Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Win a Glorious Week in Provence!

I first heard about Passports with Purpose at a travel blogging conference a few months ago in Spain. I was so inspired by co-founder Beth Whitman’s talk that I signed on immediately to help. My contribution to the fundraising effort is an irresistible Week in Provence, a package that includes a week in a lovely villa, great restaurant meals, private guided tours and more. And to enter to win it, all you have to do is donate $10 to a great cause. I’ve been able to pull this together thanks to the generosity of a large group of people here in Provence. Not one arm was one I asked said no!

All the details are below but first let me tell you just a bit about Passports with Purpose.

It’s a grass-roots charity initiative supported by the travel blogging community worldwide. Major sponsors include Expedia, TripIt, HomeAway and TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange), among others.
Passports With Purpose was founded in 2008 by four very cool women as a way to build community among travel bloggers and make a real difference for people in need. To see a short video about the program, click here.

Each year, Beth and her partners look closely at scores of different charities and after doing all the necessary diligence, choose one to support. Then they set out a specific goal and call upon travel bloggers for help.

In their first year, they raised $7,400 for Heifer International. In 2009, they blew past their initial goal (which was to raise $14,000) to build a school in Cambodia. (They raised nearly $30,000 and the school, built through partnership with American Assistance for Cambodia, is now complete.) In 2010, they raised $64,128 to build an entire village in is now underway.  In 2011, they raised $90,000 for Room to Read, to build two libraries in Zambia.

This year, the beneficiary is (co-founded by actor Matt Damon) and we’re trying to raise $100,000 to build five wells for two communities in Haiti.

Here’s how it works. Participating travel bloggers (like me) round up prizes--items or experiences--and promote the program through their blogs. (At the same time you’re reading this, people all over the world are reading about other prizes on their favorite travel blogs.)

Anyone who donates $10 gets a shot at the prize of their choice. You can ‘’enter’’ (donate) as many times as you wish, for as many prizes as you wish—but always in $10 increments.

For my prize donation, I’ve put together a fabulous Week in Provence....for you, or your family, or your friends. Read on!

You’ll stay for a week in a wonderfully historic, completely renovated villa in St. Remy de Provence, anytime between mid February and mid June, 2013. Your house is at Provence Paradise, a charming and historic ‘’hameau’’ (hamlet) of fully renovated houses dating back to the 17th century. Owner William Moore, who has offered us this great donation, says: ‘’Whenever you want to come, we’ll be delighted to share our paradise with you! When choosing your week, don’t shy away from the winter months. These houses are lovely when the weather cools; each has at least two working fireplaces and a full supply of red wine! Winter in Provence you avoid the crowds, lines are shorter to get into museums, etc.’’ William will also throw in some wonderful goodies, such as free admission to the Pont du Gard (a 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct), passes for horseback riding and more. Your comfy home (depending on which is available) will be one of William’s three most-popular properties: L'Orangerie, Le Moulin Vieil or La Bastide des Micocouliers. The houses can accommodate one couple or a small family...four people max. You can read all about Provence Paradise in my recent story here.

But man does not live by bed alone! So even though your villa has a full kitchen, you’ll want to try the famous sun-drenched cuisine for which the region is known. And since I only want you to have the very best— naturellement!--I’ve asked a handful of my favorite restaurants to donate meals and gift certificates. That’s four spectacular restaurant meals—and one elegant afternoon tea—ready and waiting for you. Here they are:

*The Michelin-two star restaurant L’Oustau de Baumaniere, nestled in the valley at the foot of Les Baux de Provence, has donated a three-course lunch for two, which usually costs 99€ per person. Baumanière is a mecca for foodies and this is a meal you’ll long remember.

*For a very special afternoon or evening out, the gorgeous Hotel Crillon le Brave, up near Mont Ventoux in the heart of the Southern Côtes du Rhône Wine Country,  will welcome you with 100€ worth of food and drink. Winter or summer, indoors or out...a meal at Crillon le Brave is on the bucket list of every foodie in Provence.

*The Michelin one-star restaurant Le Vivier, in the village of Isle sur la Sorgue, has contributed 140€ to spend at lunch or dinner. L’Isle sur la Sorgue is a beautifully historic town, an antiques center for all of Europe...with a divine Sunday morning market that’s a must.  I love this restaurant and I know you will too. (For more info, see my story about Le Vivier here.)

*Masdu Capoun, 15 minutes from St. Remy, is a wildly popular restaurant known for its fresh, imaginative cuisine, beautiful room, warm welcome and fair prices. Mas du Capoun is so popular it’s almost always full...but I got you a prime table...and 100€ to spend as you wish. 

*The historic, art-and-antique filled Hotel La Mirande in Avignon will host you for an elegant afternoon tea for two, with delicious homemade pastries. La Mirande began life as a cardinal's palace well over 700 years ago and it sits in the shadow of the famous Palais des Papes. It's really one of a kind. 

Okay, that’s your restaurants and tea sorted out. Now, how to make the most of your precious days in Provence?

*To get the lay of the land, you’ll get a one-day, private guided tour with one of my all-time favorite guides, the charming and talented Philippe Goninet. Philippe will work with you to plan a dream day out...whether you’re interested in art, history, food, culture, architecture or all of the above. As President of the Tourist Office in St. Remy, Philippe knows all the history, all the mystery...and all the hidden corners that tourists often miss.

*No visit to Provence is complete without some serious sampling of our world-famous wines. So I’ve arranged a splendid half-day of vineyard touring and tasting around the legendary Châteauneuf-du-Pape for you. Your host will be the American sommelier and Rhône wine expert Kelly McAuliffe, one of the area’s best-loved guides. Even if you’re a total beginner, you’ll love your day out with’ll see some gorgeous scenery...and you’ll learn a ton. And since you're not driving, you can sip to your heart's content.

*Another day you’ll be off to historic Arles, the gorgeous city on the Rhône that’s dripping with Roman ruins, monuments, museums, cafes, shops and galleries. Here’s you’ll have a private, ½ day walking tour with charming and knowledgeable American expat Heather Robinson. My girl Heather knows her town better than many natives!

*Of course you’ll want to visit the vibrant, sophisticated city of Aix en Provence, an hour from St. Remy. There, another one of my favourite guides, the super-foodie Jen Dugdale, will lead you on a three-hour gourmet walking tour, leaving the rest of your day free for exploring on your own.

But wait, there’s more!

After all this touring, you’ll need some pampering of I’ve lined up two one-hour massages in St. Remy with my favorite massage therapist, Daniela Loretz. An hour on Daniela’s table is a majorly relaxing treat.

And since no one leaves Provence without souvenirs...I’ve got that covered as well. You’ll receive two boxes of four beautifully engraved, elegantly packaged soaps, from Comme un Murmure. They’re made near St. Remy and customized with your choice of monogram, initials or name. The scents are delicious and the soaps are so pretty you’ll find it hard to actually use them.

And because Provence is famous for art and artists, I’ve rounded up three beautiful pieces to help you commemorate your trip:

*A signed and numbered limited-edition print, ''Magnolia Provence,'' by Canadian artist Claude A. Simard, shipped to your home before or after your trip. Claude will generously include 40€ for framing.

*A small, original oil painting of Provence by Irish artist Margaret Clayton. Margaret will frame your painting and ship it to your home, before or after your trip.

*One small photographic print (winner's choice, a 350€ value) from the fine-art photo collection of Arles-based National Geographic photographer Remi Benali.

Finally, a gift from me. Wearing my Provence Post Travel chapeau, I’ll help you pull your trip together and answer any questions you may have. That’s what I do for my travel-planning clients and it'll be great fun to do it for you as well.

Sounds pretty awesome, right?

Ok so here’s all you have to do win the whole shebang: just click HERE...and scroll down to the category OTHER and find the Week in Provence. Then put the amount you'd like to donate, in $10 increments, into the little box to the right. The more you donate, the more chances you have to win. And make sure to peruse all the other great prizes rounded up by other travel bloggers....and donate towards those as well! Then plug in your email address at the bottom of the donation page and click DONATE. Et voila! Entries will be accepted only until December 11th so it’s best if you do it soon. Anyone can enter, anywhere in the world.

I know y'all are amazingly generous folks. And I know you’re going to do me proud and help me raise a huge chunk of change for this important charity! All you have to do is click here and donate $10 towards this prize.

A quick note to my friends in France. Even if you live here...or have a vacation home should enter to win as well. You can give the prize to your family or friends or use it yourself for a great getaway! 

Finally, I’d like to say a major merci to everyone who donated the items above. Thanks to you, someone is going to have an amazing vacation in Provence and, more importantly, two communities in Haiti will soon have access to pure, clean water for drinking, cooking, washing and more. I can’t thank you enough for stepping up to help. 

To keep up with Passports with Purpose on social media, you can find them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. On Pinterest, you can see all the prizes on one easy-to-read page.

I'm just now starting to read the other bloggers' posts. There's a particularly touching one about the program...and the need for help in Haiti...on the blog called 200 Rooms...
Ok everybody, start clicking! And Bonne Chance!!

[Photo courtesy of Git Golson at Chic Provence]

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Artists' Snapshots of Provence

Snapshots of Provence is an annual program in which invited artists create digital art promoting the Bouches-du-Rhône department of Provence. The pieces are then compiled, published online and, later, displayed in a museum exhibit. This year, the work will also be shown in collaboration with the Regards de Provence Foundation, from November 28th to December 15th, at the Palais des Arts (at 1 Place Auguste et François Carli, phone 04 91 42 51 50) in Marseille. Meanwhile, you can see the video presentation here or just click the photo.

For the 2012/2013 Snapshots program, Bouches-du-Rhône Tourisme invited 12 regional artists and young talents to express ''their very personal and contemporary vision of Marseille at the dawn of 2013.'' Marseille is the European Capital of Culture for 2013

The result of this year's project is 90 original photos, videos and illustrations depicting the vibrant, wildly disparate city, including the nearby towns of La Ciotat, Martigues, Cassis and the gorgeous cliffs and coves known as the Calanques.

The artists were also invited to express their impressions of the cultural venues that will front the Marseille-Provence European Capital of Culture 2013 celebrations, such as the J1, MuCEM, Friche Belle de Mai and Eden Theatre in La Ciotat.
''Snapshots of Provence takes a sensorial approach to the destination, intended to evoke the inimitable lifestyle, light quality and character of Provence through the eyes of artists,'' the organizers tell me.

Personally, I found the video a wee bit loads and reloads and things tend to dart away unless you click them just so. Still, the photos and videos are stunning and the design is creative and compelling. Whether you actually get the hang of the navigation or not (try the up/down/left/right arrows on your keyboard if that helps), you can easily wile away a fair amount of time just playing around on the site, enjoying the dreamy music and taking it all in. It definitely made me want to get to know Marseille better. The final video was compiled by Uzik, the Paris-based company that creates digital campaigns for top brands such as Mumm, Dior, Perrier-Jouët , France TV, Diptyque, The Louvre Museum and Nina Ricci.

Snapshots of Provence is part of a larger project called The My Provence Festival

For more info on tourism in the Bouches-du-Rhône, click here.

For the complete Marseille-Provence European Capital of Culture 2013 program in English, click here.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Restaurant Royalty Fêtes Ducasse's 25th

Anyone who knows chef Alain Ducasse knows that he does nothing halfway. So when he decided to throw a party to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of his Monte-Carlo restaurant Le Louis XV, he went all out, inviting 240 chef friends for a weekend of elegant food, stellar wines and good fun. Included in the November 16th to 18th festivities were many of the very-top toques in the world, a rarified group holding some 300 Michelin stars between them. Chefs came in from South Africa, North and South America, Japan, China, Hong Kong, India, Australia, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Russia... 25 countries all over Europe and beyond...while the French contigent was out in full force. Joël Robuchon? Check! Pierre Troisgros? Check! Michel Guérard and Michel Roux? Of course. Boulud, Hermé, Maximin, Pic, Charial, Darroze, Dutournier, Haeberlin, Marcon, Marx, Pourcel, Senderens, Thuries, Trama, Chibois, Roellinger, Payard, Blanc (Georges) and Blanc (Raymond)....the old guard and the new...they all left their kitchens and came out to honor the man they call the Godfather of French Cuisine. All the finest Riviera region chefs were there as well...from Marseille to Menton...check, check, check. One fabulous chef after another.

Despite a late night on Friday, everyone gathered bright and early Saturday morning on the Casino Square for a family photo, not the easiest undertaking. Then after a panel discussion in the gorgeous gilded Salle Garnier of the Opera de Monte-Carlo, it was off to the Le Sporting for an all-day ''Mediterranean Market'' celebrating 100 of Mr. Ducasse's favorite ingredients...and the hard-working farmers, ranchers, fishermen, foragers and artisans who supply them. A few minutes into the party, the enormous ceiling rolled back, bathing everyone in the bright Mediterranean sun...a perfect metaphor as Mr. Ducasse is unfailingly vocal when it comes to his passion for the region's sun-drenched cuisine. While a few intrepid swimmers splashed around in the calm sea below, the chefs sipped Champagne and glorious wines, perused the beautifully displayed ingredients and chatted up the purveyors, then eagerly set to sampling the dishes being prepared 
à la minute by the 14 chefs Mr. Ducasse had tapped to cook. Can you imagine the pressure those 14 chefs felt, cooking on little portable burners for this crowd? The vast room was white coats wall to wall, with chefs eating, drinking, hugging, toasting, posing for the press, catching up on each other's news and trading war stories. Prince Albert II was there too, sampling and shaking hands, while his dark-suited security detail tried their best to blend. At the party's end, famed Parisian pattisier Pierre Hermé still had a crowd at his station, thanks to the endless supply of sweets he put out, most notably an ethereal white truffle macaron that made even the most-jaded palates swoon.

There was barely time for a few minutes of feet-up before everyone gathered at Le Louis XV for the gala dinner, with Prince Albert among the guests, the lovely Princess Charlene at his side, Princess Caroline of Monaco in the room as well and reportedly 200 chefs and cooks in the kitchen. And the party continued on Sunday, with an elegant brunch. And although he was both guest of honor and the host, Mr. Ducasse was, as usual, focused on playing up the accomplishments of others--his team, colleagues, mentors, protegées, competitors, and peers--rather than shining the spotlight on himself. More than 1/3 of the Monte-Carlo SBM's 3,500 employees worked on putting together the weekend, which was months and months in the planning. Did you just hear that whoosh? That was the collective sigh coming from Monaco today, now that the event is officially over and it's clear that it was a smashing success. Too bad Michelin doesn't give stars for parties. 

Born on a farm in Southwestern France, Ducasse was 12 when he famously proclaimed “Grand-mere, these beans are overcooked!” and 16 when he began his culinary career. He quit catering school--he found the pace too slow--preferring to learn from the chefs he most respected: Michel Guérard, Gaston Lenôtre, Roger Vergé, Alain Chapel and others. Today he's considered the master of Mediterranean cuisine, which he celebrates and advances through his schools, cookbooks, restaurants, food products and more. His mantra is impeccable ingredients and his philosophy is ''glocal''--meaning he draws inspiration, flavors and techniques from whatever city or country he's working in, while keeping roots planted firmly in Mediterranean soil.

Le Louis XV was Mr. Ducasse's first Michelin three-star restaurant and it remains his company's flagship. Anxious to have a top-rated restaurant in the Principality, Prince Rainier III lured him there in 1987. ''Until then,'' Ducasse said,  ''The Hotel de Paris was serving typical luxury palace fare. The challenge was to bring a breath of fresh air into a very classic room and also bring in local ingredients. I kept that promise.'' But there was more: Ducasse vowed he'd earn three stars within three years...and he did of course, becoming the youngest chef (age 33) ever to do so. He opened in Paris in 1996 and quickly earned three there as well. With the addition of his restaurant in the Dorchester Hotel in London, he became, in 2005, the first chef to hold three Michelin stars in three different restaurants at the same time. Today he's involved in a wide range of projects, which generated, I've read, €68 million in sales ($87 million) last year. His global empire includes 27 restaurants in eight countries...and 21 Michelin stars. A restaurant in Qatar is coming next year.

Ducasse is outspoken in his belief that chefs have a dual role: to provide pleasure though food but also to share their knowledge with others. A successful stint in a Ducasse kitchen instantly elevates any cook's resumé...and those who have toiled Chez Ducasse over the years comprise a list far too long to print. It's a global network of rigorously trained talent and it grows larger every day. 

''The 25th anniversary was truly an historic event,'' says New York-based restaurateur Drew Nieporent, who owns Nobu, TriBeCa Grill, Corton (two Michelin stars), and dozens of other restaurants worldwide. ''There will never be an event that humbled so many great chefs, as Ducasse honored his mentors (Troisgros, Gu
érard, Blanc, etc.), his peers and his 200-plus friends this weekend. It was a delicious honor to be one of them.''

To  learn more about Alain Ducasse click here. To see the 25th Anniversary celebration page on Facebook, click here. For all the participating chefs, Alain Ducasse's favorite Mediterranean ingredients and more, the press kit for the 25th Anniversary celebration is here.

Photos (click to enlarge): 1, 2: The 25th Anniversary logo, made by 240 chefs on the Casino Square...and how they did it. 3: Ducasse shares a laugh with another multiple-three-star chef, Joël Robuchon. 4: Ducasse arrives at Le Sporting with Prince Albert. 5-7: Some of Ducasse' favorite ingredients in the Mediterranean Market on Saturday. 8: One of Pierre Herme's desserts in the Market. 9: Chef David Burke with chef Marc Haeberlin and restaurateur Drew Nieporent. 10: Chefs Pierre Troisgros and Joan Roca. 11: Turkish chef Vedat Basaran with Israeli chef Ezra Kedem. 12: My key to the Kingdom. (Photos 1 - 5 & 8, copyright and courtesy of Agence Photo Realis.)

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Big World of Sculptor Stéphane Guiran

Born and raised in Draguignan, in the Var department of Provence, artist Stéphane Guiran first dreamt of being an airline pilot. ''But I'm bad at taking orders and being disciplined!'' he says. ''Plus, I suffer from vertigo!'' His parents were fish breeders and his grandparents, farmers; art and culture ''were not well represented'' in the Guiran home. It was his Uncle Beppo who almost certainly planted the seeds for the passion that would become a career.  ''Beppo was a sculptor and I loved to go see was a kid's paradise,'' Stéphane remembers. ''There were scraps of iron all over the place, as many unusual objects as you could want, colorful people and good humor. We ran wild in his garden; it tasted of freedom and imagination.'' And while Beppo--a friend of the artist César--taught Stéphane about soldering and the properties of steel, ''I never for one moment thought that I might become a sculptor,'' he recalls.

After university, Stéphane worked as a graphic designer, setting up shop in Paris. Having traveled extensively in Asia and studied Tibetan Buddhism, he called his company Himalaya; he dabbled in calligraphy and poetry for fun. Eventually, after 13 years in the city, Stéphane and his wife, Ghislaine, both felt ready to return to a lifestyle more in tune with nature, more like the one he had enjoyed as a child. ''I had fed off the light of winter mornings,'' he says in his book, ''off the mistral wind's fits of temper, off the warmth of the family houses, the rollicking accent of the people surrounding me, the earthy cooking's perfumes. I missed all that and had the feeling that something was drying up inside me.''

One day in 1998, the family drove through Eygalieres ''by accident'' and stopped. (The Guirans have three children: Tiphaine, 18; Lilian,15; and Timothée, 12.) ''Something happened that I can't explain,'' he remembers, ''a heart throb that surprised me. I knew many well-preserved villages in Provence but had never felt anything so powerful. We knew immediately that this was where we should settle. I didn't know that I'd become an artist and didn't know Eygalieres. I only knew I wanted to change my lifestyle.''

Stéphane soon began painting and sculpting for pleasure, but it wasn't until he spent 13 months in Barcelona (2004/5)--where he learned foundry, metalworking, casting and molding in sand and soft wax--and worked with bronze, mixed nickel and steel--that he felt he could call rightfully himself an artist.

I had been hearing about Stéphane for years before I had the chance to finally meet him at a concert at his home last summer; it turns out he's extremely active in the Provence music scene as well as the local visual-arts community. (He's also a partner in one of my favorite local hangouts, the Cafe de la Place in Eygalieres.) But I got to know his work up close and personal when, to celebrate a major birthday, my friends here in St. Remy treated themselves to one of his large, dramatic and extremely beautiful sculptures...after four years spent searching for the perfect piece for their garden. They're thrilled with the installation.

Today St
éphane's work is known far beyond Provence. He has pieces in museums, foundations and hotels as far away as Macao, and has exhibited in Paris, Lausanne, San Diego, Melbourne, Brussels and Florence, among others. His gorgeous 189-page hardcover book Stephane Guiran, written by Gerard Xuriguera, was published by FVW Editions (Paris) in 2011. There were just 1000 copies printed, 300 of them an English. To buy the book you can email Stephane at the address below or find it on Amazon here.

Because Stéphane is represented by a gallery in Lausanne, many locals and visitors in Provence miss out on seeing his sculptures. They're usually (but not always) monumental in size and crafted from bronze or steel but Stéphane also loves to work with glass. The more of his work I see, the more I love it. You can download a PDF of his recent work here.

If you find yourself in Isle sur la Sorgue, Stéphane currently has one mid-size sculpture on view at the Villa Datris contemporary sculpture museum. And he has five glass and metal pieces on display in a joint exhibit (with photographer Eric Bourret) at the Galerie DNR in the Village des Antiquaires de la Gare, located at 2 bis, avenue de l'Égalité (04 90 38 04 57, 06 03 15 64 93, ). The gallery is open Saturday, Sunday, Monday and holidays from 10 am to 7 pm and also by appointment. The show runs through December 31st. 

Or, if you'd like to meet the artist in his element, he welcomes visitors in both his Eygalieres studio and his ''dust and noise-filled'' St. Remy workshop, but by appointment only, please. A friend who recently led an artists' studio tour here in Provence said their visit with Stéphane was a highlight of the trip.
Stephane Guiran
Avenue Leon Blum
13810 Eygalieres
+33 (0)6 33 43 88 57

Photos from top (click to enlarge): 1: Temperance, installed in a private collection on Lake Leman in Lausanne. 2: Stéphane, photographed by Bruno Suet. 3: A piece in progress, in Stephane's workshop in St. Remy. 4: Correspondances, in a private collection in Eygalieres in the Alpilles. 5: Quatrain 1, a 30x30x30 cm sculpture made of glass.6: Stéphane's first monumental sculpture installed in the Samsara sculpture park in Roussillon, in the Luberon region of Provence.7: Another enormous piece in progress in the workshop. 8: A whimsical glass installation hangs from the trees at Stéphane's studio in Eygalieres. 

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