Sunday, July 27, 2014

Et Voila: Le Peninsula!

It took four years and 429 million to complete …and finally the fabulous Peninsula Hotel will open in Paris next week.

It’s the Hong Kong-based company’s tenth hotel, joining properties in New York, Chicago, Beverly Hills, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Bangkok and Manila.

The first guests are set to arrive on August 1st.

Just steps from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées, at 19 Avenue Kléber in the elegant 16th arrondissement, The Peninsula Paris sits close to some of the world’s most-famous monuments, museums and luxury shopping. It has 200 rooms including 34 suites, five of which have private rooftop gardens with spectacular views over the city. 

The building itself is a late-19th-century classic French-style beauty.  It first opened in 1908 as one of Paris’ most famous “grands hotels” and, for 30 years, it hosted the rich and famous--along with leading lights in the arts, literature and music--during the Belle Epoque and “Années Folles.”

In 1922, five of the greatest artists of the 20th century-- James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Pablo Picasso, Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky—had dinner together here. Other historical highlights include George Gershwin composing “An American in Paris” here in 1928  and the Paris Peace Accords, negotiated by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho--which brought the Vietnam War to a close--being signed here in 1973.

Following the wartime occupation of Paris, the hotel was converted into UNESCO’s headquarters (in 1946), and 12 years later it became the conference center for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The building has been meticulously restored by teams of French master craftsmen, using techniques in use for hundreds of years. Original elements long gone or badly damaged were recreated following extensive research.  Marble, stucco, mosaics, roof and wall tiles, wood carvings, stone work, gold leafing, paintings and a myriad of other elements have been lovingly preserved and painstakingly restored by some of France’s most-revered family firms, known for their work on heritage projects such as the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles.

The façade alone employed the talents of 20 skilled stonemasons who restored the elaborate carved stone flowers, bows and ribbons. Repairs were carried out where possible, carving missing portions by hand using stone-dust paste. Where the bas-reliefs were severely damaged, the entire section was replaced by new, hand-carved stone, using photos for reference. Each flower cascade took a stonemason three weeks of work…12 hours of work alone for each small bow.

Meanwhile wood-restoration experts individually numbered and removed each original wood panel in the Lobby and Le Bar Kléber: 370 and 130 sections respectively. These were then sanded down, repaired, restored and replaced.

A firm specializing in gilding and restoring handled repairs, gold leafing and hand painting. Their previous commissions in Paris have included the dome of Les Invalides and the Palace of Versailles, while in the US their projects have included the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and the flame of the Statue of Liberty. 

Three basement levels were excavated to create a 1800-square-foot spa, a 20-meter swimming pool, fitness centre and parking for 57 cars.

The Avenue Kléber hotel entrance leads to the traditionally grand Peninsula Lobby, with soaring curved ceilings, magnificent drapery, marble floors and contemporary furnishings. In a second lobby—which greets guests arriving by car--a hand-blown Lasvit chandelier creates a cascade of 800 crystal “leaves,” a subtle homage to the plane trees lining Avenue Kléber. 

With the smallest of them 35 square meters (312 square feet), the guestrooms are among the largest in the city; the company says they’re also the most technologically advanced in the world. Every room has a marble bathroom, a self-contained dressing room, a walk-in closet, a seated dressing table, a valet box for discreet pick-up and delivery of laundry, dry-cleaning and polished shoes, a large electronic safe, internet radio, a weather display panel and –wait for it!—a nail dryer. (Personally, I love the Nespresso machines and the free local and international  phone calls!)

Fully customized interactive digital bedside and desk tablets are preset for guests in one of 11 languages, offering full control of all in-room functions and access to restaurant menus, hotel services and TV channels. In-room LED touch-screen wall panels feature valet call, weather details, thermostat, language and privacy options.

In addition to 24-hour room service, the Peninsula Paris has six dining venues:  The Lobby, LiLi (the Cantonese restaurant), La Terrasse Kléber, L’Oiseau Blanc (a rooftop restaurant, bar and terrace), Le Lounge Kléber (an eight-seat cigar lounge) and Le Bar.

There are also function and banquet rooms,  of course, including a traditional Parisian-style ballroom-salon with a pre-function area for up to 120 people,  and three rooms for smaller meetings and events.

Throughout the hotel, executive chef Jean-Edern Hurstel says he’ll be using only the very best of French ingredients and a “farm to table” approach to seasonal cuisine. Jean-Edern was born and raised in Alsace and comes to the hotel from the Middle East, where he was working at the Shangri-La Abu-Dhabi and, more recently, Boca Restaurant in Dubai.

Vichy-born chief sommelier Xavier Thuizat presides over The Peninsula Paris’ extensive wine cellar while indulging his passion for sourcing unique boutique wines from small producers throughout France.

Pastry chef Julien Alvarez hails originally from Bergerac and has won a multitude of awards, including a gold medal in the World Pâtisserie Championship in 2011.

And what about the famous Peninsula cars? Yep, they’re here and at the ready: Continuing the company’s  long partnership (since 1970) with Rolls-Royce, a Rolls-Royce EWB Phantom and a meticulously restored 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II are liveried, together with two customized Peninsula Edition MINI Cooper Clubman vehicles,  in the signature Peninsula green in front of the hotel. There’s also a fleet of 10 BMW 7 Series limousines for airport transfers, sightseeing and trips around Paris.

The hotel’s general manager is Nicolas Béliard , who has extensive experience throughout Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and the US. He joined the company in 2009, at The Peninsula Hong Kong, and became GM of the Peninsula Bangkok the following year.

Hotel manager Vincent Pimont also has years of luxury hotel experience,  in Paris, the US and the Far East. He comes most recently from the Peninsula Beijing.

Opening month specials begin at €750 per night, for a Superior room with full breakfast for two (usually €1,205).

To reserve, click here, go to or call: 08 00 91 59 80 (in France) or 866 382 8388 (in the US). 

Photos: (1) You've arrived! One of the two lobbies, with its hand-blown crystal "Dancing Leaves" chandelier. (2) The Peninsula all lit up and ready to party. (3) Rooftop restaurant views at L’Oiseau Blanc. (4, 5) Guestrooms and marble bathrooms are loaded with luxe amenities and tech. (6) Executive chef Jean-Edern Hurstel on the hunt for the best seasonal ingredients and products. (7) The hotel at 19 avenue Kléber opened in 1908 and was known for voluminous spaces, elegant events, beauty and glamour. (8, 9) Countless craftsmen using traditional methods did the meticulously restoration, guided by historic photos. (10) Inviting sweets are among the in-room amenities offered.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Foodie Films and BBQ at Château La Coste

For the third year, the "starchitect" winery Château La Coste, 10 minutes north of Aix, is presenting its summer outdoor film series.  This year all four films celebrate the theme of gastronomy. Each evening before the screening, a barbecue will be available along with salads, cheese and ice cream...accompanied by wines from the domain of course.  

On film days, the winery's restaurant will be open normal hours for lunch but for dinner there will be the special barbecue menu only.
If you're interested in wine, design, sculpture or architecture--or simply enjoy experiencing very unusual and beautiful places--a visit to La Coste is a must. This gorgeous 600-acre wine domaine has a large visitors center designed by world-famous architect Tadao Ando, plus numerous installations and buildings crafted by other luminaries such as Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry.  

While the newest incarnation of Château la Coste is just a year old, there's been agriculture and winemaking here as far back as Roman times. On the property are cobbled Gallo-Roman pathways, dry stone walls, bridges, underground wells...and the vestiges of an intricate watering system currently undergoing restoration. Between the rows of vines, mixed in with the sandy limestone soil, workers have found fragments of amphores which the Romans used to transport their wine and varnished fragments of the cups from which they drank. Today the property is blanketed with forests of green and white oaks, meadows of almond trees and broad swaths of wildflowers, plus 250 acres of meticulously tended vines. A lovely Venetian villa in a rosy pink hue has stood here since 1682.

It was in 2004 that the current owners decided to transform the domaine into a place where art, architecture, wine and the terrain would blend seamlessly. The idea had already been successful in the Basque city of Álava, headquarters of Vinos del Marqués de Riscal, where Frank Gehry was commissioned to build a hotel. Here in France, the Irish owners of Château La Coste expanded on that idea, inviting artists and architects from all over the world to visit, explore and find a place upon the estate that inspired them to create. Other artists with work on view include Alexander Calder, Michael Stipe, Louise Bourgeous, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Serra, Paul Matisse and many others.  

The newest installation at Château La Coste is "Self Portrait: Cat Inside a Barrel" by Tracey Emin. Coming next is artwork by Lee Ufan. But the big news is that Château La Coste will soon begin construction on a hotel. The architect is Tangram Architects (Marseille); it will most likely have 16 villas and 29 rooms. Construction is expected to take two years. 

To see the major features of the property, plan for a two-hour stroll with some gravel and gentle hills. 

The property is open for self-guided visits year round (you'll be provided with a map) while guided visits in French and English are available by reservation.  Visits to the Jean Nouvel-designed winery (the ''chai") are also available in both languages. Info and admission prices can be found on the website here.

Ok so back to the movies. Here's the schedule:
July 26: Sideways (with French subtitles).

August 2: Babette's Feast (French subtitles).

August 9: The Scent of Green Papaya (French subtitles).

August 16: La Femme du Boulanger (Original Version, in French).
Practical Info:  
*The barbecue is from 7 to 9 pm. 
*Films start at 9:30 pm. 
*Movie tickets are 8€ per person. 
*Reservations are recommended : call 04 42 61 92 92 or email: To buy tickets online, click here
*Also recommended: Bring a shawl for warmth as this is a fully open-air projection. If you come for the film only, you might want to bring a cushion or chair...or you'll be sitting on the grass. If you come for dinner first, you can use that chair for the movie. 
*In case of rain: Movies will be cancelled.

Chateau La Coste 
2750 Route de la Cride
Le Puy Sainte Reparade, France
04 42 61 89 98
GPS coordinates: on the website
Facebook and Twitter  

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rencontres d'Arles Opens Monday July 7

The 45th annual Recontres d'Arles, the fantastic international photo festival, will run July 7 to September 21, 2014 in Arles, with 50-plus exhibits and workshops. As in years past there will be panel discussions, lectures, book signings, open-air screenings, portfolio reviews, guided tours and more. Last year, almost 100,000 people attended.

Most but not all exhibits stay up until the end of the festival, on September 21st.

The exhibits, sometimes co-produced with French and/or foreign museums and institutions, are staged in various galleries, museums and purpose-built sites. Some sites (for example, a 12th-century chapel or 19th-century industrial buildings) are open to the public only during the festival.

The opening week (the week that many industry professionals attend) will feature a number of special events and the week's program is here.

A complete list of this year's exhibitions is here. The big names this year are David Bailey, Christian Lacroix, Lucien Clergue and Raymond Depardon. Use the left right arrows to see the various photographers and click for more info on that particular show. Over to the right, you'll see the venue, dates and single ticket price. A list of all the shows appears in the margin at left; they're divided into two categories: Originals and Parade.

Special evenings where one or more photographers project their work on a large screen, often accompanied by music, will be held on July 8 (Théâtre d' Arles, corner of Georges Clémenceau Blvd and Gambetta) and on July 9, 10 and 12 (Théâtre Antique). Separate tickets for these evenings are required and more info is here.

Friday July 11 is the annual "Nuit de L'Année" (Night of The Year). Work by various photographers will be projected on 14 screens on the Boulevard des Lices, from 10 pm to 3 am. It's a festive evening, free and open to all.

Tickets to all events may be purchased online or at seven ticket offices, which you can see hereExhibit tickets may be purchased individually or in multi-day passes. Single tickets range from 3.50€ to 12€. A pass that gets you into all exhibits from July 7 to September 21 is 35€. One-day passes are 29€. A pass good for September 1st to 21st is 31€. Info on all passes is here.

Groups of 10 or more get special rates. For more info, call or email Han Xiao:

Please note that some shows/venues are not included in pass prices and must be paid for separately. Make sure to get a map to all exhibits when you stop by a ticket office. They should also have them at the Tourist Office.

During opening week, exhibiting photographers are often on hand to present and discuss their work. Pass holders can also enjoy free daily guided tours, between July 14 and September 21. These 90-minute tours will let you discover a range of exhibitions with a mediator-photographer as your guide. There's no need to reserve ahead...just show up, as long as you have a pass. More info can be found at the ticket offices but the best details I can get are:

* City Center Tour : 5 pm, on even days. Meeting point : Garden of the Espace Van Gogh Tours run until and including August 31 (which where I come from is not an even day but...)

* Bureau Des Lices Tour : 5 pm, on odd days, on August 21st and every day after September 1st. Meeting point : Garden of the Espace Van Gogh.

 * Parc des Ateliers Tour : 11am. Meeting point : Chaudronnerie entrance.

Info on workshops can be seen here. There are two categories: summer and weekend. Click on the links in the left hand margin to see them.

A free Rencontres app can be downloaded here.

To see the press kit in English, click here.

The full Rencontres website in English is here. If you can't find the word ''Exhibitions," it may be hidden behind the word ''photographie" in the logo at the top left. Click the big purple-and-orange Parade square instead.

The festival office/headquarters is located at 34, rue du Docteur Fanton in Arles and remains open throughout the fest.

Photos: *Mick Jagger, 1964, by David Bailey (Show #1). *Alberth Lukassen, an Inuit hunter in northern Greenland, by Ciril Jazbec (Show #12). *Double Impact from the series Wild Style, 2013, by Mazaccio & Drowilal (Show #8). *Sunbathing, from the Album series by Vik Muniz, 2014 (Show #2). *Juliette Binoche by Patrick Swirc. The un-numbered exhibit is called "Don't Move" and it's at the Abbaye de Montmajour, not in Arles. *Jérôme le Banner, 2011 by Vincent Perez (Show #19). *From the show "Deadline"by Will Steacy, 2009 (Show #13).

Monday, June 30, 2014

Gigondas Sur Table is Monday July 21

In the heart of the Southern Rhône wine region, the 3rd annual Gigondas Sur Table will be Monday July 21. This year, five top Provencal chefs will serve tasting portions of their dishes--appetizers to desserts--and 40 local winemakers will be pouring. The cheese course will be provided by one of the top purveyors in the region, Claudine Vigier, who has the title Meilleure Fromagère de France. It all happens on the village square (Place Gabrielle Andeol) in Gigondas, from 7 pm to around 11 pm. Tickets are 35€ per person, 10€ for kids under 12, and reservations are essential. To book: or call 04 90 37 79 60. To see the press kit in French, which lists the chefs and winemakers participating, click here. For general info on Gigondas and its wines, click here or or find them on Twitter: @Gigondaswines.

Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 Bordeaux Wine Fest Celebrates L.A.

The ninth edition of the bi-annual Bordeaux Wine Festival (or Fete le Vin) takes place this week, from Thursday, June 26 to Sunday, June 29. More than 500,000 people—and 800 to 1000 winemakers--are expected to attend and tickets are still available.

The festival launched in 1998 and alternates years with the Bordeaux River Festival.

Featuring wines from the 80 appellations of Bordeaux and the Aquitaine, the Fete le Vin is considered one of the world's premier wine tourism events. Most of the action takes place on the quays of the Garonne River, in the historic heart of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
The economic impact for the city is estimated at 20 million.

Bordeaux has a total vineyard area of over 120,000 hectares, making it the largest wine growing area in France. Grapevines were  introduced here by the Romans,  probably in the mid-1st century,  and wine production has been continuous in the region ever since.

This year's festival highlights the 50th anniversary of the twinning of Bordeaux and its sister city in the US, Los Angeles. Yep, Los Angeles is the guest of honor!

For me that's especially exciting as one of my greatest old chef pals, John Sedlar, is coming to cook. John is a widely known expert in Latin American and Modern Southwest cuisines, whose latest restaurant Rivera, has been a smash hit in LA for the six years it’s been open.

This fall, he’ll launch Eloisa in Santa Fe, named for his beloved grandmother Eloisa Martinez Rivera, who--along with his mother and aunts--taught John to cook at home in Abiquiú, New Mexico. John's aunt Jerry was Georgia O'Keeffe's personal chef in Abiquiú for 15 years.

John is the only American chef invited to cook at Bordeaux. And boy, will he cook: he'll be presiding over an extraordinary buffet of events throughout the weekend.  These include: a welcome reception hosted by the consul general of the US in Bordeaux, the honorable Thomas Wolf;  one course of a seated luncheon in the Bordeaux City Hall for 150 guests; a “revisiting the hamburger” cooking demo with chef Christophe Giradot (he’s making  ahi tuna burgers with Korean kimchi); Los Angeles-inspired hors d’oeuvres and cocktails for execs of Air France; a cooking demo highlighting the products of Aquitaine; four consecutive nights of a pop-up restaurant in collaboration with chef Francois Adamski of the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Gabriele (he’s serving Baja ceviche and squab mole); and the main course of a gala dinner for 350 guests at the Palais de la Bourse. He’ll also present a “deconstructed tequila tasting.”

To help, John is bringing two of his chefs, one media assistant and one agronomist..."because we had three aeroponic towers shipped in advance to grow my Meso-American micro herbs,” he explains. “We're collaborating with the Ecole Horticulture in Bordeaux and then gifting the aeroponic towers to the school."

John also shipped other supplies ahead--his distinctive plates, taco fry baskets—and  he’s traveling to Bordeaux this week with chile pastes, tortillas, corn husks and other ingredients from which he’ll whip up plate after plate of his signature cuisine.

All told, a contingent of more than 50 people are flying in from LA to celebrate the event.

The heart of the festival will be a 2 km-long "wine road" where visitors with a Tasting Pass can discover countless wines and vintages. To chat up winegrowers and merchants, they'll head for the ten Appellation Pavilions and Vintage Pavilions.

As in years past, lots of activities and special events planned are planned. There will be special Wine Festival menus in restaurants, the showing of art by 200 artists, some of them from California, a cinema devoted to classic Hollywood films and the Jardin des Arts, where street artists will be customizing giant bottles.

The Bordeaux Wine School will offer several introductory training courses every day. The 1855 Passport lets visitors to take part in Master Classes on great classified growths in the prestigious salons of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In conjunction, the Bordeaux Wine Festival will host the Bordeaux Music Festival, featuring four concerts in four days (tickets 30€)  plus a sound and light show entitled "Rendez-vous à Bordeaux" and fireworks every evening on the quays.

And last but not least, those who purchase the festival's Vineyard Pass are invited to visit and taste in exquisite châteaux. Different theme tours will depart everyday from the festival.

Ticket options include:

*Tasting Pass (15€ if purchased beforehand, 20€ at the event): 13 tickets + glass + glass holder + " transport ticket + advantages

*Vineyard pass (60 to 145€)

*1855 Passport (65-150€)

For all the info, click here ( To see a video from last year’s Fete, click here. For general Bordeaux info, you can call +33(0)5 56 00 66 00  or go to

Photos: (1) A festival shout out on a gorgeous old facade. (2) Los Angeles-based chef John Sedlar is the only American invited to cook--and he'll be cooking up a storm. (3) Most of the action takes place on the quays of the Garonne River, in the historic heart of the city. (4) There are also gala meals in gorgeous salons. (5, 6) The festival at dusk...and lit up by nightly fireworks. (7) This year's logo.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Celebrating the 4th of July in Provence

All Americans in Provence--along with anyone else who wants to celebrate American Independence Day--are invited to three 4th of July celebrations, one on July 4, one on the 5th and one on July 6th. 

On Friday evening, July 4th, the American Club of the Riviera has arranged a reception and dinner at the wonderful Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat. For all the details, click here

The Marseille Chapter of Democrats Abroad will hold an Independence Day Yard Sale and Potluck BBQ on Saturday July 5. The Yard Sale starts at 3 pm and the BBQ at 7 pm​. The location is 54 rue des Flots Bleus, 13007 Marseille. (Donations for the yard sale are happily accepted but must be received by June 30. For those of you in Aix, there will be a pick up date in late June. For info on donating, contact: Paulette Theodore at 06 84 65 79 30.) To RSVP for the potluck, contact: 06 27 28 28 60.

On Sunday July 6, the Avignon Chapter of Democrats Abroad will hold its potluck BBQ celebration at a private home in Isle sur la Sorgue, from noon to 4 pm. This beautiful setting has a large lawn area that borders the Sorgue River and people will definitely be swimming. Everyone is asked to bring a dish to share with at least five others, a bottle of wine and something for the barbeque. Camping chairs and picnic supplies are also appreciated. Please RSVP before July 1 to Dennis Shibut and let him know what dish you'll bring to share. His email:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Château Shopping in France?

This is kind of fun: HGTV and Magilla Entertainment got in touch the other day, looking for families who are about to buy and renovate "a castle, château or very large estate" in Europe. If that's you and you want to be considered for a new TV series, you should email: Be sure to include your name, location, phone, photos of yourselves, photos of your new property and a brief paragraph about your story. And if you haven't found the perfect property just yet, you may be in luck...because look what I just found online. This nine-bedroom, 18th-century château above is set on 83 hectares--near Lourmarin and Ansouis in the Southern Luberon region of Provence--and it's for sale. The main house (a Provençal bastide) has more than 1000 square meters of living space, while the property features a farmhouse, hayloft, winery, stables, garages...and even a preserved private chapel with frescoes. It all sits at the edge of a magnificent 31-hectare, wholly private lake. The property is less than an hours drive from Marseille Airport, 30 minutes from Aix. The price is upon request but whatever it is, you're worth it! For more info, click here and then use location Luberon.

Friday, June 6, 2014

This Weekend and Next at the Pont du Gard

The 2,000-year-old aqueduct called the Pont du Gard is one of the most magnificent sites in Provence; I never get tired of tromping around on it, photographing it and splashing around in the water beneath it.  And my favorite Roman relic is even more spectacular when she’s all lit up with video, light, flame and fireworks as she is each summer during a popular evening sound-and-light show series called “Les Féeries du Pont’’ (Fairies of the Bridge). 

This year’s show is called Le Magicien d’Eau. It will be presented four times in June, on Friday and Saturday evenings: June 6, 7, 13 and 14, 2014. Showtime is 10:30 p.m or at dusk. But definitely arrive early as there are some "animations" before the main event, probably starting around 7 p.m. 

Once again, the producer is Groupe F, the internationally acclaimed pyrotechnicians known for shows at the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Olympics. If you want a smile, have a look at their website; their work is over-the-top wonderful. I think the Romans would love it! 

The Pont du Gard site will be open all day, as usual, but separate tickets are required. Seating will be on the right bank of the river so if you arrive on the left bank, you must be in by 9:30 pm in order to cross the bridge; the gates to the Pont du Gard park will close at 9:30. Bring cushions, chairs and blankets or you'll be sitting on the ground; the shops on site also sell seats if you forget. My best advice is sit as close to the bridge itself as possible.  ''And don't forget to bring also warm wears,'' my contact at the Pont du Gard sweetly tells me. 

Tickets for the Les Féeries show range from €16 to €23; kids under six are free. You can buy them online here or at the Pont du Gard box office at any time. They're also available at FNAC, Carrefour, Géant, Magasins U, and Group rates are available (for group rates call 04 66 37 51 10). If you have an annual pass to the Pont du Gard, you get a discount. Parking is free. 

Still not sure? You can see another video from a previous year, click here.  

So what about dinner? Casual food will be sold on site or you can bring a picnic in with you. There's also a restaurant called Les Terrasses that serves excellent Mediterranean cuisine (04 66 63 91 37). A special Féeries du Pont menu will be offered at Les Terrasses but the restaurant fills up very quickly so reserve early

For all the info on the Féeries du Pont show or on visiting Pont du Gard at other times, click here. For historical info, click here. To contact the Pont du Gard directly: or 04 66 37 50 99....and yes, they speak English. 

If you want to catch a Groupe F fireworks show at another time,  go to their site here and click rendezvous to see the 2014 schedule. After Les Féeries du Pont, they’ll be staging shows in Provence on the following dates: 

July 5: Martigues
July 13: Salin de Giraud
July 14: Arles
July 14: Martigues

There will also be a special Groupe F show at the Eiffel Tower this year on July 14, Bastille Day. 

Finally, if you plan to be in Paris this summer,  you can get a taste of Groupe F at the Chateau de Versailles, where they're once again staging their musical fountain display called ''Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes.'' It's on certain evenings from June 21 to September 13 and the schedule is on the Versailles website here. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Have You Herd? Transhumance is June 9...

Monday June 9th  2014  is the annual Fête de la Transhumance in St. Remy, where local shepherds herd their flocks (roughly 3500 sheep and goats) three times around the village's circular "main drag" before taking them up to graze the green pastures of the Alpilles Mountains for the summer months. They say the Transhumance in St. Remy is one of the "100 Prettiest Festivals in France" and even though I can't find that referenced anywhere, let's just go with it. If you haven't seen the Transhumance, it's great good friend Philippe calls it ''sheep cooking in the streets.'' It starts officially around 10:30 am but arrive by 9:30 to find parking. Also, there's an all-day flea market on the Place Republique, starting at 9 am. Other villages in Provence have Transhumance festivals but St. Remy's is one of the biggest and most popular. 

Afterwards, everyone flocks  to the Plateau de la Crau for sheep-herding demos (starting noon-ish) and a community lunch.  Want to party like a shepherd? Here's your chance: The Repas des Bergers de la Transhumance (Transhumance Shepherds Lunch) begins at 1 pm and all are welcome. The menu: grilled lamb chops and gigot, stewed beans, green salad, cheese, dessert and all the wine you care to drink (but don't forget: good shepherds don't let other shepherds drive drunk!) The lunch is popular and might sell out so reserve ahead if you can (call 06 16 78 61 55) and arrive early. Lunch is 25€ per person, 1/2 price for ages 5 to 12 and free for kids under 5.  To get there: leave St. Remy direction Avignon; turn right (direction Noves) at the first rond-point outside town, then turn left at the next rond-point. The street will be blocked so park at the school and walk up the gentle hill about 10 or 15 minutes. Or, just walk from town, which takes about 30 minutes.

For more info on Transhumance, call the St. Remy Tourist Office (04 90 92 05 22) or click here.  And, you can watch a nice video here...

Photos: Thanks once again to Guy Butters for the Transhumance photos. You can visit Guy's website here and see more of his wonderful photography here and here. You can also follow him on Twitter and on Facebook. The bottom photo is courtesy of

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Look What They Pulled From the Rhône...

Just like many of us here in Provence, Sharon deRham was fascinated by the story surrounding the Roman barge (or "chaland") that was pulled from the depths of the Rhône River at Arles nine years ago. An American tour guide living full time Provence, Sharon has a particularly keen interest in Roman history and she followed the whole saga closely: the raising and meticulous restoration of the boat; the building of the special museum wing to house it. Almost immediately after the exhibit opened to the public, Sharon's clients started asking to see she undertook even more in-depth research into Roman life in Arles, the chaland and the hundreds of artifacts pulled up with it. "The Chaland Antique Arles-Rhône 3" is a stunning exhibit in a fantastic museum that travelers in Provence often miss. So I asked Sharon to tell us about it...and this is what she sent. 

All of Provence and especially anyone living near the former Roman colony founded by Julius Caesar--once called Arelate, now known as Arles--is fiercely and justly proud of the newest addition to the Musée Départemental  d’Arles Antique (MDAA). The Arles-Rhône 3 is an almost 2,000-year-old Roman chaland (barge), discovered  in 2004 when divers saw a few planks sticking out of the silt in the murky Rhône.  

The only intact Roman ship ever found in the entire world, it still had its navigational equipment, cargo and kitchen. Other ancient ships have been brought up, of course—the Stockholm VASA, some Viking ships in Oslo—but these are not nearly as old as the Arles-Rhône 3. 

Historians and archeologists think that a flash flood caused the boat to escape its mooring near Arles and sink with its cargo. The boat was buried, “fossilized” in the silt and sand of the riverbed which preserved it, protecting it from oxygen and bacteria.

In the first century A.D., Arles was a booming commercial crossroads. Built between 50 and 60 B.C. in Arles’ famous shipyards, the 102-foot-long barge was used to transport goods up and down the Rhône. Sea-going vessels, which brought goods to and from Arles from around the Mediterranean, couldn't navigate the Rhône.  So merchandise was transferred to the chalands in Arles to make the trip north, for example, to Lyon. This one, fully loaded, used 26 slaves on the riverbanks to pull it north, but the sail and river currents helped propel it south.

Details of the recovery and restoration are fascinating, as is the technology used.  The boat was first discovered in 2004. Early underwater studies showed that it was intact and in excellent condition; however it was extremely fragile and could have broken like glass. Water-logged, it weighed eight tons, five times more than a dry barge. The boat was to be sent to the Arc-Nucléart laboratory in Grenoble for restoration but the tanks in Grenoble weren't large enough to hold the entire barge. So deep-sea divers cut it into ten pieces before it was raised in custom-built metal cages.  The Rhône did her part to facilitate the recovery, remaining low, calm and fairly clear during the cutting process.  Only once in a century is the river known to be so co-operative, I was told.

Then the chaland was put into a warehouse, cleaned and kept moist before being sent to Grenoble. There it underwent treatment and restoration so the wood wouldn’t shrink or crack.  Its 1,700 cast iron nails were removed and replaced to avoid acidification of the wood. Scientists have been able to date the oak, fir and pine used in the construction; the fir tree used in the sides of the barge was about 300 years old when cut.

Even before the barge was raised, a decision had been made to add a new wing to the MDAA to house this extraordinary find, surrounded by other exhibits featuring the port and navigation and commerce during the Roman era in Arles.  At the same time, the French Ministry of Culture classified the chaland as a “trésor national,” since it has major historical and archaeological interest for France.

The cost of the entire project was €9 million: €3 million for the archaeology and recovery, €6 million for the restoration and the new museum wing. The project was completed in record time, to meet the goal of displaying the ship for the Marseille-Provence Capitale de la Culture 2013 celebration. The permanent exhibit opened in early October, 2013.

The chaland is shown in a long trench to approximate its look on the river. Also on view are part of its 30-ton cargo of building stones and 450 other objects found in the river, including a large collection of amphorae, which were the most frequently used containers for shipping; they're displayed chronologically alongside the boat. Each is displayed with info on what it carried: wine, olive oil, salted fish, etc. There's a cut-off dolium (a terra cotta pot used as a barbecue), coins, dishes and much more. 

On one side of the room, large windows overlook the Hortus, a Roman inspired garden.  Other windows overlook the Rhône, lending a nice synergy to the chaland experience. 

The MDAA is known as having the best collection in France of objects from the Roman period.  In 2007, another discovery from the Rhône at Arles became a worldwide superstar: a bust of Julius Caesar, who founded Arles in 46 B.C.  It may also be the only remaining statue of Caesar carved during his lifetime.  Although there is some controversy regarding whether  or not the bust really represents Caesar, the French Culture Ministry confirms that the life-sized marble bust is the oldest known representation of Caesar and that it dates from the creation of Arles in 46 B.C. It shows a somewhat aging man, with facial wrinkles and deep creases along his nose. The bust had been on loan to the Louvre but recently returned to the MDAA.

Watching over the chaland is a rare, six-foot-tall marble statue of Neptune, Greek God of the Seas and protector of navigation and maritime commerce, which was found in the Rhône in 2007, broken into four pieces. It dates from the early 3rd century B.C. and was probably commissioned by a boatmen's union in Arles.


Musée Departemental d’Arles Antique
Presqu'île du Cirque Romain
Avenue 1ère Div Français Libre
13200 Arles
+33 (0) 4 13 31 51 03 
Open daily except Tuesday, 10 a.m- 6 p.m
Closed January 1, May 1, November 1 and December 25.
Entry: 8€;  5€ for 65 and older and for groups of 10 or more with reservations; free under 18.

Guided museum visits are offered in French on Sundays at 3 p.m. and daily during school vacations. They may also be offered in English; call the museum to inquire. Sharon can lead tours of the MDAA and the chaland exhibit. For her availability and pricing:

Photos: (1-3) The chaland nestled into its safe perch, designed to replicate the way it once sat in the water. Crowds flocked to see it opening weekend...and have ever since. The exhibit is permanently on view. (4-8) Diving for, raising, treating and restoring the chaland. (9) Some 450 other artifacts were brought up with the chaland; many are on view alongside it. The collection includes amphorae used as containers for shipping wine, oils and food, plus coins, dishes, vessels of all sizes and much more. There are still hundreds and maybe thousands of Roman artifacts still underwater in the Rhône at Arles, due to the high cost of raising, restoring, storing and exhibiting them. (10) The bust of Caesar, also on view at MDAA, was a major find; Caesar founded Arles in 46 B.C. The bust was on loan to the Louvre for a while but now Caesar's back in Arles, not far from where he was found. (11) The statue of Neptune found in the Rhône in 2007 dates from the early 3rd c. B.C.  (13, 14) Three articles about the chaland appeared in the French edition of National Geographic in 2011 and '12. A 16-page version of the story then appeared in English, in 170 international editions, in April, 2014, and it has since been translated into 36 languages for 58 other countries. Here, the cover of the US edition...and the Georgian edition which shows the handle of a bronze pot found with the chaland. The stories were illustrated with photos by Arles-based photographer Remi Benali. A special 64-page issue of National Geographic is available in French in the museum shop. (15) The MDAA (aka the Musée Bleu or Blue Museum) sits right on the Rhône, adding a lovely synergy as the artifacts were pulled from these very waters. On the lawn outside the museum, you’ll see gardens fashioned in the style of the old Roman Circus, which once sat just adjacent. The MDAA is a wonderfully accessible museum, home to one of Provence's most important collections of Roman antiquities including a world-class collection of statues, and sarcophagi. It also has wonderful series of maquettes (miniatures) portraying Arles during the Roman period. All photos are © Remi Benali except diver photo which is ©Teddy Seguin. 

To read the National Geographic story about the chaland and see more great photos, click here.

To learn more about Sharon deRham and her tours, click here. Her direct email is:


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