Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Popes Palace All Lit Up

The days have cooled here in Provence, the summer festival season is winding down and I'm braced for the inevitable--yet always jarring!--reduction in gala garden-party invites. But there are still plenty of opportunities for summer-style diversions, such as this sound-and-light show at the 14th-century Palais des Papes in Avignon. Truth is, many of these things are more fun when it's not 32 degrees celcius at midnight. So...

Les Luminessences d’Avignon is a grand-scale sound and light show that runs until September 28. For 35 minutes, the main courtyard of the Popes Palace is bathed in colorful light, with monumental 3D images in sequence and a sound track to match. The show was created by Bruno Seillier, the artistic director behind the Nuit des Invalides show in Paris this year and last...and the 200 Years of Glory show at Versailles. The spoken part is in French (famous French actors describing the history of the 'old stones,' the lives of the Popes and more) but I'm told it's very beautiful and enjoyable either way.

Luminessences runs twice every evening (9:15 and 10:15 pm) through August 31st...once (9:15) on weekdays in September...and twice on Friday and Saturday nights in September. Doors open at 8:30 (first show) and 10 pm (second). Entry is €10 per person, reduced rate is 8€ and kids under 8 are free. You can order tickets online or buy them everyday (9 am to 10:15 pm) at the Palais des Papes or Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 5:45 pm (and Sundays from 10 am to 4:45 pm) at the Avignon Tourist Office. Meanwhile the site for Luminessences is here with lots more info about the show. And for any Avignon questions, you can always call the Tourist Office: 04 32 74 32 74.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Celebration of Food & Wine on Sept. 6

At this new event, seven top Provence restaurants and at least 13 wine and Champagne houses will be serving up some of their finest flavors in the fabulous setting of the Théâtre Antique d'Orange. The Festival des Chefs is Friday, September 6th starting at 7 pm, and tickets are 32€ per person. Roughly 700 people are expected and ticket sales will be capped at 1,000. Your list of chefs and dishes will be marked at at each everyone will get to taste everything. To purchase tickets, call 06 71 32 13 72 or 06 71 32 12 81. You can also buy tickets at the participating restaurants (listed on the poster above; you can click it to enlarge) and at the Tourist Office of Orange. Or you can email but you must reserve in advance. If you've never visited the Théâtre Antique, this is a great chance to experience it; it's a UNESCO World Heritage site and it's considered the best preserved Roman theater in all of Europe. See you there!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Deadline for Dora Maar Fellowship is Oct 15

The Dora Maar House, perched high on the hill in the lovely Luberon village of Menerbes, is the former residence of the Yugoslavian photographer and artist who was Pablo Picasso’s companion and muse in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. Picasso bought the house for her in 1944 and Maar (1907–1997) owned it until her death, after which a patron of the arts who resides in both Houston and Menerbes bought it, renovated it and transformed it into a retreat for writers, scholars, and artists.

The 18th-century, four-story stone home has an elegant garden terrace and expansive, quite-breathtaking views. It was built by Général Baron Robert--one of Napoleon’s well-decorated generals in the Republican Army--who most likely cobbled together a series of smaller village houses to make one grand ''hotel de ville.''

What many people may not know is that the Dora Maar House runs an international artists- in-residence program, which provides study or studio space, travel expenses and a stipend to mid-career artists, writers and others interested in the humanities. That means that if you’re chosen, you get paid to pursue your work, for one to three months, in a fantastically beautiful, historic setting in the heart of La Belle Provence.

The village of Menerbes is officially classified one of “The Prettiest Villages of France.” Nostradamus claimed that Menerbes looked like a ship in an ocean of vineyards. For its small size (about 1,200 residents), the village offers a surprisingly lively slate of cultural activities, restaurants, shops, galleries, hotels and cafés. Located roughly 50 kilometers from Marseille International Airport and 40 kilometers from Avignon, with TGV fast-train connections to Paris, the Dora Maar House has easy access to larger cities and cultural centers.

Recent fellows have included art critic and painter Peter Plagens; MFAH curators Mari Carmen Ramirez and Anne Tucker; poets Cleopatra Mathis and Tom Sleigh; theatre director John Jesurun,  novelist Salvatore Scibona; and visual artists Jane South and Nene Humphrey.

The artists-in-residence program is administered by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and is funded by the Brown Foundation of Houston. Katherine Howe, director of Rienzi at the MFAH, is also director of The Brown Foundation Fellows Program. Gwen Strauss, who is based in Menerbes, is assistant director. 

The next deadline for applicants is October 15th, 2013, for residencies between February and June, 2014. Applications are submitted online and all the info is here.

The website for the Dora Maar House is here and you can follow them on Facebook here. A Champagne reception to honor two current fellows, Maud Casey and Donna Stonecipher, will be held Tuesday August 27 at 6 pm and all are welcome.

Photos: (1, 2, 3) The Dora Maar House has lots of hidden corners in which to work or read or think big thoughts. (4) Portrait of Dora Maar taken by Man Ray in 1936. (5) Picasso's "Dora Maar Seated" (1937) shows his mistress in both profile and full face; his painting her in a small box is said to express a feeling of confinement.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A St. Remy Tour for Foodies

Very quickly after I launched my new company Provence Post Travel---arranging amazing vacations in Provence for solo travelers, couples, families and groups of all sizes--I learned how much my clients love activities that get them up close and personal with real life in Provence…the special experiences I arrange for them with artists, farmers, winemakers, bread bakers, chefs, guides and more. Travelers these days definitely want to meet interesting locals who love to share their passions.

So to make these activities more accessible, I created a Menu of Delicious Provence Experiences: wonderful activities of all types that you can book and enjoy during your stay in Provence. You can see the menu here.

Having been a food writer for the past 30 years--the last 14 of them mostly in Provence--I'm often asked to arrange or lead foodie tours around the South of France. Some people want to work in restaurant kitchens and visit outdoor markets; others want to learn the secrets behind making the flakiest croissants or perfect crusty baguettes. Virtually all want to visit artisinal producers making food in traditional ways...and of course to taste the delicious results. Luckily, my village, St. Remy, has more than its share of these artisans, many of them third or fourth generation. 

My friend Philippe, one of the most-popular guides in the region, has been in St. Remy as long as I have and he knows all these producers well. So taking clients around to taste in their workshops has been a particular joy for him. And of all the different tours on my Menu of Delicious Experiences, this one day Tour for Foodies is our most-popular outing by far. 

Philippe will pick you up at your hotel or rental villa around 9 am…or rendezvous with you in St. Remy. And then you'll hit the rue running! First stop: a visit to the only olive mill in St. Remy, where fifth generation brother-and-sister farmers tend 5,000 trees and make a wide range of fantastic products. We’ll comparison taste the various olives and oils…plus tapenades, anchoiade, sun-dried tomato spreads, confitures and all sorts of other homemade goodies. Then we’ll head back to the village where we’ll roam from shop to shop, tasting artisan chocolates, cookies, candies, nougat, macarons, flavored salts from all over the world, honey from the region and more. 

After a break for lunch in one of our favorite local spots, you'll head over to an excellent local patissier for a two-hour hands-on class where you’ll learn to make popular French treats such as croissants, pain au chocolat, macarons, lemon tart or other goodies. Then we'll pop in at our favorite goat farm, the place where top local chefs buy their cheeses. We’ll meet the goats (three adorable babies were just born), possibly see them being milked and taste a few of the delicious award-winning cheeses; they make as many as 50 different types.

If there’s time, we’ll slip in a visit to a historic local winery, to learn a bit about the varietals and wines of the AOC Les Baux and be led in a short tasting, by the winemaker himself if possible. The day ends around 7 pm. 

Note: this fully escorted one-day food tour can be expanded to multiple days…or you can skip the baking class and we’ll replace it with other visits and tastings. It's available year round. The price is 300€ per person for adults, which includes lunch, a two-hour baking class and all tastings. Under 18s pay 150€ but the minimum age is 14, please. The maximum is six people per tour. Sorry, we can’t go out with fewer than two people but if your schedule is flexible, we’ll pair you with other fun foodies and knock 100€ per person off the price. In 2014 we may be doing this for groups (six max) on one set day per check in if that interests you. For info or to book:

Photos: My new best friend at our local goat farm, where they make some of the best chevre around. Your guide Philippe. A selection of Provence’s famous rosé wines. Yes, we'll taste olives, like these in our local market. Yes, we'll taste macarons...and maybe even make our own. And of course we'll taste chocolate...and bakery...and other goodies...and visit a store that sells salt and spices from all over the world. Somewhere in there, we'll break for lunch at a pretty restaurant like this one. At the Calanquet mill, we'll learn all about how olive oil is made and taste all their other homemade products. And maybe you'll even learn a few words of Provençal, the traditional language spoken here back in the day. All photos (except Calanquet exterior) copyright Julie Mautner.