Thursday, April 25, 2013

Yes You Can Do Cannes...Sort Of!

The 66th annual Cannes Film Festival is coming up May 15 to 26th and of course it totally takes over the town; this year 200,000 people are expected. Unfortunately, the screenings and parties are for industry insiders only...not for you. But there are definitely open-to-the-public events around town that will let you feel the buzz, even if you can't actually hang with Woody Allen and the Jolie-Pitts. Here are two of them.

“Cinema de la Plage” is a free, nightly outdoor movie screening held on Macé Beach, next to the Palais des Festivals. Shows begin around 9:30 pm (''usually'') and no tickets are needed. Yep, just show up. And because your comfort is paramount to me, I inquired about seats and blankets and was told that both will be available. A schedule for Cinema de la Plage will posted on the festival website here shortly before the fest begins. 

And once again, the American Club of the Riviera will be hosting their fabulous Film Festival Lunch in Cannes. I've never been but I hear it's tons of fun. It's May 18 at the Belle Plage Restaurant and all are welcome. Details will be posted on the ACR website and Facebook page soon. Or, contact for info. 

If you live in Cannes or own property there, my friend Jackie Pressman (who's been there 13 years) has some interesting info on her website here. For example, there are special invitations from the Town Hall for locals to come to certain red-carpet screenings...but you have to enter a drawing. It's the Mayor’s way of giving back to compensate for all the inconvenience of the traffic, crowds and commotion. "But it's so exciting!" Jackie says. "We all love it. And many non-industry people come just to soak up the great atmosphere.'' By the way, if you need an apartment or villa in Cannes or have property to rent out, Jackie can definitely help.

This year's Cannes Film Festival opens May 15 with Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, which will be shown in 3D. Steven Spielberg will chair the festival jury,  while French actress Audrey Tautou will preside over the opening and closing ceremonies. The full website in English is here

Poster: This year's poster features Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, photographed during the shooting of A New Kind of Love by Melville Shavelson in 1963. The photo was remastered and redesigned by the Bronx Agency (based in Paris), who added a kinetic element, toying with the impression of movement and depth in order to enhance the cinematographic effect.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Three Flower Festivals in May...and a Joke

So two older couples have dinner and afterwards the women go in the kitchen to clean up. Still at the table, one man says to the other: "Oh, we had such a wonderful meal the other night!'

The friend of course asks "Where?"

The first gentleman knits his brow, stares into space, is clearly struggling to remember the name.  Silence, silence, silence. Finally, he's got it. "Rose!" he calls out.

"Rose?" his friend asks. "The name of the restaurant was Rose?"

"No!" says the first man, then calls into the kitchen. "Rose! What was the name of that restaurant?"

Ever since I heard that one, that's what I think of when I hear the word 'rose.' And with that, here are three upcoming festivals you might enjoy...

1. At the Villa Eprussi in St. Jean Cap Ferrat... 
The 4th annual Roses and Plants Festival at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (two photos above) is May 10th through 12th. I recently visited the villa for the first time and it's wonderful in every way. So if you're anywhere near St. Jean Cap Ferrat during the second weekend in May, this would definitely be worth a detour. Thirty or so international exhibitors are expected: rose growers, nurseries and gardening professionals. The event attracted 10,000 visitors over its three days last year. The event pays homage to Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild, who was extremely passionate about flowers and plants; she created nine different gardens around her villa in 1912, with help of her architect/landscaper, Harold Peto. The Rose and Plant Festival will take place in the French garden. English roses, modern roses, exotic flowers, and all sorts of rare and Mediterranean plants will be on display, while  the famous perfumer Fragonard, an event partner. will be sharing its rose-based fragrances. The weekend schedule includes garden visits, gardening workshops, presentations and talks by the French rose society, the Société Française des Roses. If you've never visited the Villa itself, read The Hare with Amber Eyes before you go....a terrific read even if you're not about to visit one of the family's legendary homes. The Villa, its Tea Room and the Gardens are open from 10 am to 6 pm all weekend; it's 8 km from Nice and 12 kms from Monaco. Your entry ticket to the Villa gets you admission to the flower show as well. Full price tickets are 12.50€ and reduced rates (kids, families, students, journalists, unemployed, etc.) are available.  For all the info, click here.

2. At the Palais des Papes in Avignon...

The Ninth Annual Alterarosa Festival of Roses (above) will be at Palais des Papes in Avignon from May 9 to May 12, 2013. In the prestigious Benoit XII cloister, at least ten major rose-growers from France and abroad will be showing off more than 2000 rosebushes and providing a sneak preview of new varieities. Some 20,000 visitors are expected. The weekend includes conferences, workshops and more. This year’s celebration of roses (always a fundraiser for charity) shares the spotlight with hydrangeas. The best place to park is the Parking Palais des Papes.Tickets: 7€ and 5€. The festival is open during Palace opening hours, which are 9 am to 7 pm. Last entry is at 6 pm. For the website in English, click here

3. In the Village of Grasse... 

The 43rd Annual International Rose Expo in Grasse will be May 8 to 12. To kick off the event, there will be concert of the music of Edith Piaf on May 8th at 8 pm in the Espace Chiris. (Concert tickets are 25€ and you can get them at the Tourist Office.) The Expo Rose takes place on the Cours Honore Cresp and in the gardens and rooms of the Villa-Musée Fragonard, the Grasse Cathedral and the Palais des Congrès. Expect to see more than 50,000 flowers! Grasse is a world perfume capital, with 20 farms cultivating flowers for scent. Additionally, the village has 30 or so perfume factories serving the global market and ingredients are sent here from all over the world to be transformed into perfume. In addition to the Expo Rose, Grasse hosts a Jasmine Festival every year in early August. Entry to Expo Rose is 5 € per person and it runs from 9:30 am to 7 pm. My peeps in the Grasse Tourist Office tell me a good place to park is on the Cours Honoré Cresp (just in front of Palais des Congrès) but that you'll also find parking in town (at Martelly and La Foux for example ). For more info on Grasse and the Rose Expo, click here and here.

*UPDATE: Reader Nathalie Delmotte was kind enough to remind me about another festival for plant lovers, this one happening this weekend (April 20-21) in Serignan du Comtat. It's the 15th Annual Rare Plants and Natural Gardens festival and the theme this year is “Mediterranean Variation.'' Louisa Jones, who's been writing about Mediterranean gardens for more than 30 years, is guest of honor. (Her most recent book, Mediterranean Landscape Design, is here.) The aim of this 15th year will be to highlight plants and gardening activities best suited to the Mediterranean region (arid-soil plants, water savings, clean gardening methods etc.). Over 100 nursery collectors will be present, alongside Italian and Catalan experts. Scheduled for this year: in-the-field excursions, activities centered on practical themes, scientific workshops and fun for kids. All programs are in French. A 6€ ticket gives access to everything; kids under 15 are free. For info:  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Camargue Days 2013: At Home on the Range

In 1950, Jacques Bon bought what was then a vast sheep farm in the Camargue, with a pretty 350-year-old bastide (country home) on it. Lucille, an architect, came into Jacques’ life in 1983 and the couple married in ‘87. They renovated the property completely in 1992 and opened the beautiful country house hotel Le Mas de Peint two years later. Today the family business includes the five-star hotel and its restaurant; a 500-hectare rice and alfalfa farm; and a ranch called Manade Jacques Bon, which is home to 30 horses and 250 free-range, grass-fed bulls (taureaux). In total, the estate is 1300 acres and it’s quite unique and fabulous.

Jacques passed away  in 2010 but Lucille and their son, Frédéric, have firmly kept the reins. The vibe here is unspoiled nature with pampering nurture--a fabulous combination indeed. Hotel guests may enjoy a large pool, access to a private beach, massage, biking, riding, animal viewing by 4 x 4, bull competitions and shows, and special events such as live music and ‘’Journées Camarguaises.’’  

The ‘’Journées Camarguaises’’ are open to the public and the new season is about to begin. 

Called Camargue Days in English, they give visitors  a chance to learn all about the life of the ranch and the French cowboys (gardians),who look after it. This year, the event is being offered on six Sundays: April 21, May 19, June 9, June 23, September 15 and September 29. 

The full day of activities (10:30 am to 5 pm) includes a traditional ferrade (branding) and other demonstrations, an apero and lunch, live music and a course a la cocarde (a difficult competition in which gardians pluck ribbons from the horns of the bull). Horse back riding and tractor-drawn tours of the ranch are offered at an extra charge.

Prices are 38€ (adults); 19€ (ages 5 to 12); and free for kids under 5. To book: 04 90 97 28 50 or To see a menu, a map and more, click here.

If you want to experience Mas de Peint another way, you can just come for lunch or dinner. In summer, meals are served on a pretty candle-lit terrace, tented with billowy fabric that lets breezes in and keeps mosquitoes out. When the weather cools, chef Vincent Laisney hosts you right in his large, lovely old kitchen, with its gorgeous stove and marble buffet.

In low season (until late June), they serve lunch on Sat and Sun only: menus range from 41 € (main course and dessert) to 66 € (starter, main course, cheese, dessert).  From June to September, lunch is a la carte only, served every day. For dinner, the restaurant is open every night except Thursday year round, serving a la carte (main courses €16 to 28 €) and menus at €59 (three courses) and 66€ (four courses).  It’s best to book ahead because hotel guests snap up seats quickly. All the info you’ll need about dining appears on the Mas de Peint website here.

If you do decide to stay over, Mas de Peint offers eight rooms and five suites, all unique in design and decor, with one suitable for limited mobility. Rates range from €235 to €435 (high season) and if you want the most-popular room, ask for The Loft. Upscale tent accommodations have recently been added and they were a huge hit when a group from Hermès held a meeting here not long ago. But they have to be specially arranged.

If you'll be in Provence next weekend (April 19), Mas de Peint is offering two- and three-night Flamenco Packages with live gypsy guitar music; I've heard the group, Gipsy del Mundo, and they're terrific. All that info is here.

Mas de Peint is 1 km south of Le Sambuc on the route D36 in the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, southwest of Arles. Their contact info is: 04 90 97 20 62,; their site is Directions: From Arles, take direction Stes Maries de la Mer. Turn left onto the D36, direction Salin de Giraud and La Sambuc, and go about 20 km until you see the sign.

Photos: (1, 2, 3) The gardians who look after the Manade Jacques Bon. (4) Jacques Bon, who passed away in 2010, on one of his beloved white Camargue horses. (5) Cowboys from central casting. (6) The hotel building is 17th century. (7) All 13 guestrooms and suites are unique in design and decor. (8) In warm weather, meals are served on this pretty terrace. (9) Chef Vincent Laisney's food is considered some of the very best in the region.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Brianna's Excellent Foodie Adventure in Aix

Born and raised in Madison, WisconsinBrianna Wilson is a young journalist who'll graduate next month from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Particularly interested in food writing, Brianna spent three weeks this past semester in Aix-en-Provence, doing independent study focused on culinary journalism. ''My advisor and I agreed upon texts to help guide my writing,'' she says, ''and I turned in two polished pieces a week via my food blog, plus a culminating piece on my experiences.''  She also wrote the story below, a quick foodies' tour of Aix.

Getting ready to graduate, Brianna is now hunting a full-time job or internship anywhere in the U.S.; her dream job would be entry-level position on a food magazine but she says she'll pursue any good opportunity. Please email her ( if you have ideas!

Brianna is also dreaming, of course, of her next voyage to France as this one was a rollicking success. ''It was such an inspirational trip,'' she says. The baguettes, cafes and espresso sent me into a writing frenzy. I had a unique vantage: one of a college student venturing to a foreign country alone, on her own dime, with minimal knowledge of French. My independent study was about culinary journalism, but the real journey transcended ingredients and technique. It was about culture, connection and passion. It was definitely a love story between myself and French cuisine!''  

Here's Brianna:

When it comes to foodie recommendations, guidebooks suffice, but locals excel.

While staying in Aix, I was lucky enough to break baguettes with a French couple, Agathe Plauchut and Pauline Guibbaud. By the end of dinner, I was left with a long culinary to-do list of Aix-en-Provence’s finest; and more importantly, a dinner invitation.

A chocoholic, I had already tasted chocolat chaud at Brûlerie Richleme in Place Richelme. Much thicker than hot chocolate in the United States, it wasn’t quite as viscous as the Italian version. The petite size is more than enough and costs merely €1.50. If you’re hankering to make it at home later, consider buying their mix for €6.90. Ask to have it outside and sit beneath the Brûlerie’s cozy heaters. Prime people-watching time is in the early evening, as the Aixoise meet for pastis and conversation.

Also in the Place Richelme is Boulangerie Lavarenne, the pair’s go-to place for bread and patisseries. Ask for a banon instead of the more mainstream baguette. Made with a different type of flour, it's softer but still dense. Follow up with a tarte au citron. The rectangular pastry has a hidden crust beneath its creamy sweet-then-sour filling. Don't try to share; at €2.40 each, it’s worth buying two.

Hidden above a souvenir shop, visitors to Aix could easily miss Thé Mandarine in the Place de l’Hotel de Ville (City Hall Plaza). The quaint tea salon is the perfect place to perch for an afternoon and watch the world bustle on by. Choose from an extensive list of thé, café, fresh-squeezed fruit juice, chocolat chaud and sirop (syrup that can be added to water like grenadine or Italian soda).

The smelliest stop, Fromagerie Andre Savelli is in close proximity to Place Richelme. Though a little pricier than other fromageries, my new best friends insist it’s worth it. Order any type of chèvre; try the one with Herbes de Provence if you’re feeling traditional. The chèvre is available in small wheels, starting at €3.10. Beware that any cheese marked “cru” has not been pasteurized.

Head to Picard in the southern edge of Aix for gourmet frozen food. For squeamish seafood lovers, it’s the ideal place to get escargot outside restaurants. The girls recommend gratin dauphinois, a French dish featuring scalloped potatoes. While recipes vary, the Picard version features cream, cheese, salt and eggs. For those cringing at “frozen food,” consider this: Agathe and Pauline's Christmas dinner was comprised of dishes from Picard. If the French consider it bon appétit, so should you!

The final destination was perhaps the most authentic: leur appartement (their apartment), for an exceptional dinner of adobo with wild boar leg. Not to be found in any boucherie, the leg is  usually available only through hunters. Pauline obtained the leg – hair, hoof and all – by winning a game of bingo. She wanted to trade it for champignons (mushrooms), but Agathe protested. The pair had to empty their refrigerator to stash the leg until they were able to clean and cook it. The bloody task four hours, even with twelve hands.

To make adobo, the two women combined red wine, shredded boar, Herbes de Provence and orange zest. The mixture cooked over low heat for eight to ten hours before being served atop pasta.

Safe travels and bon appétit! 

Photos: Fromagerie Andre Savelli; hot chocolate at Brûlerie Richelme; Lavarenne is Pauline and Agaght's favorite spot for both bread and pastry; Thé Mandarine is hidden away above the Chat Reveur; inside Thé Mandarine. All photos by Brianna Wilson. To see Brianna's blog/online portfolio, click here. To email her:  

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Crillon Hotel to Auction 3,500 Items

Thirty five hundred lots of furniture, decorative items, lighting, fine wine and more from the legendary Parisian Hôtel Le Crillon will be auctioned off at the hotel April 18 to 21, following its closing on March 31st. The hotel will undergo a complete renovation and reopen in spring, 2015. 

A public exhibition of the auction items will be held April 12th to 16th. 

"This event will be the perfect synthesis between an ‘interiors’ sale and a ‘memorabilia’ sale, in which anyone will be able to own… a part of the dream of this unequalled Parisian palace,'' says François Tajan, co-president of Artcurial, the premier French auction house handling the sale. 

The luxurious five-star hotel was first constructed in 1758 after King Louis XV commissioned the architect Jaques-Ange Gabriel to build two palaces on in what would become the Place de la Concorde. The two identical buildings, separated by the rue Royale, were designed to be government offices. 

On February 6, 1778, the building was the venue for the official signing of the first treaties between France and the newly-founded United States. 

Ten years later, the Count of Crillon acquired the building and moved in. But it was confiscated shortly thereafter by the government of the French Revolution in 1791. Two years later King Louis XVI was guillotined in the Place de la Concorde, directly in front of the building. Eventually the building was returned to its owner whose descendants lived there for more than a century. In 1907, the Societe du Louvre purchased the property and transformed it into a hotel. The building underwent a two-year refurbishment and two neighboring buildings were added. The new Hotel de Crillon opened on March 12, 1909. 

The five-day sale will feature furniture, lighting, silver, porcelain, tapestries, trimmings….all of the decorative arts. Each piece will bear the name “Hotel de Crillon.’’ Certain pieces will be personalized by artists, couturiers and decorators, and will be sold to benefit charities. A selection of wines and spirits is also being auctioned. 

So what might you pick up? How about a bar created by César in 1982 (valued up to 12,000) or a Philippe Starck for Baccarat “Dark Super’’ console table from the restaurant Les Ambassadeurs  (15,000)?  Trop cher? Then perhaps a Christofle majogany and silver plate dessert trolley (3000 to 4000), a molded crystal and silver plated Lalique light fixture (3000 to 4000) or a large wood veneer, gilt bronze and marquetry Louis XVI-style desk from the lobby (300 to 400) would be just the thing.  There will also be silk curtains, linens with the Crillon crest, cast-iron garden furniture and much more. 

Tough luck if you had your eye some of those Baccarat chandeliers or the fountains from the conservatory of the Château de Versailles—they’re not for sale. 

Luc Delafosse, director of Crillon says the sale will “mark the beginning of the Crillon of tomorrow while continuing the magic of the myth.’’ 

The two-year renovation of the 147-room hotel will be led by three top interior decorators: Cyril Vergniol, Chahan Minassian and Tristan Auer, under the artistic direction of Aline d’Amman. The goal will be ‘’to enhance the noblesse and elegance of the site while conserving the atmosphere of an 18th century hôtel particulier, in which many salons and suites are classified Historical Monuments.” 

Who will actually run the Crillon when it reopens remains anyone’s guess. It's currently owned by a Saudi Prince, who bought it in 2010 for a reported 250 million. The French press reports that the Prince has been talking with the U.S. hotelier Rosewood about taking over the management; Rosewood was bought by the Chinese firm New World Hospitality Group in 2011. I read that Rosewood is currently favored over Sofitel, part of the French hotel giant Accor. The Crillon says no decision has been made. 

Here's all the auction info... 

The Viewing: Friday April 12 to Tuesday 16 April 2013, 10 am to 8 pm. Evening hours: Monday April 15 until 10 pm.  

The Auction: Thursday April 18, Friday 19, Saturday 20, Sunday 21 and Monday April 22, everyday at 10 am and 2:30 pm. 

The Catalog (€50) is available from You can browse it here. 

For more info: click here. 

Photos: The Crillon as it looks today...and a poster celebrating the opening in 1909. Among the items to be auctioned are a bar made by César and furniture from the lobby, terraces, Presidential (and other) suites, terraces, lobby and restaurant Les Ambassadeurs.

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