Thursday, July 11, 2019

River Kayaking in Provence


On a hot day, river kayaking is a fabulous way to while away a few hours and doing it in Provence is super easy. You can kayak (and stand-up paddleboard) on the Rhône from Avignon (details below) but whenever I get the chance, I love kayaking on the River Sorgue, from Fontaine-de-Vaucluse in the Luberon. You can also kayak on the River Gardon from Collias (a great way to see the Pont du Gard) and while I haven't done it there myself, my friends and clients who have say it's fantastic. If you've never kayaked before, not to worry! You'll get a short tutorial, on the Sorgue there are staffers on the river to help and these are not fast-running rivers. Here are details on everything above!

KAYAKING ON THE SORGUE

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is 15 minutes from Isle sur la Sorgue and if you hit the big Sunday market or smaller Thursday market there (Isle sur la Sorgue), kayaking from Fontaine is a great way to spend the afternoon. It’s an easy trip (about five miles) on clear, cool shallow water and you see lots of lovely, lush countryside. You leave your car in Fontaine and they bring you back by bus.  There are two companies that do it: Kayak Vert and Canoe Evasion. Both are outside town with big signs so they’re easy to find. I prefer Canoe Evasion--they're a bit more organized--but either is fine! If you go with Kayak Vert, there's sometimes a wait at the beginning of the route where you have to climb down some steps, but there's always someone there to help. Both have small snack bars for cold drinks and ice cream.

With Kayak Vert, you can go at your own pace; with Canoe Evasion you’re sort of encouraged to stay with a group of boats but you don’t really have to.  The trip takes 2 to 2.5 hours and there’s a little break in the middle for swimming or just chilling on the river banks. And don't miss the rope swing!  Whether you swim or not you’ll definitely get wet so plan accordingly; it's good to have a beach towel with you. Also, definitely wear water shoes or grippy sandals because there's a place where you have a little walk on slippery rocks.

Both outfitters give you a watertight container for your stuff (still, let's leave those priceless heirlooms at home)...and life preserver vests...and there's staff here and there on the river to help if you need it.

Here are the two outfitters for kayaking the Sorgue and reservations are definitely recommended!

Canoe Evasion: 2019 prices:  20€ pp adults; 10€ for kids under 14; free for kids 3 to 6. Groups of 10 or more: adults pay 16€ each.  Payment is by cash or check (no credit cards). The price includes your gear  (boats, paddles, watertight cans, life jackets) and your return ride in the bus. There’s no minimum age per se, but kids have to be able to swim at least 25 meters and be able to submerge themselves (meaning, not panic if they go under water). In general, the company prefers kids be five or older. Open every day from mid May to mid October.  Departures every half hour, from 9 am to 11:30 and 1:30 to 4:30. To reserve : +33 (0)4 90 38 26 22, canoe-evasion.net

Kayak Vert. 2019 prices:  23€ for adults, 19 € for teens, 12€ for kids. For groups of 10 or more, adults pay 16€ each. Price includes boats, paddles, watertight cans, life jackets and your return ride in the bus. Kayak Vert’s age minimum is six and kids must be able to swim. 23€ for adults, 19 € for teens, 12€ for kids. Cash only, the last time I checked.  Open from the 3rd weekend in April thru October. To reserve : +33 (0)4 90 20 35 44 or +33 (0)6 88 48 96 71, canoevaucluse.com, kayakvert@aol.com.

A Bit about Fontaine

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is an interesting village so leave some time before or after kayaking to explore. This pretty little town (population 600 or so) is best known for its deep-water source or spring at the foot of a steep cliff 230 meters high. It’s the biggest spring in France and the fifth largest in the world; it's where the Sorgue River begins and when the water is high and running strong, the source is truly a gorgeous site to see. Even when it’s not at its peak, the river is super peaceful, bringing serenity in the height of the summer crowds. In 1946, Jacques Cousteau and another diver were almost killed searching for the bottom of the spring, at about 100 meters down. (They weren’t even close, as it turns out: the bottom is at 308 meters.) The spring is the only exit point of a subterranean basin that collects water from Mont Ventoux, the Vaucluse Mountains and Lure Mountain. People have lived in the area since Neolithic times (you know, back when you could still find an parking spot easily). Archaeological digs have turned up more than 1600 coins, from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD. 

Fontaine has an interesting museum in an old paper mill (with a cool shop selling all types of paper products, diaries, puzzles, handmade books, stationary and other goodies around the same theme), a museum about Petrarch and one filled with Santons (traditional Provencale figurines). Plus plenty of cafes and restaurants on or near the water and some cute shops.

And not far from Canoe Evasion is a "parc accrobranche" that kids love. This is one of those ropes courses where you swing from trees on zip lines and such. It's called La Passerelle des Cîmes and friends who’ve been say everyone loves it...all ages. As you approach, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, you’ll see the signs.

KAYAKING ON THE GARDON

To kayak the Gardon River and see the Pont du Gard you can try Canoes Collias but the main outfitter is Kayak Vert; both leave from the town of Collias. You can keep the kayak all day if you like but most people like the basic two-hour paddle, taking them 8 km up to and under the Pont du Gard. What a fun way to see this 2000- year-old Roman aqueduct! All along the river there are little beaches and places to picnic, swim, sunbathe, etc.  The two-hour  time frame is calculated on paddling from Collias to the Pont du Gard non-stop, but you can keep the kayak as long as you like for the same price. As they do on the Sorgue, they bring you back by bus. 2019 prices: 23€ for adults, 19 € for teens, 12€ for kids. Cash and credit cards accepted. Reservations not required but definitely recommended. For a family or small group, try to reserve at least a few days before.  Kayak Vert, Collias/Pont du Gard, kayakvert.com or +33 (0)4 66 22 80 76, contact@kayakvert.com.

KAYAKING ON THE RHONE AT AVIGNON

Run by an association (Canoe Outings Comite de Vaucluse de Kayak) rather than a private company, this is extremely popular with river-cruise passengers, locals and groups, who often bring their own translator or request one because not all the staff speaks English. That said, they're currently the only outfitter offering kayaking in this gorgeous city, their prices are low, they have solid reviews on Trip Advisor so I see no reason that paddling around (before or after dancing on) the famous Pont d'Avignon wouldn't be great fun. +33 (0)6 11 52 16 73, canoe-vaucluse.fr, contact@canoe-vaucluse.fr

Note: The three places mentioned above are by no means the only places for kayaking in Provence; you can do it in the Camargue, on the Gorges du Verdon and in sea kayaks up and down Mediterranean coast. If you have a favorite kayak place and want to share the info, please leave a comment below.

Photos: (1, 2) Kayaking on the Sorgue (courtesy Kayak Vert and Canoe Evasion); (3) At the Pont du Gard (courtesy Canoe Collias); and (4) on the Rhône at Avignon (courtesy Avignon Tourisme).

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Party Like a Shepherd on Monday June 10

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Will ewe be there? Monday June 10 is the 36th annual Fête de la Transhumance in St. Remy, when 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. It's always the Monday of Pentecost and if you haven't seen it, it's great good fun. An all-day flea market, poster sale and goat-cheese fair starts at 9 am on the Place Republique; the Transhumance is set to start around 10:30 am but it's usually 11 am before the sheep get to town. To find parking, it's best to arrive by 9:30 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 at noon-ish) and the Repas des Bergers (Shepherds' Lunch). The event has become super popular and always sells out. I just called the Tourist Office and heard that a few last tickets will be sold this evening, from 6:30 to 8 pm in the parking lot of the swimming pool in St. Remy. After that, you might try to call this number (+33 6 84 21 34 20) and see if there's any space left but it's unlikely. Sometimes people let me know that they have extra tickets and if that happens, I'll stick the info in here. The feast is 30€ for adults and includes 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 Transhumance and the flea market happen in the heart of the village. The sheep-herding demo and the shepherds' lunch happen up on the Plateau de la Crau. To get there, leave St. Remy on the D571 direction Eyragues/Avignon; turn right on the D99 (direction Noves) which you'll find at the first rondpoint (roundabout) just outside town, then pass the BricoMarche and turn left at the next rondpoint. The street will be blocked so park at the soccer field or by the school and walk up the gentle hill about 10 or 15 minutes. Or, just walk from town, which takes about 20 minutes. 

For more info on Transhumance, call the St. Remy Tourist Office at +33 (0) 4 90 92 05 22. Please note that their new website is currently under construction...and see their lovely Transhumance video here.

Photos: (1) Courtesy of Philippe Donnart. (2-4) Photos courtesy of Guy Butterssee more of his work here and here. (5) Photo courtesy of weloveprovence.fr(6) Shepherds' Lunch under the trees, courtesy of St. Remy Tourist Office. (7) This year's poster.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Van Gogh Show Now Open in Les Baux

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The Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light) is a magical space in a vast cave-like quarry at the base of the hilltop village of Les Baux de Provence. There in the cool darkness, 100 video projectors and 30 speakers generate the choreographed movement of 2,000 images over an area of more than 75,000 square feet, onto walls as high as 45 feet and onto the floor. The sound-and-light show changes once a year and is one of the most-popular, most-visited sites in Provence.  Since its opening in 2012, Les Carrières de Lumières has attracted more than 3 million visitors.

The program always features an artist or group of artists, usually--but not always--with a connection to Provence. The newest show, which opened March 1st, is already attracting record numbers (with the tourist season not anywhere near full swing), so management strongly suggests booking a time slot online, which you can do in English here. The show runs until January 5, 2020.

Van Gogh: Starry Night retraces the intense life of the tormented Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890), who during the last ten years of his life, painted more than 2,000 canvasses.

The same show is currently on view at the Atelier des Lumieres in Paris, the sister venue to the Carrières des Lumieres which opened in 2018. Both are operated by Culturespaceswhich manages many of the country's leading monuments, museums and art centers.

The Van Gogh show and it's much-larger-than-life scale "evoke the artist’s boundless, chaotic, and poetic interior world."  Visitors experience the various phases of his life—including time spent in Paris, Arles and St. Rémy—through sunny landscapes, night scenes, portraits and still lifes. Van Gogh’s immense oeuvre—which radically evolved over the years--are projected on a continuous loop, choreographed to a soundtrack that ranges from Brahms and Vivaldi to Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Janis Joplin. For a video taste of the show, click here.

As in years past, the main program is followed by a shorter one. This year, each showing of Van Gogh will be followed by Dreamed Japan: Images of the Floating World, offering "a journey into the Japan of the collective imagination—the Japan of the geishas, samurai warriors, and spirits." The production was inspired by the Japanese prints that began to circulate in Europe in the second half of the 19th century, when trade opened up between the West and Japan. The discovery of Japanese art had a profound effect on Western art: the painting of the Impressionists and the avant-garde artists but also on the decorative arts, music, and dance. Van Gogh gave free reign to his interest in Japonisme. In Paris, he studied and bought Japanese prints; the Land of the Rising Sun influenced his use of line, color and composition. In Provence, he told his brother Théo that "everything has become Japanese in the southern light." This production highlights Van Gogh’s fascination with Japan and is being called "a contemplative journey into the environment of the masters of Japanese prints."

Something new this year: four special evenings, called "Les Soirées Van Gogh." On May 30 & 31 and July 24 & 25, from 8 pm to Midnight, you can see the show, hear commentary from a guide (in French only) dine on site and enjoy the Gipsy/Gitane band News Flamenco, composed of four guitarist/singers and a dancer. Tickets to Les Soirées are 29€ or 47€ (with the Provencal dinner): an anchoïade, a bull estouffade (a red wine stew),  a cheese course and a lemon meringue "caissette."  The dinner will be served in the Espace Picasso and the Cafe des Carrières will be open all evening; picnic baskets will also be available and need to be ordered ahead of time. Buy your tickets on the Carrières site here.

For those who may have missed previous years' shows or want to see them again, the program called Les Intégrales des Carrières repeats three of them, all in one evening...ten times during the season.This year's dates for Les Intégrales are Aug 7 & 8, 14 & 15, and September 13 & 14, 20 & 21, 27 & 28. On these evenings the entry fee is 24€ and tickets must be purchased in advance. The doors open at 7:30 and the shows start at 8:30. This year the program will feature "Picasso and the Spanish Masters" (2018), "Chagall: Midsummer Nights Dreams" (2016) and "Klimt and Vienna: A Century of Gold and Colors" (2014). For more info, click here.

The Carrières de Lumières are located in the Val d’Enfer, a stone's throw from the hilltop village of Les Baux. The quarries here first produced white limestone, used in the construction of the village and its château. In 1821, aluminum ore bauxite was discovered here by geologist Pierre Berthier, who named it after the village. In 1935, economic competition from modern materials led to the quarries' closure. Dramatic and otherworldly looking, the area has inspired artists of all sorts; it provided the setting for Dante’s Divine Comedy and Gounod created his opera Mireille here. Later, Cocteau came to film The Testament of Orpheus in these very quarries. The Carrières du Val d’Enfer have been awarded Natural Monument status in France. 

Formerly known as the Cathedrale des Images, this particular quarry was closed in 2011 and re-opened (after a €2 million re-do) as the Carrières de Lumières the following year. For a look at all the shows since then, click here.

As in years past, you can definitely just show up at the Carrieres and pay your admission fee then. But to avoid long lines, sell-out crowds and waits of up to an hour, it's strongly advised that you buy your tickets online here. Adult tickets to the Carrières  are €13, seniors (65 and up) are €12; reduced rate for students is €11, and kids under 7 are free. There are also family rates and combined-visit prices (for the Carrières, the Chateau des Baux and the Musée Yves  Brayer) on the website, along with opening hours, directions and much more. 

Route de Maillane  
13520 Les Baux de Provence 
Tel: +33 4 90 54 47 37

Photos: (1) The Van Gogh show has been wildly popular since it opened in March so management now advises booking online rather than just ambling in. (2) On four special evenings, the Carrières will host Les Soirées Van Gogh, with viewings of the show, a talk, a Provencal dinner for those who want it and a Gipsy/Flamenco band.  (3) A video taste of Starry Night. (4-8) Four of the images you'll see in the show. (9, 10) Two shots from the short feature Dreamed Japan, which follows the main show. (11, 12) Last year's Picasso show will be reprised, along with the Chagall and Klimt shows, on ten nights this season. Special tickets are required. (13) The old bauxite quarry in daylight. The geologist who first discovered aluminum ore here named it after the village. (14) One section of the vast space is often lit beautifully for private parties and other events. (15) One of my favorite photos of the village of Les Baux, taken by Philippe Clairo. (16) Based on the success of the Carrières de Lumières, Culturespaces opened the Atelier des Lumieres in Paris in April 2018, in a former foundry in the 11th arrondissement. The Van Gogh show is playing there too.

For general info about Les Baux including upcoming events, click here.

Want to spend the night in a Roman quarry? Sure you do! Then check out this very cool rental property in the Luberon. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Matisse Called It His Masterpiece...

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When someone tells me about a place in Provence that they adore, I sometimes ask if they'd write a guest post about it so we all can enjoy. This time, not only was that person a career journalist but a journalist of the very highest order! I've been reading Jesse Kornbluth for years: in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and elsewhere. I was fascinated when he told me he had just written a play about the Matisse Chapel in Vence on the French Riviera...and delighted when he said he'd love to share his Matisse story with us here. Jesse's full bio and details about the play (which opens April 4 in Westchester County, New York) appear at the end of this post.

The chapel that Henri Matisse designed in Vence is a must-see for pretty much everyone visiting the South of France. It’s a painless expedition from Nice: a pleasant half-hour drive along the coast and into the hills, and there you are. The Chapelle du Rosaire is a small building. You can experience it quickly in the cool of the morning and move on to a lovely lunch at Le Michel Ange.

Roughly 200,000 people a year visit the Chapelle du Rosaire. I suspect most of them leave if not moved then at least appropriately impressed — every tour guide tells visitors that Matisse, one of the most celebrated artists of the last century, described the chapel as the “masterpiece” of his career. The story behind its creation? It’s no secret, but it seems to be known only by hard-core art lovers and scholars. It certainly wasn’t known to me when I waltzed through the chapel decades ago.

A few years ago, a random Internet search led me to the back-story, and, fascinated, I narrowed my search to learn how and where it had been dramatized. It hadn’t been. So although I’d never written a play, I applied the skills of my long career in journalism: I read every biography of Matisse and every art book about the chapel. And then I wrote “The Color of Light.” As a drama, the story of the chapel deals with a single question: How did Matisse, a lifelong atheist, come to design a place of worship for Catholics?

The answer: a woman. Of course. But not in the way you may be thinking.

In 1942, Matisse was 72, divorced, living in Nice and recovering from an operation for cancer. His only companion was his chilly Russian assistant. Needing a night nurse, he hired Monique Bourgeois, a 21-year-old nursing student. In the 15 nights they were together, Matisse came to love her like a daughter. But when he learned that she was going to become a nun, he was enraged. They parted on bad terms.

Five years later, Matisse was living in Vence. So was Monique, who was Matisse’s friend again — even if she was now Sister Jacques-Marie. Her convent prayed in a chapel that was once a garage. When it rained, the roof leaked. She asked Matisse to design a stained glass window so the nuns could raise money and repair the garage. He had another idea: a new chapel. Which he’d both design and pay for. Over opposition, Matisse spent years focused on the project. Jacques-Marie, who had unwittingly been photographed with Matisse for Vogue, wasn’t allowed to attend the dedication.

It’s easy to be underwhelmed by the chapel. It’s as close to empty as possible. No organ. No seats for a choir. Nothing to look at but colored windows, a few figures and some black designs and abstractions on the glazed white ceramic tiled walls. But to see it as a building that contains Matisse’s art and some colored windows is to miss his intent. For him, the building itself was art, an environment designed to lift your spirits and bring you closer to wherever you find the divine.

The main feature of the chapel is light. There are many windows, some clear, some blue, green and yellow. But not just any blue, green and yellow. The blue is a shade Matisse said he’d only seen twice, once on the wing of a butterfly, once in the flame of burning sulphur. The green is bottle green.  And it’s lemon yellow. When the light streams through, the colors merge on the white tiled floor and come alive. Children sometimes cup their hands and try to gather a present for their parents. They get it.

Most of the figures on the wall are non-threatening. That can’t be said of the Stations of the Cross. Matisse depicted the 14 fatal steps of Christ’s last day on a single wall in a jumble of graffiti-like figures that suggest broken limbs and profound grief. The church was horrified. It seemed the chapel wouldn’t be built. But Matisse was an astute politician: You don’t see The Stations of the Cross as you enter.

In our world, old age means a winding down, assisted living, and death in an antiseptic hospital room. But the Chapelle du Rosaire celebrates the exact opposite. It’s a late-life success story, with a creative flowering, a great love, and a good death at home. That story, told as a play, might deliver a transcendent theatrical experience. I dare to hope I’ve done that.


Jesse's Bio: Over the years, Jesse Kornbluth has been a contributor or contributing editor at Vanity Fair, New York, The New Yorker, The New York Times and many others. In 1996, he co-founded Bookreporter.com, now the hub of the internet’s most successful non-commercial book network. From 1997 to 2002, he was editorial director of America Online. In 2004, he launched HeadButler.com a cultural concierge site. Having once been married to a woman whose family owned a home in Provence, Jesse fondly recalls, among other things, the roast chicken at the Regalido in Fontvieille, the grilled steak at the Vallon de Gayet in Mouries (thanks to a recommendation from his mother-in-law’s hairdresser) and the incense at the Christmas Eve service at the church in Saint-Remy. Jesse's play, "The Color of Light," will be staged from April 4 to 28 by the Schoolhouse Theater in North Salem, NY, a pleasant drive or train from Manhattan. For info and tickets, click here. To reach Jesse directly: jessekay@aol.com.

Photos: (1, 3, 4, 5, 6) The Color of Light. Matisse designed three sets of stained glass windows for the chapel. All three make use of just three colors: an intense yellow for the sun, an intense green for vegetation and cactus forms, and a vivid blue for the Mediterranean Sea, the Riviera sky and the Madonna. The color from the windows floods the chapel's interior, which is otherwise all white. (2) Henri Matisse and Sister Jacques-Marie.  (7)  Matisse's Stations of the Cross, an ensemble of 14 scenes leading to the crucifixion, is one of three murals in the chapel. (8) Matisse started work on the chapel in 1947, at age 77; the project took four years to complete. (9, 10) Matisse also designed liturgical vestments for the clergy at the chapel, using the traditional ecclesiastical colors of the religious seasons: purple, black, pink/rose, green and red. For more about the Matisse "chasubles," click here

For a lovely video tour of the chapel from the BBC, click here

Monday, February 18, 2019

Painting Holidays in Provence 2019

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Many of my readers and travel-planning clients ask about painting workshops in Provence...and I've found some wonderful instructors happy to give half- and full-day lessons. (Interested? See some here and then email me: whattodoinprovence@gmail.com.)  But if you'd like something more comprehensive, you might consider a trip devoted mostly or entirely to painting. (Sounds like heaven, no?) Most of these painting holidays last about a week, with accommodations ranging from rustic to highly refined. They happen all over Provence in spring, summer and fall...and I'm hearing about new ones often. So once again I've gathered a sample for you here, chosen because they're either led by painters I know and admire, or are recommended by people I trust, or they look really promising online. I've included a few in the Languedoc as well (it's not really Provence but, who cares?) For questions about anything you see listed here, please contact the organizer or instructor directly. If you see a workshop that you like, definitely book soon...the best ones always fill up quickly. 

* The talented watercolor artist Tessa Baker, originally from London, is one of the most popular instructors in Provence, where she has lived full time since 1985. This year, she's offering four week-long watercolor workshops here, plus one in the Charentes region and one in Arizona/Utah. The Provence workshops that still have space available are as follows: Luberon, Les Baux, Camargue and More (June 8 to 15), Lavender Fields of Valensole including the Lac Sainte Croix and Moustiers (June 22 to 29) and Autumn in Provence (Oct 12 to 19). "Painting is a joyful moment in time so I encourage students enjoy, laugh, have fun, create," Tessa says. "And it seems to work very well!" For info: paintprovencewithtess.com, tessabakerart@gmail.com.

* This year, Workshops in France is running six Provence painting trips. Three 10-day uninstructed "art retreats" are being offered from a château in the Luberon near Aix for "Lavender Season" in June with "Glorious Provence" and Encore Provence" in September-October. These retreats include 10 days of artistic immersion (mentoring available) and daily painting sessions in private vineyards, small fishing ports, charming villages, markets, on the Van Gogh trail and more. There's plenty to do for non-painting travel partners as well, program director Julie Snyder tells me.  Click here for details. In addition, three workshops with master instructors are scheduled in early May, June and mid-September. The artists for these trips will stay and work in a château above the hillside village of Chateauneuf de Gadagne, not far from Avignon, and again, there's plenty for non-painting partners to do.  Click here for details. Workshops in France also accepts drop-in guests for the day. For info: workshopsinfrance.com, julie@workshopsinfrance.com.

Jill Steenhuis is an Atlanta-born, French Impressionistic painter who lives in Aix, where she taught painting and drawing (at the American University) for ten years. In addition to leading Cezanne and Van Gogh walking tours for American museums and art lovers, Jill offers week-long oil painting workshops in the Provencal countryside for all ability levels. (For those who share her passion for Cezanne and Van Gogh,  arrangements can be made to paint on the very sites where they did.)  Workshops are designed for both confirmed painters and beginners, focusing on experiencing nature through the senses and encouraging each student to "bring out his own inner poetry." Jill continues: "My joy comes from watching the beginner or more-advanced painter climb a mountain in their creative way and in their inner soul." 2019 dates are May 17 to 25,  July 5 to 13 and Sept 13 to 21. This year Jill will also lead a number of two-day workshops in the US; contact her for info. For info: artinprovence.com, jillsteenhuis@gmail.com.

* Since 1990, David and Liz Atkinson have run Arts in Provence in the tiny hamlet of Les Bassacs, with its commanding views over  the Luberon Mountains and the Vaucluse. Surrounded by cherry orchards, vineyards and olive groves, Les Bassacs is within easy reach of the well-known villages of Gordes, Lacoste and Bonnieux. Workshops of varying lengths are led by different artists reflecting a wide range of styles and themes. This year there are 14 of them, between early May and late September, and the group size is always 12 max. artsinprovence.com, artsinprovence@gmail.com.

Provence Art Experience will host five workshops this year: three based in Arles and two in the Luberon. All workshops feature "gourmet cuisine, local organic wines, off-the-beaten-path excursions and plein air painting," with instruction by five different artists. For info: provence-art-experience.com,  mathieu.brousses@gmail.com.

* Atelier Provence (July 1 to 12) combines a 7-day painting workshop in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence with a 4-day art-history tour in Barcelona. This is a great opportunity to paint in plein air (lavender fields, ochre cliffs, Cézanne’s beloved Mont St. Victoire), learn art history and theory, visit Barcelona’s greatest art sites and enjoy famous Provencal and Catalan cuisine and wines...in an intimate environment fostering creativity and fun. Visit Cézanne’s studio in Aix, Gaudi’s marvelous Sagrada Familia, the Picasso and Miró Museums and much more. Atelier Provence is sponsored by Walk The Arts, which has been hosting workshops in Europe since 1997. The price (US$2800) includes painting instruction, lectures, 11-night double accommodation (7 in Provence, 4 in Barcelona), most meals, all ground transport including high-speed train Avignon to Barcelona and entry fees to museums and sites. For info: walkthearts.com, info@walkthearts.com.

* This year, French Escapade is offering four 8-day painting vacations in Provence--each led by a different instructor--plus four workshops in the French Alps and two on the French Riviera. Choose from oils, watercolor or journal sketching. Groups are 12 people max and prices start at $2,990 for a double. From an ideal base location, guests are taken on a wide variety of daily painting excursions in a comfortable van; the company says you can expect gourmet food, high-quality cultural visits and fully bi-lingual tour leaders that stay with you throughout. French Escapade also has workshops this year in Spain, Belgium/Holland, Tuscany and San Francisco. For info: frenchescapade.comcontact@frenchescapade.com. 

Julia Morgan, a Massachusetts-based painter who's led workshops around the world since 2011, will host a 10-day springtime journey in Provence, taking students from the scarlet poppy fields flanking Mont Saint Victoire to the perched stone villages of the Vaucluse to the olive groves and flower fields that Van Gogh painted during his year in St. Remy. Part #1 (5 days) will base in Aix, in a gracious Provencal home not far from Cezanne's studio. From Aix you'll visit wild red-earth landscapes just outside of town (where Cezanne painted the many views of his beloved Mont St. Victoire) and Lourmarin (with Camus’s castle) and more. And of course you'll explore Aix’s famous markets, where the group will set up to sketch. Part #2 will be spent near St. Remy, with lodging in a gorgeous, historic "hameau," with a 500-year-old mill, wisteria-draped terraces, an art studio and a pool. Visit the clinic where Van Gogh spent a year and painted Starry Night and other famous scenes;  explore the beauty of the Alpilles mountains and the towns that lie in their shadow. An excursion to the Luberon includes Gordes, Roussillon and the Abbaye de Senanque. Another day you'll experience the Carrieres des Lumieres, an extremely unique sound-and-light show focused on Picasso, in an old bauxite quarry. And you'll have plenty of time in the Wednesday market in St. Remy, one of the region's best. Dates: May 21 to 31, with extra nights available.  Price: $3400 pp double; $3900 pp single. *NOTE: TRIP IS NOW SOLD OUT/WAITING LIST ONLY. For info: jmorganart.com, julia@jmorganart.com

* For the past ten years, Claude Pasquer (a landscape architect, sculptor and professor at the Graduate School of Versailles) and Corinne Détroyat  (also a landscape designer), have been leading a popular watercolor and garden-sketching workshop in the Luberon. It's based at La Molière, a charming old mas 2 km from Saignon and 8 km from Apt, on a 70-acre estate surrounded by oak, olives and lavender. This year's dates are June 5 to 8 and August 28 to 31 but if space is available, students can also come for the day.  Each day's schedule includes two art sessions, three meals and some free time for swimming, site seeing, "and even a siesta!" Corinne says. The website is in French but Corinne can email you a flyer with all details in English. For info: lamoliere.frcorinne.detroyat84@gmail.com.

* Based in one of the Luberon's loveliest villages, the American artist Andrew Petrov lived and painted in Provence for many years before returning to the US in 2012. But his heart remains in rural France and he returns each summer to Saignon, to paint and teach. "There's no better place to learn, practice, and enjoy the process of plein aire painting!" Andrew says. This summer (2019) he'll teach at least one 7-day workshop (dates TBA soon) and if there's room, day painters can join in. Otherwise, half- and full-day a la carte painting sessions will also be available. You'll paint beautiful fields, pretty, historic villages, prehistoric and Roman vestiges and more. And all skill levels are welcome; Andrew says his easy-to-grasp methods make it possible for someone "who's never lifted a brush" to create real and empowering artworks. The 7-day package (lodging, meals, art supplies and more) will be priced around $2500. Half-day sessions are 100€ pp; full day sessions: 200€ pp. Prices include all supplies and group prices are available. For info: andrewpetrov.competrov.andrew@yahoo.com. 

* British artist Julian Merrow-Smith lives and paints in Provence full time. I think his work is exquisite and so do the thousands of people who follow his "Postcard from Provence" online art sales. In 2019, he'll be offering four painting getaways with his wife Ruth Phillips, a writer and musician....but two are already full. The ones with space available are July 11 to 20 and Oct 2 to 11.  The prices are either $2690 (standard room) or $3490 (deluxe room),  based on double occupancy; single supplement is $500. "There are no frills to this workshop," Julian says. "We usually visit one of the local markets; otherwise the week is all about painting—talking, living and breathing it together. Our aim, above all, is to give you the experience of living the painter's life in the south of France." The group stays in the lovely restored priory in the countryside at the foot of Mont Ventoux. For info: shiftinglight.comjulian@shiftinglight.com. 

* On this 10-day adventure (May 1 to 10), you'll visit and paint the sites around Arles that inspired so many of Vincent Van Gogh's great paintings...and the sites around Aix and near Mont Sainte-Victoire that captivated Paul Cézanne for years. Your hosts will be Royce Deans and Tali Farchi of ArtisTTable Art Retreats; this is their third painting workshop in the area.  Along the way you'll hear fascinating tales from the lives of Van Gogh and Cézanne, and getting encouragement, artistic prompts and instruction. "This is a trip that will take your plein-air painting experience to a whole new level," the instructors say.  Cost: $2345 pp single, $2205 pp double. For info: artisttableonline.com, info@artisttableonline.com.

* The brilliant blues, warm golds, and lavender of southern France are what brought Van Gogh to the area; artist and writer Sharon Rusch Shaver will work with you to capture the subjects that Van Gogh loved most. The workshop "Painting Like Van Gogh" is based in and around Arles; all mediums and levels of ability are welcome. You'll stay in a gracious farmhouse with gardens and a pool, just a few km from Arles. Breakfast and dinner will be served at the farmhouse daily.  Dates: July 17 to 25. For info: adventure-artists.com, shaveart@earthlink.net. 


* Fiona and Jean-Louis Diaz are an Australian-French couple, based in Jouques, 30 minutes north of Aix. They run Artelier Provence, a fine-art gallery offering one-day drawing and painting workshops and four-day retreats. The retreats include five nights accommodation and take place in both village and rural settings, in and around Jouques. Scheduled retreats will be held June 17-20, July 8-11 and August 5-8. Other dates and programs can be customized. For more info: artelierprovence.com, artelierprovence@gmail.com.

And a couple in the Languedoc...

* Sketching Holidays with Annette Morris take place in a variety of locations. Annette tells me these holidays, from 3-7 nights, are ideal for single travelers and especially those new to sketching or looking to 'loosen up' their style. Based between Montpellier and Carcassonne, Annette is British but has lived and worked in France for 11 years and is fully bilingual; she'll help you enjoy French life like a local and capture the essence of it in your sketchbook day to day. Holidays and workshops may include cookery, wine-tasting and private cruises on the Canal du Midi; special dates can be arranged for groups if you're traveling with friends. "My short-stay holidays take place in pretty B&Bs with private pools," Annette says, "and plenty of classic French ooh la la!"  Dates: April 26 to 29, May 10 to 14, June 6 to 9, Sept 6 to 12 and Sept 26 to Oct 2. Prices start at 340€ pp (double room). For info: sketchlanguedoc.com, annette@sketchlanguedoc.com.

Sketching for Foodies is hosted by Anne de Ravel, a food writer, cookbook author and former producer at Food Network in New York.  Through her company Saveur Languedoc, Anne (a native Languedocienne!) leads food-and-wine tours of this lovely region located to the south and west of Provence. The Languedoc is know for lush vineyards, richly historic cities, beautiful Mediterranean beaches, stunning mountain trails and, of course, the world-famous Canal du Midi.  (Anne returned from the US, to live here full time, in 2007)  Sketching for Foodies,  a 6-night holiday, adds joyful sketching sessions to Anne's popular mix of cooking classes, food and wine touring, tastings and more. The sketching is led by Annette Morris (see just above), while Anne takes care of the rest.  From your charming B&B in Quarante, you'll travel through some of the most picturesque places and discover the area with an insider. You'll meet artisan producers and sample rustic traditional foods; you’ll lunch in wonderful restaurants favored by locals. And along the way, you'll become a skillful sketcher. Dates:  April 4 to 10 and September 26 to October 2. Price: € 1450 pp (double occupancy), € 1600 pp (single). For info: saveurlanguedoc.comderavelanne@gmail.com.

* British artist Simon Roberts is a professional painter and tutor who's lived in the South of France for 8 years. Based near historic Pezenas in the Languedoc, Simon and his wife Monica run 7-day watercolor holidays and 1- 2 day workshops. "With over 30 years of commercial experience," he says, "I’m happy working in a wide range of styles and techniques which I find brings out the best in our students. Beginners welcome!" You'll stay in a beautiful, traditional villa set in private gardens with a pool...not far from cafes, restaurants and shops. Every day you’ll be taken to superb painting locations including Mediterranean ports, ancient villages and sweeping mountain panoramas. In the evening, the group wines and dines in local restaurants or in the garden; Monica is an excellent cook and may even be persuaded to teach the group how to make a couple of local specialties. This year there are four one-week holidays: June 1 to 8, June 22 to 29, Sept 7 to 14 and Sept 21 to 28. Prices start at $2395 pp (double occupancy). Shorter workshops are also available; all the info is on the site. For info: painting-in-france.com, simon@painting-in-france.com.

* Tod Ramos and Kate Lovegrove run a residential summer painting school called Academy Studios Abroad. Tod has taught and lectured in drawing and painting, in all mediums at all levels, for more than 30 years. Based in Aubais, near Sommieres (about 20 km from Nimes), the Academy will this year offer portrait painting, life painting, landscape painting (see website for dates) and one course for adults and children called Generation Art (April 13 to 18). For info: academystudiosabroad.comcontact@academystudiosabroad.com. 

And a final note from Julie...

If you have a workshop to promote or recommend in the South of France that isn't on this list, feel free leave the info by clicking "comments" below this story. (The best way to comment is to choose Name/URL. Put your name as the name, put your website as the UR and fire away.) Or, just email me the info and I'll add it. 

Photos: (1) Pretty as a Painting: A French Escapade student at work. (2,3 ). Two pieces from French Escapade instructors: flowers by Betty Carr; street scene by Kristi Grussendorf. (4, 5)  Capturing two iconic views of Provence:  the hilltop village of Gordes (Workshops in France) and the beautiful bassin in Cucuron (French Escapade). (6) Jacqueline Newbold will teach "Watercolor with Mixed Media Art Journaling" in May with French Escapade. (7-10) Asparagus by Julian Merrow-Smith...the villa where Julian's students will stay this year...and one of Julian's recent groups painting in the poppies. (11, 12) Watercolors dry in the sunshine during a Simon Roberts' workshop; September evenings might be cool enough for evening fires but they're still perfect for rosé! (13, 14) Two paintings by Tessa Baker, who teaches multiple workshops each year. (15, 16) Meals during Tessa Baker's workshops are fresh, colorful, healthful and Mediterranean inspired.  (17, 18) Julie Snyder runs Workshops in France, offering painting holidays and retreats taught and mentored by various artists. Pictured are two of  Julie's own paintings: "That's Done" and "Homeward."  (19) A Workshops in France student feeling the lavender love. (20) Guests from  the Workshops in France "Glorious Provence" trip (Sept 2018) came from from the Philippines, Australia, Scotland, Canada and USA. (21, 22)  Jill Steenhuis lives in Aix and teaches three painting workshops this year. Pictured here is her "Activity in the Port of Cassis,"  a 12" x 16" oil on canvas. (23) Students who book with Arts in Provence stay in David and Liz Atkinson's home...and swim in this glorious pool. (24) Provence Art Experience has five workshops this summer, each with a different instructors. Guests choose from three places to stay; one offers this lovely pool and view. (25, 26) Two paintings by Julia Morgan, who'll teach this year in May. (27) Annette Morris teaches sketching upside down, so the students can easily see her working. (28) Anne de Ravel, who organizes food and wine trips in the Languedoc, has teamed up with Annette Morris to offer "Sketching for Foodies" twice this year.

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