Sunday, July 27, 2014

Et Voila: Le Peninsula!

It took four years and 429 million to complete …and finally the fabulous Peninsula Hotel will open in Paris next week.

It’s the Hong Kong-based company’s tenth hotel, joining properties in New York, Chicago, Beverly Hills, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Bangkok and Manila.

The first guests are set to arrive on August 1st.

Just steps from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées, at 19 Avenue Kléber in the elegant 16th arrondissement, The Peninsula Paris sits close to some of the world’s most-famous monuments, museums and luxury shopping. It has 200 rooms including 34 suites, five of which have private rooftop gardens with spectacular views over the city. 

The building itself is a late-19th-century classic French-style beauty.  It first opened in 1908 as one of Paris’ most famous “grands hotels” and, for 30 years, it hosted the rich and famous--along with leading lights in the arts, literature and music--during the Belle Epoque and “Années Folles.”

In 1922, five of the greatest artists of the 20th century-- James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Pablo Picasso, Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky—had dinner together here. Other historical highlights include George Gershwin composing “An American in Paris” here in 1928  and the Paris Peace Accords, negotiated by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho--which brought the Vietnam War to a close--being signed here in 1973.

Following the wartime occupation of Paris, the hotel was converted into UNESCO’s headquarters (in 1946), and 12 years later it became the conference center for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The building has been meticulously restored by teams of French master craftsmen, using techniques in use for hundreds of years. Original elements long gone or badly damaged were recreated following extensive research.  Marble, stucco, mosaics, roof and wall tiles, wood carvings, stone work, gold leafing, paintings and a myriad of other elements have been lovingly preserved and painstakingly restored by some of France’s most-revered family firms, known for their work on heritage projects such as the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles.

The façade alone employed the talents of 20 skilled stonemasons who restored the elaborate carved stone flowers, bows and ribbons. Repairs were carried out where possible, carving missing portions by hand using stone-dust paste. Where the bas-reliefs were severely damaged, the entire section was replaced by new, hand-carved stone, using photos for reference. Each flower cascade took a stonemason three weeks of work…12 hours of work alone for each small bow.

Meanwhile wood-restoration experts individually numbered and removed each original wood panel in the Lobby and Le Bar Kléber: 370 and 130 sections respectively. These were then sanded down, repaired, restored and replaced.

A firm specializing in gilding and restoring handled repairs, gold leafing and hand painting. Their previous commissions in Paris have included the dome of Les Invalides and the Palace of Versailles, while in the US their projects have included the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and the flame of the Statue of Liberty. 

Three basement levels were excavated to create a 1800-square-foot spa, a 20-meter swimming pool, fitness centre and parking for 57 cars.

The Avenue Kléber hotel entrance leads to the traditionally grand Peninsula Lobby, with soaring curved ceilings, magnificent drapery, marble floors and contemporary furnishings. In a second lobby—which greets guests arriving by car--a hand-blown Lasvit chandelier creates a cascade of 800 crystal “leaves,” a subtle homage to the plane trees lining Avenue Kléber. 

With the smallest of them 35 square meters (312 square feet), the guestrooms are among the largest in the city; the company says they’re also the most technologically advanced in the world. Every room has a marble bathroom, a self-contained dressing room, a walk-in closet, a seated dressing table, a valet box for discreet pick-up and delivery of laundry, dry-cleaning and polished shoes, a large electronic safe, internet radio, a weather display panel and –wait for it!—a nail dryer. (Personally, I love the Nespresso machines and the free local and international  phone calls!)

Fully customized interactive digital bedside and desk tablets are preset for guests in one of 11 languages, offering full control of all in-room functions and access to restaurant menus, hotel services and TV channels. In-room LED touch-screen wall panels feature valet call, weather details, thermostat, language and privacy options.

In addition to 24-hour room service, the Peninsula Paris has six dining venues:  The Lobby, LiLi (the Cantonese restaurant), La Terrasse Kléber, L’Oiseau Blanc (a rooftop restaurant, bar and terrace), Le Lounge Kléber (an eight-seat cigar lounge) and Le Bar.

There are also function and banquet rooms,  of course, including a traditional Parisian-style ballroom-salon with a pre-function area for up to 120 people,  and three rooms for smaller meetings and events.

Throughout the hotel, executive chef Jean-Edern Hurstel says he’ll be using only the very best of French ingredients and a “farm to table” approach to seasonal cuisine. Jean-Edern was born and raised in Alsace and comes to the hotel from the Middle East, where he was working at the Shangri-La Abu-Dhabi and, more recently, Boca Restaurant in Dubai.

Vichy-born chief sommelier Xavier Thuizat presides over The Peninsula Paris’ extensive wine cellar while indulging his passion for sourcing unique boutique wines from small producers throughout France.

Pastry chef Julien Alvarez hails originally from Bergerac and has won a multitude of awards, including a gold medal in the World Pâtisserie Championship in 2011.

And what about the famous Peninsula cars? Yep, they’re here and at the ready: Continuing the company’s  long partnership (since 1970) with Rolls-Royce, a Rolls-Royce EWB Phantom and a meticulously restored 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II are liveried, together with two customized Peninsula Edition MINI Cooper Clubman vehicles,  in the signature Peninsula green in front of the hotel. There’s also a fleet of 10 BMW 7 Series limousines for airport transfers, sightseeing and trips around Paris.

The hotel’s general manager is Nicolas Béliard , who has extensive experience throughout Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and the US. He joined the company in 2009, at The Peninsula Hong Kong, and became GM of the Peninsula Bangkok the following year.

Hotel manager Vincent Pimont also has years of luxury hotel experience,  in Paris, the US and the Far East. He comes most recently from the Peninsula Beijing.

Opening month specials begin at €750 per night, for a Superior room with full breakfast for two (usually €1,205).

To reserve, click here, go to or call: 08 00 91 59 80 (in France) or 866 382 8388 (in the US). 

Photos: (1) You've arrived! One of the two lobbies, with its hand-blown crystal "Dancing Leaves" chandelier. (2) The Peninsula all lit up and ready to party. (3) Rooftop restaurant views at L’Oiseau Blanc. (4, 5) Guestrooms and marble bathrooms are loaded with luxe amenities and tech. (6) Executive chef Jean-Edern Hurstel on the hunt for the best seasonal ingredients and products. (7) The hotel at 19 avenue Kléber opened in 1908 and was known for voluminous spaces, elegant events, beauty and glamour. (8, 9) Countless craftsmen using traditional methods did the meticulously restoration, guided by historic photos. (10) Inviting sweets are among the in-room amenities offered.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Foodie Films and BBQ at Château La Coste

For the third year, the "starchitect" winery Château La Coste, 10 minutes north of Aix, is presenting its summer outdoor film series.  This year all four films celebrate the theme of gastronomy. Each evening before the screening, a barbecue will be available along with salads, cheese and ice cream...accompanied by wines from the domain of course.  

On film days, the winery's restaurant will be open normal hours for lunch but for dinner there will be the special barbecue menu only.
If you're interested in wine, design, sculpture or architecture--or simply enjoy experiencing very unusual and beautiful places--a visit to La Coste is a must. This gorgeous 600-acre wine domaine has a large visitors center designed by world-famous architect Tadao Ando, plus numerous installations and buildings crafted by other luminaries such as Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry.  

While the newest incarnation of Château la Coste is just a year old, there's been agriculture and winemaking here as far back as Roman times. On the property are cobbled Gallo-Roman pathways, dry stone walls, bridges, underground wells...and the vestiges of an intricate watering system currently undergoing restoration. Between the rows of vines, mixed in with the sandy limestone soil, workers have found fragments of amphores which the Romans used to transport their wine and varnished fragments of the cups from which they drank. Today the property is blanketed with forests of green and white oaks, meadows of almond trees and broad swaths of wildflowers, plus 250 acres of meticulously tended vines. A lovely Venetian villa in a rosy pink hue has stood here since 1682.

It was in 2004 that the current owners decided to transform the domaine into a place where art, architecture, wine and the terrain would blend seamlessly. The idea had already been successful in the Basque city of Álava, headquarters of Vinos del Marqués de Riscal, where Frank Gehry was commissioned to build a hotel. Here in France, the Irish owners of Château La Coste expanded on that idea, inviting artists and architects from all over the world to visit, explore and find a place upon the estate that inspired them to create. Other artists with work on view include Alexander Calder, Michael Stipe, Louise Bourgeous, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Serra, Paul Matisse and many others.  

The newest installation at Château La Coste is "Self Portrait: Cat Inside a Barrel" by Tracey Emin. Coming next is artwork by Lee Ufan. But the big news is that Château La Coste will soon begin construction on a hotel. The architect is Tangram Architects (Marseille); it will most likely have 16 villas and 29 rooms. Construction is expected to take two years. 

To see the major features of the property, plan for a two-hour stroll with some gravel and gentle hills. 

The property is open for self-guided visits year round (you'll be provided with a map) while guided visits in French and English are available by reservation.  Visits to the Jean Nouvel-designed winery (the ''chai") are also available in both languages. Info and admission prices can be found on the website here.

Ok so back to the movies. Here's the schedule:
July 26: Sideways (with French subtitles).

August 2: Babette's Feast (French subtitles).

August 9: The Scent of Green Papaya (French subtitles).

August 16: La Femme du Boulanger (Original Version, in French).
Practical Info:  
*The barbecue is from 7 to 9 pm. 
*Films start at 9:30 pm. 
*Movie tickets are 8€ per person. 
*Reservations are recommended : call 04 42 61 92 92 or email: To buy tickets online, click here
*Also recommended: Bring a shawl for warmth as this is a fully open-air projection. If you come for the film only, you might want to bring a cushion or chair...or you'll be sitting on the grass. If you come for dinner first, you can use that chair for the movie. 
*In case of rain: Movies will be cancelled.

Chateau La Coste 
2750 Route de la Cride
Le Puy Sainte Reparade, France
04 42 61 89 98
GPS coordinates: on the website
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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rencontres d'Arles Opens Monday July 7

The 45th annual Recontres d'Arles, the fantastic international photo festival, will run July 7 to September 21, 2014 in Arles, with 50-plus exhibits and workshops. As in years past there will be panel discussions, lectures, book signings, open-air screenings, portfolio reviews, guided tours and more. Last year, almost 100,000 people attended.

Most but not all exhibits stay up until the end of the festival, on September 21st.

The exhibits, sometimes co-produced with French and/or foreign museums and institutions, are staged in various galleries, museums and purpose-built sites. Some sites (for example, a 12th-century chapel or 19th-century industrial buildings) are open to the public only during the festival.

The opening week (the week that many industry professionals attend) will feature a number of special events and the week's program is here.

A complete list of this year's exhibitions is here. The big names this year are David Bailey, Christian Lacroix, Lucien Clergue and Raymond Depardon. Use the left right arrows to see the various photographers and click for more info on that particular show. Over to the right, you'll see the venue, dates and single ticket price. A list of all the shows appears in the margin at left; they're divided into two categories: Originals and Parade.

Special evenings where one or more photographers project their work on a large screen, often accompanied by music, will be held on July 8 (Théâtre d' Arles, corner of Georges Clémenceau Blvd and Gambetta) and on July 9, 10 and 12 (Théâtre Antique). Separate tickets for these evenings are required and more info is here.

Friday July 11 is the annual "Nuit de L'Année" (Night of The Year). Work by various photographers will be projected on 14 screens on the Boulevard des Lices, from 10 pm to 3 am. It's a festive evening, free and open to all.

Tickets to all events may be purchased online or at seven ticket offices, which you can see hereExhibit tickets may be purchased individually or in multi-day passes. Single tickets range from 3.50€ to 12€. A pass that gets you into all exhibits from July 7 to September 21 is 35€. One-day passes are 29€. A pass good for September 1st to 21st is 31€. Info on all passes is here.

Groups of 10 or more get special rates. For more info, call or email Han Xiao:

Please note that some shows/venues are not included in pass prices and must be paid for separately. Make sure to get a map to all exhibits when you stop by a ticket office. They should also have them at the Tourist Office.

During opening week, exhibiting photographers are often on hand to present and discuss their work. Pass holders can also enjoy free daily guided tours, between July 14 and September 21. These 90-minute tours will let you discover a range of exhibitions with a mediator-photographer as your guide. There's no need to reserve ahead...just show up, as long as you have a pass. More info can be found at the ticket offices but the best details I can get are:

* City Center Tour : 5 pm, on even days. Meeting point : Garden of the Espace Van Gogh Tours run until and including August 31 (which where I come from is not an even day but...)

* Bureau Des Lices Tour : 5 pm, on odd days, on August 21st and every day after September 1st. Meeting point : Garden of the Espace Van Gogh.

 * Parc des Ateliers Tour : 11am. Meeting point : Chaudronnerie entrance.

Info on workshops can be seen here. There are two categories: summer and weekend. Click on the links in the left hand margin to see them.

A free Rencontres app can be downloaded here.

To see the press kit in English, click here.

The full Rencontres website in English is here. If you can't find the word ''Exhibitions," it may be hidden behind the word ''photographie" in the logo at the top left. Click the big purple-and-orange Parade square instead.

The festival office/headquarters is located at 34, rue du Docteur Fanton in Arles and remains open throughout the fest.

Photos: *Mick Jagger, 1964, by David Bailey (Show #1). *Alberth Lukassen, an Inuit hunter in northern Greenland, by Ciril Jazbec (Show #12). *Double Impact from the series Wild Style, 2013, by Mazaccio & Drowilal (Show #8). *Sunbathing, from the Album series by Vik Muniz, 2014 (Show #2). *Juliette Binoche by Patrick Swirc. The un-numbered exhibit is called "Don't Move" and it's at the Abbaye de Montmajour, not in Arles. *Jérôme le Banner, 2011 by Vincent Perez (Show #19). *From the show "Deadline"by Will Steacy, 2009 (Show #13).