Sunday, October 31, 2010

The OM Café: Football Heaven on Marseille's Old Port

If you can't make it to the Stade Vélodrome, the OM Café, situated in a prime location at the bottom of La Canebière opposite the Old Port, is the place to watch an Olympique de Marseille match live on the 13 plasma screens (arrive very early to secure a table). This is not your common or garden scruffy sports bar. Taken over in 2006 by René Faurie, a local restaurateur of renown..... Click here to read more.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Château d'If: Marseille's Answer to Alcatraz

The Château d'If was Marseille's answer to Alcatraz: a brooding island-fortress-prison which has played host to some extraordinary guests: victims of religious persecution, degenerate young roués, anti-royalists and revolutionaries and, most famously (and fictionally), Alexandre Dumas père's great romantic hero, the Count of Monte-Cristo. Click here to read more.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fruity, Full-Bodied, Great to Lay Down: the Wines of Northern Provence

The wines of northern Provence are very different customers from their cousins on the coast. Mainly rosés, the southern provençal wines are crisp, dry, light and fruity. The northerners, by contrast, tend to be rich, spicy, full-bodied, dark reds that can be very high in alcohol - as high as 15% - from those long, arid summers baking in the fierce sun. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise: even the names are irresistibly evocative. This is a guide to the luscious, spicy wines of Northern Provence. Click here to read more.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Is This the Restaurant with the Best View of Marseille?

The main reason to visit Le Chalet, an informal open-air restaurant in the grounds of the Jardin du Pharo in Marseille, is its incredible 180 degree panorama across the Old Port. It's perched high on a mound at the neck of the port, so you can keep tabs on all the maritime traffic, and the terrace is small enough for nobody to end up very far from the view. Arrive at midday or at 2pm, when the best tables become available again for the second sitting. A stone's throw away is the Sofitel, with its posh, Michelin-starred Les Trois Forts but at Le Chalet you can enjoy the same vista for a fraction of the cost. Click here to read more.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Provence: The Ten Best Movies

 The fabulous landscapes and remarkable characters of Provence have inspired some great movies - and so if you can't make it there this winter, what better than to snuggle down and dream of the South with a classic DVD? Here are the ten films that have best captured all the very varied essences of Provence.

Click here to read more.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Marseille: The Radiant City, A Madman's Vision?

It's known poetically as the Radiant City, prosaically as the Housing Unit and irreverently by locals as La Maison du Fada (The Madman's House). Whatever you like to call it, Le Corbusier's pioneering, modernist construction is more than just another block of flats. It's a vertical township in its own right.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris was born in Switzerland in 1887, but his heart was, as he says, profoundly Mediterranean (he died at his cabanon, or beach house, on the Côte d'Azur in 1965). He took the pseudonym Le Corbusier - adapted from his grandfather's name, Lecorbésier, and meaning, roughly "the crow-like one" - in 1920 and, over the years, turned his hand to many things: painting, sculpting, furniture designing and, above all, urban planning. Published in 1935, La Cité Radieuse (The Radiant City) articulated his radical ideas on this subject. Click here to read more.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Marcel Pagnol's Favourite Watering Hole on Marseille's Old Port

The iconic bar of Marseille, the Bar de la Marine was the setting for Marcel Pagnol's famous trilogy of plays and, subsequently, films titled Marius, Fanny and César. These bittersweet, romantic dramas tell of the love affair between Fanny, a shellfish seller on the Old Port, and Marius, the bar-owner's son, who impregnates her, then runs off to sea.

Noisy card games are played (view the classic scene from Marius here), much pastis is drunk, the sun blazes while the sea casts its irresistible spell and the vibrant, warm maritime community helps Fanny overcome her problems. Pagnol was born in nearby Aubagne and made his name when Marius was first performed at the Théâtre de Paris in 1929. No wonder that the stories are suffused in nostalgia for his Southern homeland. Click here to read more.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Weird and Wonderful Provençal Santons

Santons are not just about the Holy Family and picturesque peasants (click here to read an article about traditional santons). Some santon-makers are keen to give them a cheeky contemporary spin. Here are some of the strange, surprising and amusing creations you may encounter on your travels in Provence. Click here to read more.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marseille: The Palais Longchamp, A Monument Built On Water

Despite the name, this is not a palace but an extravagant, extraordinary monument to the glory of water and its  indispensible importance to Marseille ever since the city was founded by the Greeks as a trading port in 600 BC. With an average of only two days of rain a month in the midsummer, drought has been a perennial problem for the city (it is, of course, the central theme of Marcel Pagnol's famous stories, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources). Click here to read more.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Light, Pink, Crisp: The Wines of Southern Provence

Provence got its priorities right good and early. Wine has been made here for at least 2,600 years, making it the oldest wine-producing region of France. And, as with so much else about the local culture, its distinctive nature has been shaped by the successive waves of invaders and immigrants who have come to the region, including Greeks, Romans, Gauls, Catalans and Savoyards, all of whom introduced a very large variety of tastes, techniques and grape types.  Click here to read more.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Santons and Christmas Cribs of Provence

The Santons Fair on the Canebière in Marseille is one of the city's most popular visitor attractions in the early winter - and there are many more such events around Southern France. But these santons are not simply tourist trinkets; they are an authentic and venerated folk tradition, and many provençal homes to this day maintain elaborate cribs. Click here to read more.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Marseille: Trams, Trains, Buses, Bikes and Boats

It's really only on foot that you best absorb the atmosphere of Marseille. But when energy flags, or your destination is too far, or the climb up the hill to the top of the Old Town in the midday sun is just too much of an ordeal, there's always the city's excellent public transport system and a wide range of further options aimed at tourists.  Click here to read more.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Football Gods of Olympique de Marseille

The French are football-mad and none more so than the Marseillais: the Olympique de Marseille (OM for short) occupies a central place in the city's cultural landscape. Founded in 1899, it remains the most decorated club in French football history and the only one to win the UEFA Champions League, in 1992-3. And before long the team will have a brand-new stadium to play in. Click here to read more.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

La Samaritaine: A Marseille Institution

One of the last of the old-style brasseries on the Old Port, La Samaritaine, which celebrates its centenary this year, is positively steeped in history. The premises, built in 1860, started life as a department store (no relation to the celebrated store of the same name in Paris) and were relaunched as a brasserie after the shop closed down in 1910. Click here to read more.

The Beautiful Blue Coast Train Line

The dramatic topography of the terrain west and north of Marseille - rugged hills with villages snuggled in deep limestone valleys - forces the road to loop sharply inland. The railway line, on the other hand, hugs the coast closely, often with a precipitous drop down to the sea, as it passes through 23 tunnels and 18 spectacular viaducts representing a stupendous feat of engineering.  Click here to read more.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Tarot de Marseille

The Magician, the Hermit, the Hanged Man, the Wheel of Fortune and the controversial Papesse: these are some of the mysterious and metaphorical cards in the word-famous Tarot de Marseille. Click here to read more.

The Market at Noailles, Marseille: a Multi-Cultural Feast

Duck down a narrow side-street off Marseille's Canebière, and you're instantly in another world. Swathes of multi-coloured African fabrics, mangos, loose spices, cheap sets of boules and couscousières, bootleg cigarettes: all these, and much more, can be found in this crowded, chaotic, cheerful and thoroughly cosmopolitan market. Click here to read more.

A Brief History of Petanque

You don't have to be an old, pastis-swigging provençal guy in a flat cap to play pétanque. The sport can be enjoyed by people of all ages and levels of expertise: a reported 17 million French people do it just for fun, but it has caught on worldwide with spectacular success. Bankers play it in New York, it's an official sport of the Thai army and, founded in 1958, the Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal claims to have 600,000 members and national chapters from 86 countries. Click here to read more.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Marseille - The Panier Old Town

Surging up from the north quay of the Old Port, its tall, narrow houses draped with washing lines and criss-crossed by steep steps with gutters running down the middle, Marseille's Old Town, or Panier, is suffused in history. This was the site first settled by the Greeks who founded the city of Massalia, as it was known then, in 600 BC and has welcomed successive waves of immigration ever since, initially from Italy and Corsica, more recently from everywhere from South America and North Africa to Vietnam and the Comoro Islands, near Madagascar.  Click here to read more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

White Water Rafting Down The Ubaye River

With over 50 km of rapids, the wild Ubaye river in the north of Provence is regarded as one of the best and most beautiful in France for white water rafting. The scenery mixes Mediterranean luxuriance with Alpine cragginess and racing along the river in an inflatable boat allows an intimate view of it that you'll never see from the road. Will you be able to enjoy it? Well, some images of white water rafting make the sport look truly terrifying, but - while this will never be a sedate and relaxing ride - the Ubaye runs present different levels of difficulty, starting with level 2 which is comfortably within the abilities of beginners and young children (rafters are required to confirm that they're able to swim, however).  Click here to read more.

Marseille - The Best Restaurants

Over the last decade, a wave of bright young chefs, mostly in their thirties, has invaded Marseille and transformed its culinary scene (pictured: Alexandre Mazzia at Le Ventre de L'Architecte). The city has a restaurant with three Michelin stars (Le Petit Nice) and another three (L'Epuisette, Péron and Une Table, au Sud) with one star. But, in truth, you can eat extremely well at even a modest restaurant.  The distinctive local style of cooking focusses on simple, fresh, healthy Mediterranean ingredients: low on the meat, animal fats and heavy sauces of traditional French cuisine, high on vegetables and fish. And it's all spiced up with influences from the city's successive waves of immigrants, in particular Italian, North African, Caribbean and Chinese. Today, then, it goes without saying that Marseille is not just about bouillabaisse.  Click here to read more.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Card Players of Paul Cézanne

You'll often see a huddle of them today in the corner of a small-town bar: players utterly engrossed in a game of cards. Now an exhibition dedicated to Paul Cézanne, the master-painter of Aix-en-Provence, and his studies of this essential feature of provençal life opens at the Courtauld Gallery, London on 21 October before moving to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2011.  Click here to read more.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Brigitte Bardot in Saint Tropez

A huge exhibition of Bardot memorabilia, including photographs, private films and personal effects such as her first pair of ballet shoes, is being staged in the town which she made famous - and which made her famous in its turn. The show continues in Saint Tropez until 31 October. Click here for a selection of portraits of Bébé in her myriad glamorous guises....

Marseille - The Old Port

Dominated on one side by the Panier (Old Town) and on the other by the church of Notre Dame de la Garde, the Old Port, or Vieux Port, has been the beating heart of Marseille for 2,700 years. Today the entire waterfront area is a favourite spot for both locals and tourists to stroll, drink, argue, fall in love, peddle sunglasses and generally hang out and enjoy life. Chosen for its protected position, with hills to the North and defensive barrier of islands, and a supply of fresh water from a nearby spring, it was founded as a trading port in 600 BC by Greeks from Phocaea in Asia Minor - now part of Turkey - making it the oldest town in France. To this day, Marseille still bears the proud ancient nickname La Cité PhocéenneClick here to read more

Beyond Bouillabaisse: Unusual Provençal Dishes

Everyone has heard of ratatouille, bouillabaisse and even aïoli - even if they can't always pronounce them. But there is much more to provençal cuisine.

It has been 60 years since Elizabeth David first published her pioneering cookbook, Mediterranean Food, introducing overseas readers to the intense sensations of this delicious, yet irreproachably healthy style of eating.

Thanks to it, to mass tourism and to a certain Pixel blockbuster, dishes such as ratatouille have become a regular feature of most cooks' repertoires. But here are some dishes that you may not have encountered, with odd and evocative names and surprising flavours. Attention: not all of them slot into a healthy Mediterranean diet! Click here to read more.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hot Air Ballooning in Haute-Provence

The French word for a hot air balloon is a Montgolfière. It is so named in honour of two visionary brothers from South-East France who built the first balloon to carry passengers in 1783. Almost immediately hot air ballooning fell from favour. But today, just a stone's throw from its early roots, this low-carbon, highly pleasurable mode of transport is soaring again. Click here to read more.