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Provence in May
In the steps of van Gogh - the Bouches du Rhone, the Camargue, the Vaucluse and the Pont du Gard

Provence Still Life
Pont du Gard

DATES: Monday May 18 - Wednesday May 27, 2015
PRICE: $3,959 per person double occupancy, $400 single supplement
LED BY: Barbara van Zanten. MAXIMUM NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: 5. PLACES LEFT: 1
PRICE INCLUDES: 9 nights accommodation in 3-star hotels, ground transportation, 2 evening meals, baggage transfer service, services of tour leader/driver.
NOT INCLUDED: Air fare to Marseilles, meals other than mentioned above, personal expenses, obligatory travel insurance.
PHYSICAL LEVEL: Might be fairly strenuous. Some steep streets in the hill towns, hot weather.
ARRIVAL: Marseilles airport. Please arrange your flights to be at Marseilles airport on the morning of May 18, 2015 1. We recommend arriving a day or two early to get over jet-lag.
DEPARTURE: Any time on May 28, 2015. Last night spent at the Best Western Hotel at Marseilles airport.

Provence is famous for the beauty of its villages and landscapes, the warmth of its climate, the smell of the lavender, and the allure of its lifestyle - a sunshine and olive oil-based Mediterranean civilization that attracts us all. Provence is a very big region stretching from Arles in the west to St. Tropez and the Riviera in the east, too big for any one tour to cover in ten days without spending hours driving....something we try to avoid. For this our fourth tour to Provence we will be concentrating on some famous and some not so famous regions: the Bouches du Rhone where van Gogh spent much of his time; the Camargue National Park with its unique marshy landscape, flocks of flamingos and wild white horses; the vineyards of the Cote du Rhone further north in the Vaucluse region; as well as a visit to the nearby gorgeous region of le Gard and the famous Roman Pont du Gard. This tour is perfect for first time visitors to Provence as well as those who wish to re-visit some of Provence's most beautiful places.

The quality of the light in Provence is special and has attracted many artists and photographers from Cezanne and van Gogh to Matisse and Picasso, from Lartigue to Cartier-Bresson. Much has changed in Provence since van Gogh's time but the quality of the light has remained the same. May is the perfect time to visit Provence. The visitor avoids the crowds and the stifling heat of summer, but benefits from May's not-too-warm weather and display of flowers and roses. Provence’s famous luminosity magnifies the panoramas on display from the top of every hilltop village, and the restaurants and cafes are all open and inviting. For several years I had the great pleasure of consulting with my friend, Provençal photographer Julien Lautier, who showed me his favorite towns & villages in the region, as well as the locations of some beautiful Provençal landscapes including “the most photographed tree in Provence”. Julien spends his life traveling throughout Provence shooting images for magazines, books and postcards that can be seen in practically every shop in southern France. Not only did he share his secret places with me but he marked every location on a map so that I would be able to find them again. This year again we will visit some of these charming, hidden, relatively untraveled places that only a local photographer can know, as well as some of the better known destinations. The lavender fields will not be in full bloom at this time, for that you have to go in late July or August - and battle the heat and crowds - but there will be plenty of other floral delights to photograph in the towns and villages.

Our tour begins with a morning pick-up at Marseilles’s Marignane airport from where we will drive to our first accommodation, a three-star hotel not far from St Remy de Provence in the Bouches du Rhone region. The towns and villages here live up to the classic stereotype of tranquil dusty streets, colorful shutters, shaded squares and outdoor cafe terraces. The surrounding landscape consists of olive groves and garrigue with the view of the Dentelles mountains in the distance. Our itinerary for the first three days will include a visit to St Remy de Provence, perhaps the most famous Provençal town of all, now a bit touristy but with lots of photo opportunities in the back streets. We will also explore other less well known villages for it is in these places that we usually find the unique photos and locations that we are constantly searching for. We will drive down to the Camargue National Park and seek out flamingos and wild white horses that roam the area freely. The Camargue was the very first place in France that I ever visited (when I was 17) and it is a magical place, unique in all of France. Bring insect repellent!

From our accommodation we will drive out early every morning to get to our photo destinations before the sun and heat are too strong. On the days we do not venture too far we will return to our hotel for a rest and a swim in the pool, or to set up one of our legendary still lifes or simply relax and listen to the cicadas chirp and grate their way through the long sultry afternoons as the air shimmers and vibrates. On other days we can go into the villages and enjoy the people, or a long lunch in the shade. In the late afternoons as the air cools we can go back into the landscape and capture the long rays of evening lighting up the glories of Provence or go into the village to photograph the locals playing a game of boules in the shaded village squares or night shots of the cafes and village streets, animated with spring-time fun.

Tearing ourselves away from this Provençal idyll we will then move further north-west and spend the next part of our tour in the neighboring Gard region of Languedoc. Here stands the most impressive vestige of the long Roman occupation of Provence, the three-tiered 49 meters high Pont du Gard. It is impossible to be staying so near to this monument and not visit it, so we will spend two nights at a hotel nearby so that we can shoot the bridge at sunset and illuminated at night. It is an astonishing sight, “the best testimony to the greatness of the Roman Empire” as a modest Roman architect, Frontinus exclaimed in 90AD (or thereabouts). It is also a challenge to photograph, but we are up to it are we not?

While in this area we will also visit several of the pretty and authentic villages of the region as well as an exquisite medieval town called Uzès. When seen from a distance, Uzès looks like a Tuscan village because of its decorative skyline dominated by the Tour Fenestrelle, a twelfth-century arcaded bell tower reminiscent of Pisa. The town is built in a pale yellow soft limestone that appears golden in the late afternoon sun. Uzès possesses some lovely medieval and Renaissance houses and mansions lining narrow cobble-stone streets and a lovely arcaded central square with a fountain in the middle. Although not on the Provence tourist route and therefore relatively unknown, Uzès is one of the most beautiful towns in the whole region.

The third part of our tour will be spent in the western half of the Vaucluse region, famous for its Cote du Rhone wine. Here we will find vineyards, olive groves, colorful markets and pastel painted stone hilltop villages. In these village squares roses, red geraniums, lantana and a whole host of exotic Mediterranean flowers will be tumbling out of olive jars, or clustering around colorful wooden shutters. Every village has a fountain and surrounding the villages there are vineyards, bursting with bright green growth in the sunshine and cherry orchards heavy with red fruit. Also on the itinerary will be some of Julien’s secrets, the smaller, unknown but extremely pretty neighboring villages in the region that escape the attention of the guide books and the tourist masses. We will spend three nights at a hotel that is also a winery. From here we will visit nearby Vaison La Romaine an ancient Provençal town with impressive Roman ruins and a wonderful market.

Also on our itinerary will be stone villages such as Seguret, classified as one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France, and several of the pretty villages in the Dentelles as well as some famous vineyards and wine making villages such as Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas.

We will drive to Marseilles airport on May 26 and will stay the night at an airport hotel. Please arrange your flights to leave any time on May 27, 2015..

This will be an intense tour packed with great places to shoot. We will be there in the middle of May which means we will not experience the full blown summer crush. European kids are still in school at that time and anyway, we will be up earlier than anyone else and will have the villages and landscapes to ourselves. Some of the hill villages have steep streets and climbing them is not for the feint hearted. There are plenty of cafes however for all of us to sit in when we need a rest…

to sign up for this tour click here

for Barbara's monochrome images of Provence click here

for clients' images from previous tours to Provence click here
and scroll to the section on France
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for Barbara's images from our 2008 tour Summer in Provence click here

for photos of the group enjoying themselves during our last tour of Provence click here

for Julien Lautier's images of Provence click here