Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Place To Be In Provence On New Year's Eve

For a while it seemed as if it would all end with a whimper. Provence's spectacular Capital of Culture year has been slowly winding down through the autumn; the J1 Hangar is closed and later this week the event's main showcase, the M Pavillion, will be dismantled. But Marseille is not a city likely to pass up the chance of a party and, although nothing at all was initially for New Year's Eve, now it seems as though the Old Port will be the place to be on Tuesday night. Click here to read more

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Eve in Provence

One of the most beautiful Christmas events in Provence is the pastrage, or shepherds' procession, which traditionally takes place just before midnight on Christmas Eve. Only a handful of villages preserve this tradition - but it is justifiably one of the region's most popular draws. Click here to read more.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Visit an Apartment at Le Corbusier's Radiant City

This modest kitchen might not look like much. But at the time it was utterly revolutionary: a state-of-the-art fitted kitchen designed by Le Corbusier for his trail-blazing, modernist housing complex in Marseille, the Radiant City. Now one of the 337 apartments in this block has just opened to the public for the first time. We went along this week for a press preview. Click here to read more

Monday, December 16, 2013

Michelin-Starred Dining at Marseille Airport

You don't normally expect gourmet food at an airport. And, until recently, the one in Marseille had only a motley selection of the usual fast-food joints of which the most exciting was probably France's first Burger King outlet. But this year a new gastronomic restaurant, Chefs en Provence, opened in Terminal One. Every three months on a rotating basis one of the region's top chefs takes over the supervision of the menu. First up was Michel Portos. And this week another Michelin laureate, Lionel Lévy, takes over the reins. Click here to read more

Friday, December 13, 2013

Drumming in the Midwinter Solstice

Apart from all the Christmas markets and celebrations, things can get a little quiet in Provence at this time of year. But here's a fantastic diary date for the evening of the winter solstice (21 Dec): a free outdoor concert by crack percussions Les Commandos Percus and fireworks show in La Ciotat. Click here to read more

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A New Five-Star Hotel in Aix en Provence

Next month a new five-star hotel, the Renaissance, will open in Aix en Provence. It's located about a five-minute walk from Aix's main tourist area - La Rotonde and the bottom of the Cours Mirabeau - surrounded by the city's stunning cluster of new, architect-designed cultural buildings including Rudy Ricciotti's Pavillon Noir, Kengo Kuma's Conservatory of Music, the Grand Théâtre de Provence and the Cité du Livre.

Like its ultra-contemporary neighbours, The Renaissance is not one of those historic 18th century hôtels particuliers for which Aix is famous but a modern building (it's designed by the Marseille architects Claude Sabin Nadjari and Rémy Saada).

And, also like its neighbours, the hotel is presenting itself as an art hub, with contemporary paintings and sculptures in the public spaces and a promised programme of cultural events featuring visits from local, national and international artists. Click here to read more

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Celebrating the New Season's Olive Oil

The early winter in Provence is not just the season of new wine and truffle festivals: the year's latest pressing of olive oil is celebrated here from late November. The new pressing is marked with a Fête de l'huile d'olive nouvelle. Tastings, music, wine, cookery demonstrations, local food (often an aïoli) and general revelry are to be expected on such occasions. Click here to read more

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Brad and Angelina's Starry Wine

In March this year Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, two of Provence's most famous vineyard owners, pictured (apparently after enjoying a bottle or two of their own tipple), launched an organic rosé wine created by the Perrin wine-making family.

Named Miraval, it went on sale in March 2013, when most of the stock was sold out within five hours at 15-16 €uros a bottle (click here to buy Miraval Rosé image!which has since become available online again).

Already well-received by critics, the wine has now just received a huge boost after it was included on a list of the top 100 wines in the world compiled by Wine Spectator magazine (reportedly the tasting was carried out blind). Click here to read more

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sheep in the Spotlight

Count the sheep! There'll certainly be plenty of them around at the Fête des Bergers, or Shepherds' Festival, in Istres, on the Blue Coast just north-west of Marseille all this week. This very provençal farmer's festival will include sheepdog trials, sheep processions - a sort of winter transhumance - and, inevitably, a feast. Will roast lamb be on the menu? Click here to read more

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Free Eats on the Old Port of Marseille

Yes Virginia, there is such a thing as a free lunch. This Saturday, in fact, on the Old Port of Marseille. The mild catch: it's slightly educational: a campaign to raise awareness of food waste (similar events have already been held in other cities). In this case, vegetables which are perfectly edible but would have otherwise been thrown away are converted in a "banquet for the 5,000" by gourmet chefs.  Click here to read more

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wine, song and son et lumière: Millévin in Avignon

Here's a nice winter warmer in Avignon on 21 November. Millévin is an all day party to celebrate the arrival of the new vin primeur wine, the region's answer to Beaujolais nouveau. There will be tastings, music, a dinner on the place de l'Horloge and, as a added bonus this year, a free son et lumière show on the façade of the Palais des Papes. Click here to read more

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The 2014 Line-Up at Marseille's Museums

This has been an amazing record year for museums in Marseille and it's now hoped to carry on the Capital of Culture momentum with a forthcoming programme of new shows.The line-up has been announced for 2014 and it includes Warhol, Bacon, Hopper, the Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux plus exhibitions dedicated to the North African city of Volubilis, Odessa, carnival across the Med - and fashion at the racetrack. So, if you are planning a visit to Marseille in 2014, here are some early dates for your diary. Click here to read more.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An Offer Only Scrooge Could Refuse

Here's an offer only Scrooge could refuse: a chance to buy an original artwork for a very affordable price, and at the same time to create a brighter Christmas for children in hospital suffering from cancer.

Now in its ninth year, an annual show in Marseille, opening tomorrow, is exhibiting the work of 111 artists and photographers, some of them well-known, others rising stars. Each artist has 11 works in the show and all of them are on sale for a bargain 111 €uros apiece - including the frame. Click here to read more.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pagnol's Marseille Trilogy Comes to Britain

Daniel Auteuil shot to fame playing Ugolin, the dim and shifty peasant opposite Gérard Depardieu, Yves Montand and Emmanuelle Béart in Claude Berri's 1986 arthouse blockbuster film versions of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources - both based on stories by Marcel Pagnol. And he's had a love affair with this writer ever since, choosing Pagnol's The Well-Digger's Daughter for his well-received debut as a director in 2011. He has followed that up with a much bigger and more ambitious project, three films adapted from Pagnol's celebrated Marius-Fanny-César trilogy set on the Old Port of Marseille. Now the first two of those films are coming to Britain this month. Click here to read more.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Top Five Christmas Presents From Provence

So you're not actually in Provence but would still like to offer a spot of Southern French sunshine to your friends and family this Christmas (or perhaps treat yourself). To help you avoid the touristy tack. I've compiled a brief list of favourite, totally traditional, high quality products that are all available to buy online and bound to be hits. Click here to read more

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Claude Gazier's Moody Film-Art

I hadn't heard of Claude Gazier before. But his paintings, inspired by vintage film stills, with more than a whiff of Edward Hopper, are moody and intriguing. He has a new show opening this week in La Ciotat, a city which - thanks to the pioneering Lumière Brothers - has its own strong cinema connections. Click here to read more

Monday, November 4, 2013

Albert Camus in Aix en Provence

The tribute planned for Albert Camus during the Marseille-Provence Capital of Culture year has been dogged by troubles. Curators came and went, arguments raged and for while it seemed as if the whole event would be cancelled. Now, though, the organisers have rallied and the show has finally got on the road - just in time to mark the centenary of Camus' birth on Thursday - with an exhibition exploring the writer's life and work and the world premiere this week of a new ballet based on his hugely influential novel L'Etranger (The Stranger, or The Outsider). Click here to read more

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Year In Provence - In 1970

Imagine an elite group of top American chefs, gourmets, food writers and intellectuals and all-round opinion-formers, gathered together in Provence to talk, cook and - of course - eat.

That's what happened in late 1970 when James Beard, MFK Fisher (the author of such classic memoirs as Two Towns in Provence), Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones all converged on the South of France. A new book by Fisher's grand-nephew, Luke Barr, evokes that remarkable moment. Click here to read more.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lance Armstrong Rides Again - On Screen

Ben Foster, who recently starred in Ain't Them Bodies Saints, displays clenched-teeth obsession as the disgraced Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong in a new film, as yet untitled. It's currently shooting in the Hautes Alpes, and is overseen by the Oscar-nominated director Stephen (The Queen) Frears. Click here to read more.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Provence's Marathon Men (and Women)

Stand by tomorrow for the Marseille-Cassis (almost) half-marathon, one of the most beautiful competitive races in the world - its route runs over the spectacular Route des Crêtes between the two towns. And, if you're not super-fit, there's always L'Autre Marseille-Cassis, a more leisurely ramble along the same route today. Click here to read more.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Women of Provence: As Seen By Men, And By Themselves

A new show at the Musée Regards de Provence in Marseille contrasts portraits of women of Provence, painted by men, with the very different picture that emerges from the writing (diaries, poetry, novels) of the women themselves. Click here to read more.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Win a Night in Marseille at Le Corbusier's Radiant City

Those nice folk over at Marseille-Provence Capital of Culture have just launched a super competition to promote the magnificent new show of Le Corbusier's work. By answering one absurdly simple question, you can win a night in Marseille at the Hotel le Corbusier (in the Radiant City housing complex designed by the visionary architect), plus free entry for two to the exhibition - and an evening boat trip to the Frioul Islands. Click here to read more.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Full Details, Dates and Route of the 2014 Tour de France

Just announced this morning: full details of the 2014 Tour de France. We already knew the race was starting in Yorkshire but the French stages are all now official. As Provence played a starring role in the 2013 Tour, next year's edition will, as expected, give the south-west and other regions of France a turn, but the cyclists will be skirting the north-west of Provence during one of the stages. Will Britain - whose cyclists won in 2012 and 2013 - make it a hat trick? Click here to read more

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Fiesta of Autumn Music in Marseille

Who says there's nothing going on the Provence outside the summer season? Marseille has a real feast of music for all tastes this month. On this week, the Fiesta des Suds festival of world music has Che Sudaka, Africa Express, Kassav, Monophonics, Temenik Electric and more:. And traditionalists are spoiled too with the city's Festival de musiques classiques et baroques - starting tonight - which offers eleven free concerts of works by Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach and more throughout the autumn. Click here to read more

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Jean Cocteau in the Valley of Hell

The Quarries of Lights, just outside Les Baux de Provence, are one of the region's most popular tourist attractions with their spectacular son et lumière shows. But back in 1960 they - and the surrounding Valley of Hell - hosted a very different artistic project, Jean Cocteau's poetic fantasy Le Testament d'Orphée. A current show in Les Baux de Provence features the work of the photographer Lucien Clergue who collaborated with Cocteau to record the shoot. Click here to read more

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An Early Autumn Tour of La Ciotat's Calanques and Beaches

OK, so this is just a  little unseasonal (though the weather is still very mild down here in Southern Provence - and even milder in La Ciotat, which a little more sheltered than we are from the Mistral north-west wind). It's still warm enough for a stroll along the beach or a little hike to one of the calanques. And La Ciotat is well-placed for both these activities, as many of its beaches and its three calanques are all easily within walking distance of the town centre. Its calanques will surprise you, too, if you're familiar with the ones around Marseille and Cassis - they're rich deep red and covered with pine trees! Now that the crowds are gone and the coast is - literally - clear, we decided to go along recently to check them out. Click here to read more.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Le Corbusier: Provence's Must-See Show Of The Autumn

So you thought Le Corbusier was purely an architect and interior designer? Think again. A new must-see show in Marseille reveals his ceramics, tapestries, enamels, wooden sculptures, cubist paintings, even erotic sketches... The range of his interests is amazing.

It's called Le Corbusier et la question du brutalisme (Le Corbusier and the Question of Brutalism), but I suspect most people will use the snappier alternative title: LC at the J1. The exhibition is at the end of the J1 Hangar, a ferry pier being used an exhibition space with amazing views across the sea to the MuCEM, the Cathedral and the port from where Le Corbu often sailed on his travels.

I went along to the J1 yesterday on a press visit introduced by the curator, the Marseille architect and Le Corbusier expert Jacques Sbriglio, who was passionate and fascinating about the show. Click here to read more

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Monumental Eats in the Gorges du Verdun

Not many people go touring in the Gorges du Verdon in the autumn but to my mind the early fall is a great time to experience these magnificent landscapes away from the crowds. If you're doing so, here's our inside tip for a fantastic place to eat just outside Castellane, one of the starting points to enter the Gorges. And, if you're hiking or biking to work up an appetite, even better: the portions are enormous, the food delicious and the bill entirely affordable. Click here to read more.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

2600 Years of History - in a Shopping Mall

A museum in a shopping mall? You'd better believe it. The Musée d'Histoire de Marseille (Museum of Marseille History) has just reopened after being closed for several years for a complete facelift - and it's a winner. If you have previously visited the museum before the makeover, forget those dark, dusty and cramped premises. The building has been hugely expended and it's now the largest history museum in France and one of the largest in Europe. And it's not just all about size: here is a collection of unique and priceless objects dating back to 600 BC and earlier and, what's more, almost all sourced from within a few kilometres' radius. This is now one of the best museums in Marseille. Click here to read more

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Turning Japanese in Marseille

It's a little-known fact that Marseille has its own Japanese Garden, complete with zen areas and a tea pavillion. You'd think the hot, windy, dry weather on this part of the Mediterranean coast would forbid planting oriental shrubs, but, thanks to the use of humidifiers and soil modifications, dozens of Japanese trees, shrubs and flowers manage to flourish in a corner of the Parc Borély. And each year a traditional Japanese Festival of Autumn is held in this peaceful spot. Click here to read more.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Last Orders For The Big Summer Art Shows

It's the last and final call for several of the year's big art exhibitions in Provence, including Le Grand Atelier du Midi, Picasso's ceramics, sculptor Bernar Venet, Raoul Dufy and modernist painters in Cassis. If you've been postponing a visit to one of these, jump in fast now before it's too late.

As an added incentive, some museums offer free admission on the first Sunday of each month (check first with the individual museums, as the offer doesn't always apply to special events), so it might be worth earmarking 6 October in your diary. Click here to read more

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Driving round the Gorges du Verdon

To the Gorges du Verdon for a birthday treat - and what a treat. We took three days to drive all round the area, along the three different routes through this amazing scenery and to visit some of the most interesting towns and villages along the way.

We also saw this mountain rescue exercise (rather him than me!)

... and a wayward mountain goat (not our car, fortunately).

I'll be posting more about this trip shortly. Meanwhile here is our detailed guide to the routes all around the Gorges for your driving or cycling pleasure. Click here to read more

Monday, September 23, 2013

Programme Announced For Aix's Easter Festival

Plan early for Easter! The full programme for the 2014 Festival de Pâques in Aix en Provence is announced this morning and the line-up looks starry: Gustavo Dudamel, Christian Tetzlaff, Yo-Yo Ma... Schubert and Strauss (Richard, of course) are the composers in the spotlight and the box-office opens Wednesday morning. Click here to read more

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Giant Banquet on Marseille's Canebière

For the next couple of weeks, starting today, a event called Metamorphoses will transform Marseille into a giant playground, with over 100 wacky events and installations by several dozen European artists. Example: tomorrow a huge, long table for thousands of guests will be set up on the Canebière, Marseille's main downtown thoroughfare, for a giant banquet, at which guests will be regaled by artists as they eat. And there's much more besides... Click here to read more

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Curtain Raised On Plans For The 2014 Avignon Festival

Olivier Py, the flamboyant actor, director and writer who has become the new Director of the Avignon Theatre Festival for the next four years, raised the curtain this week on some of his plans for the 2014 edition.  After being sacked from a successful tenure at the Théâtre de l'Odéon in Paris in 2011, amid some controversy, Py - who is a convert to Catholicism and openly gay - was offered the directorship in Avignon for four years, starting in 2014. It's the first time the post has been held by an artist since Jean Vilar, the founder of the festival who ran it from 1947 to 1971. Click here to read more

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On the Cinema Trail in La Ciotat

To La Ciotat, just along the coast from Cassis. This mellow coastal resort is popular for its beaches (which I'll be writing more on later), but our mission right now is different: to delve into the town's rich cinema heritage. The pioneering film-makers Auguste and Louis Lumière (who made the famous 1895 short film Train Arriving at La Ciotat Station), spent many summers there -  and the family's villa, now privately owned, was open last weekend for very rare public visits. The town also boasts the Eden Théâtre, which claims to be the world's oldest surviving public cinema and, newly restored, it reopens its doors early next month. We devised a little "movie trail" around La Ciotat's movie hotspots. It was a fascinating trip. Click here to read more.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Couscous Dancer

This year a new food festival, Cuisine en Friche, was launched at La Friche La Belle de Mai, a large arts complex in the north of Marseille. The idea is for chefs, artists, scientists and philosophers to gather to celebrate  and investigate all things edible, with that oh-so-Gallic blend of gastronomy, intellectualism and performance art. Click here to see some more images on our Facebook page.

At the end of Je danse et je vous en donne à bouffer at La Friche La Belle de Mai last night. Radhouane El Meddeb danced his heart out for 90 minutes and, in between, cooked an excellent couscous - which we all then got to eat. There are two more performances of this amazing event over the weekend (a different couscous is cooked each night), and plenty of other unusual, thought-provoking and - potentially controversial - events before the festival ends on Sunday. Click here to read more

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thumb Up For A Show Celebrating César The Sculptor

Here's a big thumb up for a retrospective dedicated to the Marseille-born sculptor César at the Musée Cantini, Marseille. Did you know that César Baldaccini - to give him his full name - designed the statuette awarded each year at the Césars, France's equivalent of the Oscars, which are actually named after him? That thumb (Le Pouce), by the way, isn't in the exhibition, but you can see it standing proud on a roundabout to the south of Marseille. Click here to read more

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Historic Shellfish Restaurant Gets a Facelift

If you want to eat shellfish in Marseille, Chez Toinou has been the place to go for over half a century, a cherished local institution just off the Canebière a few steps from the Old Port. The restaurant has been closed throughout the summer for refurbishment, but it reopened this week - with a difference (though it was busier than ever when we went there yesterday, so the locals don't seem to mind too much). Click here to read more.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The City That Launches A Thousand Ships

Septembre en Mer (September by the Sea) offers a hugely popular and eclectic programme of over 300 marine-themed events in Marseille and the surrounding coastal area. It encompasses everything from seafood feasts and scuba diving lessons to shipyard visits and excursions to the Frioul or Rioux islands in traditional boats. And this year there's something extra special: a Marine Parade on 7 September, when a thousand boats of all shapes and sizes take to the sea, including the beautiful 19th century three-masted cargo ship, the Belem.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Stunning New Conservatoire in Aix en Provence

Aix en Provence gets a brand-new Conservatoire of music, dance and theatre this month - and has an "open weekend" starting tomorrow, when you can explore it. Located in the "cultural corner" of the city, near the Pavillon Noir, the Grand Théâtre de Provence and the Cité du Livre, this stunning new building was created by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, whose equally remarkable design for Marseille's FRAC PACA opened earlier this year. Click here to read more.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Contemporary Ceramics in Les Baux de Provence

One of the "most beautiful villages in France", Les Baux de Provence is a magnet for day-trippers in quest of a lovely setting and kitsch made-in-China souvenirs. But its forward-thinking mayor is keen to promote Les Baux as something more: a centre of  art. Along with other venues all across the Alpilles, the village participates in the a-part festival of contemporary art during the summer months, but it also hosts may other exhibitions throughout the year when the coach tour parties have long since left town. The latest, opening tomorrow, is three exclusive shows of cutting-edge contemporary glass and ceramics. Click here to read more

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Venice Comes To Provence

The pretty town of Martigues, on the Berre Lake west of Marseille, rather cheekily calls itself the "Venice of the Mediterranean" on the strength of its single "grand canal". Martigues makes the most of this connection, principally this month when several hundred masked enthusiasts converge there for four days to stage their own mini Venetian carnival. Click here to read more

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Windy City Flies High

Most of the year the Marseillais curse the infamous Mistral wind. But for a couple of days each autumn they celebrate it, with the Fête du Vent (Festival of Wind), actually a huge celebration of kites on the Prado beaches. And this year there's more, an exhibition of exotic kites from all around the world, opening today. Click here to read more.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Come to the Calissons

Some think the calisson d'Aix is mightily over-rated. Others swoon over this tasty lozenge-shaped mouthful flavoured with ground almonds and candied fruit and decorated with royal icing. That latter group of people will want to make straight for Aix en Provence tomorrow for the annual Blessing of the Calissons - or, as it now known, the Festival of the Calissons, in an effort to rebrand it as a gastronomic experience rather than a religious one. Whatever you want to call it, the chances are, there will be a few tastings. Click here to read more

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Great Floating Piano Festival

One of Marseille's most delightfully eccentric music festivals is Un Piano à la Mer. It offers classical, jazz and rock concerts on the city's beaches performed by musicians on floating platforms. The sea lends their music an unusual, eerie resonance, and it's a great way to make the most of the warm early autumn evenings. Click here to read more

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Very Good Year For This Year's Côtes du Rhône?

Early reports from the Côtes du Rhône wine-growing region indicate that this year's vintage should be an exceptional one. Poor weather in the spring will mean a late harvest and a small crop, but the quality may, experts suggest, be comparable to that of the historic 1983 cuvée. Meanwhile - though the actual harvest this year won't be till mid-September - lovers of Rhône wine should head directly to Avignon for the Ban des Vendanges, an exuberant all-day celebration this weekend to mark the new season's grape harvest. Click here to read more.