Provence Part 2 - Rolling Lavender Fields of Valensole with Map

Provence Part 2 - Rolling Lavender Fields of Valensole with Map

I have waited for this moment for years. The moment I walked through the first lavender field in Valensole - the air smelt sweet, the bees were buzzing and I was submerged in a kaleidoscopic swirl of lavender blue that even the horizon was tainted in purple. Seeing these lavender fields in person transported me to another place - a magical, whimsical and unforgettable world where I lived in Peter Mayle’s dream for a week. These photos prove that it was all real and I hope you enjoy this travel and photography guide and get to chase your lavender dreams soon!

Practical travel tips:

Why Valensole? There are multiple lavender growing regions within Provence e.g. Luberon and Sault. After some research, I decided to focus on Plateau de Valensole. Covering over 800km2, this plateau is the biggest area in France devoted to growing lavender. This means more fields to choose from, including some of the largest lavender fields and longest lavender lines, those that stretch as far as the eye can see, rolling over hills and into the sunset!

Where to stay? I stayed in the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, a charming Provencal stone village with easy access to the fields of Valensole (15-30mins by car). There are other accommodation dotted around the plateau and village of Valensole and even more in the town of Aix-en-Provence (the home of L’Occitane). 

How to get around? A car is definitely the way to go as there are lots of fields over a large area. With your own car, you can go off into side roads and stay in each field for as long (or short) as you wish. If you can’t drive, consider hiring a bike or joining a private lavender field tour. 

How long to stay? You can probably cover the area in a day if you zip through by car but I recommend at least two days so you can soak in the beautiful scenes at your leisure, visit the charming medieval villages, indulge in the famed food and wine of the region and shop for lavender products. As a photography lover, I spent three days here to give myself the time to explore the area in-depth, re-visit favourite spots and watch more sunsets in this magical sea of purple. Every single moment has become precious travel memories.

Best blooming time: Lavender in Valensole tends to bloom mid-June to mid-July but it varies year to year depending on the weather. I visited on 28-30 June and was lucky enough to see the lavender and sunflower at their best! After they bloom, they will be harvested so if you miss them in Valnesole, try going to higher elevations and more North as lavender in these locations tend to bloom later (some lasts til mid-August).

Be prepared for sun and bees: With 300 sunny days a year, Valensole remains true to its name which means “valley of the sun”. Summer days are sunny and long with temperature reaching 30C so bring sunnies, hats, sunscreen and water. A cardigan is also recommended for morning/night so you can enjoy the breeze while dining outside. What the postcards and photos don’t capture are (1) the relaxing scent of lavender that fills the air all around; and (2) the presence of bees buzzing amongst the rows of lavender. I was a bit timid at first but couldn’t resist going deep into the fields so be careful and bring some bug spray and you should be ok! 

Food: Breakfast is typically provided by hotels. For lunch and dinner - definitely make time to check out restaurants and bistros in the villages (Provence is foodie heaven but that’s for another post) and booking is recommended during lavender season as this is peak tourist season. If you want to prep your own snacks/meals, stock up on supplies at the villages’ supermarkets and farmers’ market. Be aware that there won’t be corner stores or restaurants outside of the villages and life happens at a slower pace in the countryside so check opening hours (e.g. shops/restaurants tend to close in the afternoon between lunch and dinner and on Sundays/Mondays) and plan accordingly.

Photography tips:

Best light: Golden hour of course! Sunrise is around 6 am and sunset is around 9:30 pm. There are many daylight hours but the best light is around 5:30 - 7 am in the morning for pre-breakfast shoots and 7 - 10 pm at night (so be prepared to have an early or late dinner and pack snacks on the go). Due to the long days, it is difficult to catch both sunrise and sunset. Between the two, I think sunset tends to work better and it is incredible to watch the colour of the lavender change from light violet to deep purple to blue as the sun dips below the horizon so get there at least 2 hours before sunset.

Long lines: The linear effect (and the pure scent) of the lavender fields is what is most impressive to me. The parallel purple rows, snaking up and down the rolling hills seem to go on and on. Challenge yourself to find the longest lines, work with the horizon to create linear perspectives and try to frame the majestic mountains in the background.

Add an element: Whether it is a tree, a cottage, a bike or you, be creative with your shots! There are almond trees and shepherd’s huts dotted around the plateau, some of which are perfectly placed inside/next to lavender fields for that iconic image of Provence and I have listed them in the map below.

Find contrast: Lavender fields are postcard worthy on their own but go seek out lavender fields adjacent to golden wheat fields or sunflower fields for more beautiful and contrasting scenes.

Bracketing: I used the bracketing technique for some of the sunset shots i.e. taking the same photo more than once (using a tripod) at different exposure settings and merging them into one photo in Lightroom. This is because at sunset, it is difficult to have the foreground (lavender fields) and background (sky) properly exposed. This way, I get shots with each element properly exposed and then combine them into one shot.

Go off the beaten track: The lavender route/map below should serve as a good starting point. There are a few main roads and several more side roads so go on a detour and you will never know what gems you will find! The lavender fields tend to stay in the same location year after year but the sunflower fields can change (depending on where the farmers decide to plant them) so don’t be disappointed if the field in the map below has moved because this means you can find unique locations/composition!

Now onto my favourite spots...

Spot #1 - Sunrise spot with quaint Provencal cottage

The lavender fields line up beautifully with a cottage and tree right behind it. This is a popular sunrise spot to catch first light sweeping across the purple fields (there were a line of early risers ready with tripods on this morning).

Spot #2- Endless lavender fields with mountain backdrop

On this stretch of the D8 road, there are rows and rows of lavender sprawling across the fields, up and down, creating amazing linear lines and perspectives. The Alpilles mountains add some drama to the backdrop and reminded me a bit of Mt Fuji.

Spot #3 - The lone cottage in a sea of purple

This cottage is a magnet for tourists and photographers and for good reasons as it sits in the middle of a sea of purple. Go for a wander shoot it from different perspectives (front on and from the side). This is also great for sunset.

Spot #4 - Contrasting golden wheat fields

Who knew gold and purple can look this good? There is also a cottage next to the wheat field - so many possibilities for composition!

Spots #5 and #6 - Sunflower surprises

Farmers sometime change where they plant sunflowers year to year and you will see these pop up as you drive around Valensole. And sometimes, as a happy coincidence, they are planted between lavender fields to create that lavender-sunflower sandwich.

Spot #7 - Beautiful curves and sunset spot

This is one of the best photography spots and is two spots in one. On one side, it has all the elements for that iconic shot of Provence: rolling hills + cottage + tree. Depending on how you frame it, you can make the cottage the focus or make it blend into the horizon. I visited this spot on two separate days because it was that amazing and looked so different at different time of the day (the 1st photo was taken at around 5pm, the 2nd photo was taken at 9pm the next day).

On the other side of the above is a hill overlooking another field. This one is unique because the lavender are planted in a curved line and is a beautiful spot to watch the sunset.

What is your favourite spot, from my list or from your trip to provence?

Let me know in the comments below!