning views of Avignon and the Palais des Papes (the Palace of the Popes).  Dating back to the 13th century, the medieval Gothic building was both a palace and a fortress, and during the 14th century was known as the pope’s residence.  After a fine dinner we walked a few yards and had perfect mirror reflections of the palace during the prime time blue hour.  A perfect ending to another perfect day.

Lavender field at Senanque Abbey, GordesThe following morning we visited the 12th-century Romanesque Notre-Dame de Senanque Abbey which is famous for its iconic purple lavender fields still farmed by local monks.  The abbey was founded in 1148 by Cistercian monks from Mazan and it is still operated and maintained as it was throughout history.  Photographing the abbey and lavender fields was like taking a step back in time.   Afterwards we headed to the nearby hilltop village of Gordes and spent the evening and following morning photographing this ancient city that dates back to the Romans.  We photographed the Benedictine abbey known as Saint-Chaffre, which was built by monks in the 8th century, and the Castrum Gordone castle built in 1031.   We timed our visit for the small hillside village’s market day when many vendors were selling homemade cheeses, jams, spreads, lavender products, and clothing.  Artisans of all types from painters to photographers were also present on market day, which made for one stop shopping for many.  In the morning we returned to an overlook which provided a beautiful scenic view with the sun coming up over a distant horizon.

White horses of Camargue FranceAfter visiting other cultural sites and photographing farm fields in the region we headed to the seaside town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the capital of the Camargue.  Here, our 5-star accommodations located a short distance from the main part of the city provided us with excellent lodging and food that is out of this world.  I have traveled to many locations around the world and consider the cuisine here as over the top.  One of the highlights of the trip is dining in this fine restaurant and sampling the famed fine wines of France.  Our photographic emphasis in this region was, of course, the famous white horses of the Camargue.  We photographed at numerous ranch properties, giving us a wide range of backdrops and horse behaviors.  Horses running through the shallow waters of salt marshes, horses running through ocean waves, and fighting stallions highlighted our shoots.  My gauge of our success for the trip was listening to the din of motor drives as participants put their cameras through the paces!

Camargue horseAltogether we had a great trip.  Our group enjoyed the best of southern France, including the friendly people, culture, history, fine cuisine, world class wine and wonderful photographic opportunities. The trip was rewarding both photographically and spiritually as we savored the relaxed atmosphere of this part of France.  Indeed, France is a 10 on my list of places and I hope we do this amazing trip again in the future.  I hope to see you all on another adventure—and, if I am leading the Camargue Horses & Provence Lavender tour, the first glass of wine is on me!

Related Tags:  camargue, france, jeff, lavendar, provence, vanuga