Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Four Magical Evenings at the Pont du Gard

The 2,000-year-old aqueduct called the Pont du Gard is one of the most magnificent sites in Provence; I never get tired of tromping around on it, photographing it and splashing around in the water beneath it.  And my favorite Roman relic is even more spectacular when she’s all lit up with video, light, flame and fireworks as she is each summer during a popular evening sound-and-light show series called “Les Féeries du Pont’’ (Fairies of the Bridge). This year's show is called Mondes Magiques.

Mondes Magiques will be presented four times in June, on Friday and Saturday evenings: June 5, 6, 12 and 13. Showtime is 10:30 p.m or at dusk. But definitely arrive early as there are "animations" before the main event, starting around 8 p.m. 

Designed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Pont du Gard's listing as a World Heritage Site, Mondes Magiques takes inspiration from the world's legends and folklore...and sites such as Angkor Wat, Borobudur, Prambanan, the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Eiffel Tower. "The show is sort of a birthday party where the aqueduct welcomes into its home it's old friends--all listed monuments--into its home," the organizers tell me.

Once again, the producer is Groupe F, the internationally acclaimed pyrotechnicians known for shows at the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Olympics. If you want a smile, have a look at their website; their work is over-the-top wonderful. 

The Pont du Gard site will be open all day, as usual, but separate tickets are required for the show. Seating is on the right bank of the river so if you arrive on the left bank, you must be in by 9:30 pm in order to cross the bridge; the gates to the Pont du Gard park will close at 9:30. Bring cushions, chairs and blankets or you'll be sitting on the ground; the shops on site also sell seats if you forget. My best advice is sit as close to the bridge itself as possible.  ''And don't forget to bring also warm wears,'' my contact at the Pont du Gard sweetly tells me. 

Tickets for Mondes Magiques range from €15 to €25; kids under six are free. You can buy tickets at the Pont du Gard on the night of each show, as long as there are still places available. You can buy them online here (if you have a French credit or bank card) or at the Pont du Gard box office at any time. They're also available at FNAC, Carrefour, Géant, Magasins U, and Group rates are available (for group rates call 04 66 37 51 10). If you have an annual pass to the Pont du Gard, you get a discount. Parking is free. 

So what about dinner? Casual food will be sold on site or you can bring a picnic in with you. There's also a restaurant called Les Terrasses that serves excellent Mediterranean cuisine (04 66 63 91 37). A special Féeries du Pont menu will be offered at Les Terrasses but the restaurant fills up very quickly so reserve early

If you can't go to the show but plan to visit the Pont du Gard another time, in summer (until September 13 this year), the site stays open until Midnight, illuminated beautifully. The museum and shops close at 7 or 8 pm. 

The Pont du Gard is located between Remoulins (RN 100) and Vers-Pont du Gard (D 81).  Its 40 km from St. Remy, 27 km from Nimes,  21 km from Avignon and 19 km from Uzes.  

For all the info on the show or on visiting at other times, click here. For historical info, click here. To contact the Pont du Gard directly: or 04 66 37 50 99....and yes, they speak English. 

If you want to catch a Groupe F fireworks show at another time, go to their site here and check their 2015 schedule. In addition to their four nights at the Pont du Gard, they’ll be in Provence doing the Bastille Day fireworks in Salin de Giraud (in the Camargue) on July 13 and in Arles on July 14.

Finally, if you plan to be in Paris this summer,  you can get a taste of Groupe F  on Bastille Day, as they once again have been asked to create the fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower on July 14. You can also experience them at the Chateau de Versailles, where they're once again staging their musical fountain display called ''Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes.'' It's on every Saturday from June 20 to September 19, 2015...with the exception of July 4. And they'll be staging a new creation, "The Fire King," on July 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10. All the info is on the Versailles website here. 

Photos: This year's poster, stills from last year, video from last year.

Monday, May 18, 2015

June 5: Big Weekend in Aix for Design Lovers

Sponsored by the popular magazine Côté Sud, the 17th annual salon known as Vivre Côté Sud is coming up the weekend of June 5...a showcase of beautiful things for your home, garden and "lifestyle." 

As in years past, the Parc Jourdan in Aix (yes, the one with the lovely lime trees) will be all dressed and tented up for the occasion. More than 230 companies will be exhibiting, spread out over 10,000 square meters. The products on display will come from France, Italy, Spain and elsewhere...organized by themes such as Antiques, Decor, Savours, Creators, Talents and Home Improvement. You'll find furniture, fabric, clothing, decorative items, design services, food and wine, cooking demos, round-table discussions and much more. 
Last year's event attracted 21,403 visitors. 

The list of chefs doing cooking demos includes Anna Bini (Ecole de Cuisine à Florence), Arnaud de Grammont (Le Café des Epices, Marseille), Reine and Nadia Sammut (La Fenière, Lourmarin), Georgiana Viou (Chez Georgiana, Marseille), Daniel Hébet (Le Jardin du Quai, L’Isle sur la Sorgue), Edouard Loubet (Domaine de Capelongue, Bonnieux), Yvan Cadiou (TV chef and cooking teacher, St. Remy de Provence), Edouard Giribone (Le Bistrot d’Edouard, Marseille) and Pierre Gianetti (Le Grain de Sel, Marseille). To see the demo schedule, click here.

There will also be plenty of food products for purchase...and food trucks in a dedicated dining area. 

The salon also offers opportunities to work one-on-one with design pros. For interior projects, one-hour "Deco Coaching" appointments are available for 89€ ( or +33 1 75 55 16 88).  For garden projects, one-hour appointments are 59€ (+33 442 025 686,

Hours for Vivre Côté Sud are Friday June 5 from 10 am to 11 pm (evening session), Saturday June 6 and Sunday June 7 from 10 am to 8 pm, and Monday June 8 from 10 am to 6 pm. For more info on exhibitors, special events, the various themes and more, click here. If you read French, you can see the press kit here. Tickets are 9€ (6€ for students and groups of ten or more) and can be bought at the gate.

This year, there's another reason to visit Aix the first weekend in June. On June 5, 6 and 7, design guru Samantha Mureau and her company Trendline Europe will host Discovering Designers, in the private 18th-century manor house known as the Hotel de GallifetThe event is designed to coincide with Vivre Côté Sud and the theme is "English Garden Party." The idea is to introduce a hand-picked group of 30 British and French designers to locals and to the larger design community. The show will feature interior design, wallpaper, soft furnishings, fabric, ceramics, housewares and perfume....and all of the designers will be present. The Discovering Designers event is free and open to the public. Hours are: Friday 9 am to 7 pm, Saturday 9 am to 10 pm and Sunday, 9 am to 7 pm. The Hotel de Gallifet is located at 52 rue Cardinale in the Mazarin quarter of Aix and their phone is 09 53 84 37 61. For questions about the event, contact: 

Print and online journalists are invited to a special Discovering Designers bloggers' breakfast at 9 am on Friday 5th June. Email Samantha for details. 

For general info about Aix, the Tourist Office website is here

Photos: (1, 2) This year's Vivre Côté Sud poster...and the one for Discovering Designers, a new event in Aix for 2015. (3-8) Vignettes from past years at Vivre Côté Sud. (9) The Hotel de Gallifet, where Discovering Designers will be held. (10) The gorgeous floral fabric is from Royal College of Art-graduate Claire de Quénetain Brunse, who is launching her product range at the Discovering Designers event. (11) At Discovering Designers, London-based Anna Jacobs is showcasing her beautiful, eye-catching lampshades, lamp bases and cushions. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Transhumance in St. Remy is Monday May 25

Wool you be there? Monday May 25 is the annual Fête de la Transhumance in St. Remy, when local shepherds herd their flocks (roughly 3500 sheep and goats) three times around the village's circular "main drag" before taking them up to graze the green pastures of the Alpilles Mountains for the summer. They say the Transhumance in St. Remy is one of the "100 Prettiest Festivals in France" and even though I can't find that referenced anywhere, let's just go with it. If you haven't seen the Transhumance, it's great good friend Philippe calls it ''sheep cooking in the streets.'' An all-day flea market and goat-cheese fair starts at 9 am on the Place Republique and then the Transhumance starts around 10:30 am...but arrive by 9:30 to find parking. Other villages in Provence have Transhumance festivals but St. Remy's is one of the biggest and most popular. 

Afterwards, everyone flocks to the Plateau de la Crau for sheep-herding demos (starting at noon-ish) and a community lunch. Want to party like a shepherd? Here's your chance: The Repas des Bergers (Shepherds Lunch) begins at 1 pm and all are welcome. The feast includes grilled lamb chops and gigot, stewed beans, green salad, cheese, dessert and all the wine you care to drink (but don't forget: good shepherds don't let other shepherds drive drunk!) The lunch is popular and often sells out so reserve ahead if you can (call 06 16 78 61 55) or arrive early. Lunch is 25€ per person, 1/2 price for ages 5 to 12 and free for kids under 5.  To get there: leave St. Remy on the D571 direction Eyragues/Avignon; turn right on the D99 (direction Noves) which you'll find at the first rondpoint (roundabout) just outside town, then pass the BricoMarche and turn left at the next rondpoint. The street will be blocked so park at the soccer field or by the school and walk up the gentle hill about 10 or 15 minutes. Or, just walk from town, which takes about 20 minutes.

The night before the Transhumance (Sunday May 24) you can see the documentary L'Etoile des Bergeres at the Cine Palace in St. Remy at 6:30 pm. The film (in French) is just under an hour and the screening is free, compliments of Li Pastre de San Roumie and the Maison de la Transhumance. Schedules change so it's always best to pop into the theater beforehand, just to check.

For more info on Transhumance, call the St. Remy Tourist Office at +33 (0) 4 90 92 05 22.  And don't miss their fun Transhumance video here

Photos: (1) Courtesy of Philippe Donnart. (2-4) Photos courtesy of Guy Butters; see more of  his work here and here. (5) Photo courtesy of

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Another Fine French Book Giveaway!

The new Monet's Palate Cookbook is being released this week and the publisher has offered me three copies to give away.  

Produced by filmmaker Aileen Bordman and garden writer Derek Fell, the book includes 60 recipes linked to Monet's two-acre kitchen garden near his home at Giverny, France. Between the covers are lots of luscious details about the vegetables he grew, along with gorgeous photos and descriptions of the house interiors, the gardens and the artist's extraordinary lifestyle. 

“Our goal was to bring Monet's kitchen garden back to life," Aileen tells me. "His desire for fresh garden produce extended beyond the flavor and health benefits that they could provide. His need to cultivate a kitchen garden, plant seeds and work the soil with his fingers allowed him to connect with nature in a spiritual way, feed his soul and see beauty oblivious to others.”

Immersed in the world of Claude Monet since 1980, Aileen has more than 35 years of experience at the property in Giverny. Her first visit there was in 1980, when the museum first opened. Her mother, Helen Rappel Bordman, was one of the handful of Americans responsible for the renaissance of the home and garden, which had fallen into complete ruin.

In 2005, Aileen wrote and produced of the documentary film Monet's Palate: A Gastronomic View from the Garden, which was broadcast in the US through American Public Television to all 350 PBS stations...and was re-released this year. It features Meryl Streep, legendary casino operator and art patron Steve Wynn, and chefs Alice Waters, Anne Willan, Roger Vergé, Daniel Boulud and Michel Richard. It screened in Cannes and New York and was featured during the six-month "Monet's Garden" exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden in New York in 2012. The 58-minute film is available on DVD here.

The book brings the farm-to-table tradition--lived passionately by Monet--into the 21st century, with recipes inspired by his cooking journals and the places he visited. And of course, by his garden's abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables: zucchini, cherry tomatoes, radishes, pearl onions, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, rosemary, mint and more.

Aileen's partner in the book project, Derek Fell, is the author of The Magic of Monet's Garden and Secret's of Monet's Garden. One of America's most widely published garden writers, his titles on gardening, travel and art have sold more than 2.5 million copies. He divides his time between Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and Sanibel Island, Florida.

The book has been earning lovely reviews...along with praise from big names in the food and gardening worlds. "There's no thrill that compares to growing one’s own food," says journalist, cooking teacher and author Patricia Wells. "Planting, caring, harvesting and bringing the treasures to the table. Monet’s Palate Cookbook provides all the inspiration anyone needs to go out and dig, plant, absorb the joys that soil offers each of us. Whether a garden novice or seasoned expert, this book offers a wealth of advice and recipes destined to improve all of our lives.”

Meryl Streep wrote the foreword and the recipes were beautifully photographed by Steven Rothfeld. 

Published May 1st by Gibbs Smith, the hardcover has 176 pages in full color and 60-plus recipes. It lists for about $30 and you can buy it on Amazon here ...or direct from the author here

To enter to win a copy of the book, just leave a comment below. Tell us about your garden. your connection to Monet, your passion for the Impressionists or anything else you care to share. Be sure to leave your email so we can reach you if you win; signing in with your Google account is not enough. Winners will be chosen and alerted towards the end of May. 

For more info about the book, click here.

To reach Aileen directly:

Claude Monet's Gardens at Giverny are open daily until November 1st, 2015. To visit, all the info is here.

Photos: (1) The new book comes out this week. How can you not want a copy? (2) Tulips, irises and water lilies in Monet's garden; today some 200,000 different flower varieties are rotated regularly by head gardener James Priest and his team, which numbers as many as 30 people working daily, year round. A
lways on the look-out for rare varieties, Monet bought young plants at great expense. "All my money goes into my garden," he said. But also: "I am in raptures." (3, 4) Two dishes from the book: moules marinière and chilled asparagus salad with olives. (5) Aileen shot this Bowl of Beauty peony at Giverny last year.