Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two Olive Farms in Provence

Olive tree groves are a distinctive feature of the landscape all across Provence - and olive oil is ubiquitous in the local cuisine (not to mention Marseille soap!) So when we received invitations recently to visit two olive estates in the area, it was impossible to resist. Each one was stunningly located: the Domaine Terre de Mistral snuggles in the foothills of the Mont Sainte Victoire, while Castelas sits in the valley just below Les Baux de Provence. Both are producing very high quality AOP oils that are light years away from the el cheapo mass-produced Spanish stuff on sale at Tescos. Click here to read more.

Friday, July 27, 2012

One of the Best Dining Spots in Aix en Provence

I've been meaning for a long time to eat at Le Poivre d'Ane. Set on the Forum des Cardeurs, the Restaurant Row of Aix en Provence, it seems at first sight identical to its undistinguished neighbours. But this very long established, much-loved local institution recently received a bib gourmand in the Michelin Guide and is most certainly one of the best, and best-value dining spots in town. Recently, I finally got the chance: after showing house guests round the city, we were generously invited out to dinner. And the experience proved well worth the wait. Click here to read more.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A World a-part: Modern Art in the Alpilles

The a-part Festival of Contemporary Art must be one of the most enjoyable ways of getting a little shot of culture while visiting Provence. A cluster of towns and villages all across the Alpilles participate in an extravaganza of modern art in some of the region's most stunning locations, both open-air and indoor. I visited a show of gorgeous ceramics in the Hôtel de Manville, Les Baux de Provence, where the creators were present (above, the Belgian sculptor Johan Creten invites me to lay hands on one of his precious artefacts). But you could equally well sample street art in Saint Rémy or go Mexican in Tarascon. Best of all, it's all free! Click here to read more.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Penthouse on Marseille's Old Port at Knockdown Prices

In Marseille recently, I thought I'd swing by the Hotel Hermes. It's a bit of an institution and one friend of mine swears by this hotel with incredible views of the Old Port at knockdown prices. As if that all weren't enough, the Hermes has been undergoing an extensive refurbishment programme. It was high time to have a good look round.... Click here to read more.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Provençal Painter Drunk on Colour

... And now here's an example of Expressionism, Provence style. I'm definitely on a bit of an art kick at the moment, with a visit this week to the press view of L'ivresse de la Couleur (The Intoxication of Colour), a new show in Marseille devoted to René Seyssaud, a local-born painter. I loved his fabulously intense colours and amazing compositions. Pictured: Les Pointes Rouges at Agay, circa 1902. This terrific exhibition of some 80 works is on until 18 November. Don't miss! And click here to read my full review.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

This Summer's Must-See Art Show in Aix en Provence

We were in Aix yesterday to show some house guests around (they loved it of course, and treated us to a superb meal at Le Poivre d'Ane, one of the city's best restaurants - more about that soon). And while my friends were strolling round the Old Town, I popped into the Musée Granet to catch its current show, a marvellous display of modern work - German and American Expressionism, Picasso and more - from the collection of Frieder Burda, a German publishing magnate who is passionate about cutting-edge art. It's the first time these paintings have been exhibited outside Germany. Click here to read more.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pastis and Mash, and Other Tasty Combinations

To Rousset, a rather lovely, off-the-tourist-track part of southern Provence in the foothills of Paul Cézanne's beloved Mont Sainte Victoire, for a lunch celebrating the publication of a new book about cooking with pastis. My own experience in the kitchen with the iconic hooch of Provence has mainly been confined to flambéed fish and shellfish, with which pastis makes a perfect pairing. However it turns out that you can use it in a whole range of dishes, both savoury and sweet, to delicious effect: pictured above are punk-green mashed potatoes spiked with blue pastis. On the same day we were able to tour the vineyard and olive groves of the Domaine Terre de Mistral, of which more shortly. Click here to read more.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Driver's Guide to Provence

The first thing I saw upon arriving back at Marseille airport last week was a 13-registered car reversing along the wrong side of the road, on to a roundabout! Which is why, to accompany my previous post about the changes to French driving law, I've compiled a page of tips for driving in Provence, such how to cope with the heat and the kamikaze local drivers. Plus I've added some useful links to sites such as Bison Futé which tell you about traffic conditions, the best alternative routes and where to buy the cheapest petrol in your area. The pic, by the way, shows Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott's 2006 film A Good Year. Click here to read more.