Wednesday, August 21, 2019

What's Happening in Provence?

Coming up this week (or super soon), we've got grape stomps, gladiator games, gourmet golfing, a Basquiat show, Michelin-starred meals, a pottery market, the last of the lavender festivals, a precious pig needing a perfect home and more. Read on!

Gourmet Golf Tournament at Manville
On Sunday Aug 25, enter the Bistrot du Paradou Cup at the Domaine de Manville and enjoy a gourmet buffet at hole #10. The event is organized by Bistrot du Paradou owner Vincent Quenin and held on the 18-hole course at a five-star resort between Les Baux and Maussane. If you know Manville, you know the setting is gorgeous. And if you know the Bistrot (or Paradou, as everyone calls it), you know the food is going to be great. For info and to register, click here or call: +33 (0)4 90 54 40 20.

Last Call for Lavender!
The village of Dignes-les-Bains has not one but two major lavender events each year. The first, the Corso de Lavande, has come and gone but the second happens this week. The 98th annual Lavender Fair (Foire de la Lavande) is Aug 21 to 25, with 200 stands from 150+ exhibitors offering every possible lavender product plus food, decor, gifts and more. This year there are two free horse shows every day, featuring the famous white Camargue horses we all love. The fair runs from 10 am to 8 pm daily and all the info is here.

Good Vibrations in Avignon

The 30-minute, 360-degree sound-and-light show called Vibrations, held every evening in the courtyard of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, opened for the season on Aug 11 and runs through Oct 12. In August, there are two shows each evening at 9.30 pm and 10.30 pm, while September and October feature one performance at 9.30 pm nightly (plus a second show at 10.30 pm on Friday and Saturday nights only in September). The schedule and all details are here.

Music Under the Stars in Avignon
The program Sous Les Etoiles at the Musee Louis Vouland presents two classical concerts and a lecture this week, in the garden of the museum, starting at 8:30 pm. The concerts are tonight and Friday. For all the info, click here.

Basquiat, Darroze & More at Chateau La Coste

There's always something happening at Chateau La Coste. With the help of the Enrico Navarra Gallery in Paris, La Coste just unveiled an exhibit of 140 Jean-Michel Basquiat drawings from the years 1977 to 1987 (Basquiat died in 1988 at age 27). The show opened Aug 11 and runs through Oct 13. Another temporary show opens Thursday Aug 22; this one features the work of Jean-Michel Othoniel and Yoshitomo Nara. The vernissage (opening party) for that show is 5 pm to 6:30 pm and all the details are here. If you want to try the cuisine of Michelin two-star chef Hélène Darroze (of Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London and Restaurant Hélène Darroze in Paris and Moscow), she's cooking until Sept 1 in the restaurant aVilla La Coste, the property's 28-suite, five-star hotel, where two Michelin three-starred chefs, Francis Mallmann and Gérald Passédat, also have restaurants. (To book: +33 (0)4 42 50 50 00, And the Château La Coste summer program of live music on the terrace of the restaurant La Terrace (6:30 to 8:30 pm) wraps up this week with rock/reggae (Thurs Aug 22), swing/manouche (Sat Aug 24) and pop/soul guitar (Sun Aug 25). For my recent story about Chateau La Coste, click here. For the website, click here. (Photos: A Basquiat, chef Hélène Darroze and the Villa La Coste Restaurant.) 

A Roman Holiday in Arles
For one week in late August, every year since 2007, Arles is transformed into the ancient city of Arelate to celebrate its Gallo Roman past with circus games, gladiator classes, Arena tours, Roman camps, street performances, Roman taverns, film screenings and much more. This year's Arelate Festival runs until Sunday Aug 26 and includes plenty of activities for families. On Saturday Aug 24 for example, there are kids workshops in the square between the Amphitheatre and the Antique Theater. These include: dressing up Roman style at 11 am (5€), mosaic class at 10:30 am or 3:30 pm (5€), weaving (5€), Roman hair-styling (5€), amulet making and more. See the full schedule, in French, here. For info in English, try the Arles Tourist Office.

Epic Films in an Epic Setting
As part of the Arelate Festival, there's the 32nd Annual Peplum (Epic) Film Festival in Arles until Aug 24, with projections on a giant screen in the Théâtre Antique, starting each evening at 9 pm. An intro to the film is provided each evening by a cinema expert. The schedule includes Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), Barabbas (1962), The Mummy (1999) and more. The schedule and details are here.

Courses Camarguaises in Arles
If you want to see the summer evening Courses Camarguaises in the Roman arena in Arles, you've got two more chances: Wednesday Aug 21 and Friday Aug 23. (They're every Monday, Wednesday and Friday throughout July and August at 5:30 pm). Courses Camarguaises are also held at village fêtes throughout Provence but there's definitely something about seeing one in this monumental Roman site. Think of this as a kinder, gentler bullfight: people are rarely injured and the bulls are not killed. Known as razeteurs, the young men (I've never seen a woman do it but there must be some?) aim to pluck ribbons and rosettes tied to the bulls’ horns, cutting them free with special barbed gloves. The competitors are on foot and rely solely on speed and agility. And you can rest assured the bull will live to see another day. Tickets (11€ adults, 7€ kids), can be bought at the arena or at the Arles Tourist Office.

Looking for Love?
On Sunday Sept 1, it's "journee portes ouvertes" (open doors day) at the S.P.A des Baux-de-Provence. Also called the Refuge Saint Roch, it's like what we Americans call the Humane Society. From 2 to 5:30 pm, come visit and find the perfect companion; all dogs and cats ready for adoption have been vaccinated, sterilized and given a tatoo ID. Last time I checked, they were also looking for the right home for a five-year-old pig named León le Cochon, who was "raised like a little dog and comes when called." Tempting!

Foodies on the Loose!
St. Remy is filled with artisinal food producers, working in traditional ways, keeping local food traditions alive. And luckily, many have shops and workshops right in the heart of the village. On this half-day walking tour for food lovers of all ages (Thursday Sept 5 from 3 to 6 pm or Saturday Sept 21 from 9:30 to 12:30) you'll be paired with other travelers (ten people max) for a very filling and fun adventure. Rendezvous with your guide at the Tourist Office and then hit the rue running! Staying in the heart of the village (with minimal walking), you'll roam from shop to shop tasting chocolates, cookies, nougat, honey, olive oils, tapenades, confitures and more. You might take a break for coffee with a few macarons on the side--gotta keep energy up!--then most likely move on to a cheese tasting, enjoyed with a glass of a favorite local wine. Along the way you'll get a taste of the rich history of this cobblestone village and a glimpse into local life from your charming guide. 75€ pp for adults, 50€ ages 12 to 18, 30€ ages 6 to 12. Kids under 6 are welcome at no charge as long as they're fearless and willing to taste! The tour is also available other dates...just ask. For info or to book:

Potters and the People Who Love Them
Thirty or so ceramic artists will be selling their work at the Crillon-le-Brave Potters Market, from 9 am to 7 pm on the Place de la Mairie on Sunday Aug 25. There will be pottery demos, a workshop for kids and adults, a free raffle and food available. For more info about the event sponsor Terres de Provence, the regional association of ceramicists and potters, click here.

Playing Catch-up at the Carrieres
This year's show at the Carrières de Lumières is about Vincent Van Gogh and it's attracting record numbers. (All the details are here.) But for those who 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. The next dates for Les Intégrales are Sept 13 & 14, 20 & 21, 27 & 28. On these evenings the entry fee is 24€ (37€ if you want to enjoy a special meal) 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.

Lourmarin Summer Music Festival 
There's still plenty of time to enjoy this splendid classical and jazz festival held at the Château de Lourmarin. This week on Thursday Aug 22, hear four-handed piano with Irina Chkourindina and Magali Lauron, playing Schubert, Brahms, Ravel and Piazzola. Next up, on Monday Aug 26, hear Andrei Korobeinikov on piano, playing Schumann and Rachmaninov. The festival continues through October 12 and all the info is here.

Special Evenings at the Caumont in Aix
At the fantastic Hotel de Caumont (aka the Caumont Art Center) in Aix, the summer show, "Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Foundation" runs until Sept 29. A special way to see it is on a Friday night, when the museum stays open late and offers a more exclusive experience with Champagne, live music, an optional dinner on the terrace and more. Tickets must be booked in advance, at the museum or here. Or, see the Guggenheim show on a Wednesday or Saturday and stay on to hear live jazz in the garden. The concerts start at 7:30 pm and your 20€ entry includes a glass of Champagne. Info on the jazz concerts is here

Grape Stomps at Les Pastras
And none too soon! Grape stomping starts up again on Sept 2 at Les Pastras in the Southern Luberon and runs until roughly Sept 30. Your Instagram needs this! Sign up (two people minimum) and tour a Provençal farm, learn how grapes are cultivated and how wine is made, then stomp away in enormous waist-high antique oak barrels with a view of Cezanne's beloved Mt. Ste. Victoire. You'll learn the difference between harvesting wine grapes and table grapes, dance to Piaf, learn French drinking songs and laugh a lot...guaranteed! Afterwards you'll enjoy platters of cheese, pâté and charcuterie; all you care to drink of Les Pastras rosé and red wines; and a tasting of the farm's olive oil and truffle oils. Price: 60€ pp adults, 40€ pp kids. Offered weekdays at 10 am or 6 pm but please book at least a week in advance. All details are here.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Free Choral Concert Next Weekend

Every summer, a group of talented singers from Nice and the UK known as Ristretto arrives in tiny, charming Lumières in the Luberon to enjoy good food and wine, the beauty of Provence, lovely warm weather and a week of intensive choral singing. This year's program will be works by: Bach, Schumann, Part, Naylor, Macmillan and Pearsall. And every year, the group offers a free, open-to-the-public concert showcasing the works they've perfected during the week. This year, the concert will be Saturday August 10 at 6 pm, in the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de Lumière, Lumières/Goult near the Hotellerie Notre Dame de Lumières, a very-special hotel in a former 17th-century convent. Admission to the concert is free...just show up! For a casual dinner afterwards, stroll over to Le Garage, grab an outdoor table and tuck into a terrific selection of tapas, small plates and cocktails. Lumières is just off the D900, just below the village of Goult...about 15 to 20 minutes from Gordes and the 12th-century Abbaye de Sénanque. And if you're planning an event of your own, please keep in mind that the highly regarded Ristretto and its musicians are available for weddings and other events throughout Provence and the Côte d'Azur. For more info:, +33 (0)6 83 53 23 50. 

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!


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,

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,,

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.


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, or +33 (0)4 66 22 80 76,


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,,

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 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, 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 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:

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


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