Friday, August 24, 2012

In the Footsteps of Churchill and the Aga Khan

I'm continuing my survey of places to stay in Aix with a visit to the Grand Hotel Roi René, whose illustrious guests have included Winston Churchill and the Aga Khan. I love grand hotels, especially when there's a bit of history, intrigue and romance attached - the Beauvau in Marseille (which once housed Chopin and George Sand) and the Hotel d'Europe in Avignon (Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning) both spring to mind. So how did the Roi René stack up? Click here to read more.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Food, Glorious Food

I was recently invited to a preview visit of the Camp des Milles, a huge former brick factory just outside Aix en Provence which was used as an internment camp at the beginning of the Second World War and opens to the public as a memorial early next month. Over 10,000 people were locked up here: political dissidents, "enemy aliens", artists, intellectuals and Jews - sometimes all five categories at once. Visiting the camp could have been depressing, but in fact it's thought-provoking and, in a strange way, inspiring - mainly because the artists holed up there found extraordinary ways of transforming their experience. On near-starvation rations, they covered all the walls of one room with surreal frescoes celebrating a superabundance of food.... Click here to read more

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Black Pavilion of Dance

I've been doing a little exploring outside the immediate centre of Aix around the Cours Mirabeau and have made some fascinating discoveries. Like the mysterious and dramatic Pavillon Noir, designed by the starchitect Rudy Ricciotti, which rears up on a a tiny strip of ground on a side-street just off La Rotonde. This is the home of the world-famous dance company Ballet Preljocaj (it's performing at the Edinburgh Festival next week) and hosts a packed programme of activities, including open rehearsals, dance classes, workshops and apéro-performances at which you can chat to the dancers over a drink after the show. And the building itself, which offers regular free guided visits once a month, is intriguing in its own right. I went on one of these tours backstage to take a look. Click here to read more.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Little Night Musing in Aix en Provence

It should come as no surprise to hear that the founders of the Hotel Le Mozart are lovers of classical music and an atmosphere of serenity inhabits this long-established hotel just outside the centre of Aix en Provence. Its budget rates have made it a favourite with visitors to a city where accommodation can be very pricey indeed. Tucked down a side-street and set somewhat back from the road, the Hotel Le Mozart is easy to miss - and in fact I've often walked past it myself without paying much attention. But, in Aix recently, I finally went in to have a look round. Click here to read more.