Thursday, January 28, 2010

Five Star Facelift for Famous Hotel

The Palais Stephanie in Cannes has finished its extensive €38 million renovation, the first of its kind in decades in Cannes, and has just been awarded its fifth star. Palais Stéphanie sits on the original site of the Palais des Congrès, where the first Cannes Film Festivals were held until the new Palais des Festivals was inaugurated in 1983.The dramatic redesign pays tribute to the legendary film stars of festivals past, such as Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot and Liz Taylor. Palais Stephanie now features 261 rooms and suites, a rooftop swimming pool with Jacuzzis, two restaurants, a casino, 820-seat auditorium, flexible meeting space, a shopping gallery and concierge. The hotel sits front and center on the famous Croisette, with breathtaking views of the Bay of Cannes and the Lerins Islands, just steps away from the beach. It’s walking distance from the old city and the old port, less than a mile from the Cannes TGV train station and roughly 30 minutes by car from the Nice International Airport. The hotel’s executive chef is Patrick Frei, who came over from the Auberge du Colombier in Roquefort les Pins. The hotel director is Richard Duvauchelle. Rates begin at 165€ in low season. For info and reservations: or call 04-92-99-70-00.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Air France to Take On Ryanair and EasyJet?

La Tribune reports this morning that Air France is planning to go head to head with EasyJet and Ryanair by launching a range of low-cost domestic flights linking French cities. The plan is to use Nice as a base for the operation. I checked in with my contact at Air France who said the company had no comment at this time.

The story says Air France will use its sister brand, Transavia, to offer cheap flights linking Nice with the rest of France, using 186-seater planes. Until now, Transavia has specialised in European short-haul tourist services from Orly. Air France is understood to have picked Nice as the base because EasyJet of the high numbers of leisure travellers who pass through the airport to visit the Côte d'Azur. EasyJet already has a strong presence there, with flights to Paris, the UK and Geneva.

The low-cost plan is part of a series of measures Air France is looking at to save money on its domestic flights by bypassing Paris. It wants to improve efficiency by about 20% at the regional airports it serves--with faster flight turnarounds, fewer check-in staff and more outsourced work.

EasyJet and Ryanair are both well-established in the French domestic flights market. Ryanair uses Marseille as a base to serve Biarritz, Tours, Lille, Nantes and Beauvais, while Easyjet offers flights from its Lyon base to Bordeaux, Toulouse, Biarritz and Nantes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Buy Art to Help Haiti

Photographer Chuck Anderson is donating 100 percent of online sales to Haiti earthquake relief. This print for example, called Lights for Drowning, is 18" x 24" and costs $45 plus shipping. See all the work for sale here. Rafael Soldi of Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York has organized the Haiti Relief Benefit Print Sale, which you can see by clicking here. Emerging photographers have donated prints which will be sold online for $50 each, with all proceeds going to Yele Haiti, the grassroots organization established by Wyclef Jean to bring global awareness to the country. Rafael writes: "We don't have a lot of money but our talent and creativity we got for free, and together we can raise up to $8,000. This is a great way to collect art, support emerging photographers, and help Haiti in one fell swoop, so we hope you'll consider it." For info: Pictured: Goldfish by Rachel Hulin. Etsy, the online retail site for artists and craftspeople has set up a dedicated online shop called Craft Hope for Haiti ( All items have been donated by the crafting community and all proceeds will benefit Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. Pictured: Twin Angels by Erika Ashley.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening: January

Born in Hampshire, England, James Clay is an artist and sculptor who settled down (somewhat) in St. Remy close to 20 years ago. Over time, he lovingly created a gorgeous one-hectare garden filled with fruit, palm, pine and olive trees (he has 60 olive trees, all of them transplanted), plus many varieities of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. There are few things James loves as much as gardening...and drinking is one of them. So it only made sense to combine both of his passions in this monthly column. This is month #4; to read previous months, click on James' name in the labels at the very bottom of this post. Enjoy!

Happy New Year from sunny Provence!

Yesterday we were having one of those 300 days of sunshine we get here every year which in January makes me feel very happy indeed. I am happy also that I have decided not to 'give up' anything again this year; I have always considered that a silly custom. Who on earth would want to stop drinking cocktails in January? There are summer cocktails, of course, but equally there are 'winter warmer' cocktails which are just as delicious--heartier and more robust.

I had lunch outside on the terrace; the temperature in the shade was very low but in full sunlight, lunch was a pleasant experience indeed. I then decided to do some digging. I have some small ponds which need clearing out and this is the time of year to do it. So, spade in hand, I attacked the job, watched by a robin who decided to keep me company. I'd forgotten how tame they appear to be; this one came so close I thought he was going to help in some way. There is something unusual about robins--they appear so watchful and benign and seem to delight in human company--that I found myself fancying that they incarnate the spirits of loved ones dead and gone. And so, in some way, he did help.

As the sun was beginning to set (and my back too), I packed in the digging and thought to stop by the pool house where I 'winter' my pots of citrus fruits: lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges. During the greater part of the year they're outdoors on the terraces but are put away from early December to late March to protect them against frost. The lemons can be harvested even by mid- January and are already starting to fall from the branches. Time, I think, for a Whiskey Sour. These are just the ticket for this time of year, very healthy and full of vitamin C. I put the spade away and picked up a basket to collect some lemons. As I walked to the pool house, it started to snow. Now generally we get very little snow, if any, so it came as a huge surprise that so much should be falling. Needless to say the lemons were calling and, if not them, a whisky sour even louder. A little later I was to be found in the kitchen squeezing lemons for juice.

To make a delicious Whiskey Sour you will need:

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

2 measures Whiskey

Soda water to top up

Shake the ingredients in cocktail mixer with ice and strain into a small tumbler.

Add a good dash of soda water.

Decorate with a slice of orange and a cocktail (maraschino) cherry.

It was time now to light the fire and get back to my book. The snow was falling thick and fast. As I was just finishing my drink, the electricity went off...nothing rare in Provence, winter or summer. (For some reason only known to themselves, the E.D.F never thought of burying their cables so, as a result, any heavy weather results in blackouts). At least I had a good fire and the Whiskey Sour was keeping me pretty warm as well. But, three hours later, there we were, still with no power, no water (as even that is pumped by electricity) and it was off to bed by candlelight and to sleep. I cheered myself up thinking that it all felt quite cosy and Dickensian!

This morning, I woke to a Provence I could scarcely recognize, snowbound! It appeared 20 to 25 cms of snow had fallen overnight. I saw straight away that the olive trees had suffered badly--one or two have large branches broken off from the weight of the snow. I wonder what it must have been like in 1956, the morning after the big frost and mistral that killed so many olive trees in Provence. (If you've followed my columns, you may remember I wrote in November about why so many olive trees in Provence grow in a circular fashion around a dead inner trunk.) There was still no power and the house was beginning to feel distinctly chilly.

What to do next...? I remember when I used to dislike mobile phones while everyone else was delighting in them. I felt like someone from the last century (in fact I am someone from the last century). A quick call to my friend and fellow gardener, Didier, and he came to rescue us. Let other pens dwell on the difficulty of the rescue...

Gathering up some lemons, the Whiskey and my partner, we set off back to Didi's house.The whole countryside had simply disappeared under a blanket, no, not a blanket but a duvet of snow. Happy to be warm again, we are now planning a fireside get together this evening for all those who still remain without electricity (which appears to be quite a few). I am happy I remembered the lemons, that I had resolved never to give up anything for New Year and that I have some really good friends. You never know when any or all of them will come in handy!

Stay warm.

Photo taken in Marseille by James Wilf, via To see more of James' work, go here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

One Size, One Price, Four Artists

For one more week, four well-known St. Remy-based artists are showing original works together at the lovely Galerie des Cypres on the Place Hilare. They've all created square oil paintings of the same size (20 x 20 cm) with the same price: 250€. The painters participating are Claude Boutterin, Jean Marc Peyer, Yann Rebecq and Jean Louis Serie. The show ends Jan 15th. Galerie des Cypres is at #3 Place Joseph Hilare in St. Remy, which is opposite the wine bar Tire Bouchon, behind the Mairie. For info: 04-32-60-06-38, 06-31-40-14-82, or Paintings top to bottom by Jean-Louis Serie, Jean-Marc Peyer and Claude Boutterin

Monday, January 4, 2010

One Restaurant I Love: Chez Bob

Jill Mitchell is a native Californian who has been living in Provence (in Venelles, just outside Aix) for three years. She specializes in selling French vintage school posters and other antique goodies online at She also shares her buying tips and secrets with fellow Americans on her Vintage Buying Tours in Provence and Paris ( Because Jill gets around so much, I asked her to suggest One Restaurant She Loves. This is what she sent.

I always love visiting the Camargue. It’s another France over there--spicy and lively, down to earth, full of folklore. And I recently found an awesome restaurant there called Chez Bob, which feels sort of like a Camarguais home away from home. I went there on a wintery day with my French boyfriend, Pascal, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect for lunch on a cold day in the country.

If you ever make the journey yourself, a gentle warning: Chez Bob is in the boonies and you would do well to take your navigating seriously.

Once you arrive, you'll be greeted by either Jean Guy Castello or his wife Josy, who've been the owners since Bob passed away 10 years ago. You'll be escorted into a very cozy room complete with roaring fireplace, big wood tables and many indications that the owners greatly appreciate local Camargue culture, particularly the bullfighting and guitar playing variety.

As you're seated, notice that your first course is already on your table: overflowing regional specialties that are really a meal on their own. Josy asks you what kind of wine you would like (the wine list is top notch and from their region only).

Jean Guy (he's the fireplace chef, while Josy cooks everything else in the kitchen) comes to tell you the three or four main courses on offer today, none of which would please a vegetarian. After you've raved for 20 minutes about the wine and the main dish, dessert comes out--the best pannacotta with apricot coulis ever created.

How do I say this? Each course of our meal really seemed to have some of the soul of the place and of Camargue in it. It was like tasting the quality of this remarkable region.

On certain Sunday afternoons, Chez Bob is dedicated to music and dance, and live bands come in to play. I've yet to attend one of these afternoons, but I have heard that it's quite the happening, attracting celebrities and local paysans alike. Check the Chez Bob website for a current calendar.

For your first visit, I recommend going for lunch rather than dinner; Chez Bob is truly is a challenge to find. Plus, lunches have a wonderful earthy atmosphere. Dinners are also something to experience with yet another fantastic ambience, but be prepared for what is likely to be a longish drive home after.

And one more hint: the food is very plentiful, delicious and filling. There is only the four-course prix fixe menu (40 euros) so bring a healthy appetite. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Chez Bob is an excellent halte on your way to discovering more of this region. Once you're well fed and warmed by the fire, continue on to see some of the local marvels. The salt hills around Salin de Giraud, for example, are beautiful to behold. On my Foodie Tours, I bring people to La Baleine, a famous saltworks nearby (odds are you can find La Baleine salt in the specialty section at your grocery store), to see how Fleur de Sel is made. Pink flamingos, Camargue horses, French cowboys and a different view of the Mediterranean are some of the other wonders to take in on your day trip. Bonne Aventure!

Chez Bob
Route du Sambuc
Villeneuve Gageron
13200 Arles

Photo montages by Jill Mitchell. She can be reached at: