Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Come Out and Play: It's Fête de la Musique!

Tonight is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and it's also the 35th annual Fête de la Musique. Sunset in Paris will be at 9:58 p.m. tonight, a full 1.5 hours later than in New York.

All over France--all over the world, in fact--musicians of every type will be performing, in every venue imaginable: from public parks to cafe terraces, from elegant châteaux to village squares. Anyone who wants to can come out and play: soloists, full orchestras and everything in between. I read that almost 8% of the country, some five million people, have played an instrument or sung in public at Fête de la Musique! The rules state only that all musicians must donate their time and that all concerts should be free. The event was launched in France in 1981 and this year, 700 cities in 120 countries will participate. (For the program in countries other than France, try here. In the US it's called Make Music and you'll find all the info here.)

To find out who's playing where in France, don't bother checking the festival site. Instead try a local listings site like Time Out (for Paris and Nice)...or Le Parisien Etudiant for Provence and other regions. If you Google search "Fête de la Musique" and your village, you'll get lots of good results. Or, ask at the Tourist Office, check out the signs around town or just grab your friends and go...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Love Lavender? Try This!

Game on! The lavender is finally in bloom in Provence and over the next month or so I hope to share with you a couple fun ways you can experience it. Here's one...

Born in Paris, Elsa Lenthal now lives in Les Baux de Provence where, for 10 years or so, she's been making fresh lavender wands every summer. She sells them in local markets (see schedule below), in luxury hotels and on her website. And she's just written to tell me that, for the first time this year, she's offering workshops for people who want to make their own. 

The wands--known as fuseaux--are an 18th-century Provencal tradition still popular today. Used to perfume drawers and linens while keeping moths away, they were a popular part of the bridal trousseau, representing love and happiness. They're handmade with fresh lavender, from mid June to mid September, and they keep their natural aroma for years. (Gently squeezing the wand from time to time releases more fragrance.) Lavandin is the preferred variety of lavender, because of its high essential-oil content.

After harvest, the flowers must be worked quickly while they're still supple. The stems are folded back to make a protective case for the fragrant blossoms...and the weaving of the ribbons requires great dexterity.

Sign up for a workshop and Elsa will show up at your hotel or rental villa with her basket of freshly cut lavender and lots of colorful ribbons. "At the workshop's end," she says, "you'll have a souvenir of Provence which for many years will scent your home and revive your memories." Or, if you prefer, you can request your workshop outdoors overlooking the olive trees at Elsa's house, five minutes from Les Baux.

Lavender wand workshops are offered mid June to mid September and last about 2.5 hours. Price: 45€ per person, three people minimum.

As of about June 25, you'll find Elsa making and selling fuseaux in the following markets: Tuesday in Gordes, Wednesday in St Remy, Thursday in Maussane, Friday in Eygalières and Saturday in Uzes. 

Elsa Lenthal
+33 (0)6 13 17 46 46

Photos: Elsa's promo piece shows her out in the fields gathering lavender, a fuseau being carefully woven and finished fuseaux in various colors.

Friday, June 3, 2016

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, splashing in the river beneath it or just hanging out enjoying the scene. In the 15 or so years I've lived in Provence, the Pont du Gard site has changed dramatically, with a new visitors' center, museum, cinema, kids' play area, expanded hours, tour offerings, night lighting, hiking paths and much more. One of the biggest changes is the number of cultural events that are now held here every year: art exhibits, museum shows, live music, dance evenings (more on that below) and annual spectacles such as Les Féeries du Pont’’ (Fairies of the Bridge), which takes place this weekend and next. 

Every year when I write about Les Féeries du Pont, I try to get my story posted a few weeks in advance of the first performance. This year,  I totally blew it...the first show should be ending in a few minutes. But there's still tomorrow night and next weekend...so here's what you need to know.

Les Féeries du Pont combines video, light, flame, fireworks, original music, narration and more. There's always a theme and a loose story line and, each year, some new over-the-top special effects. This year's show is called Feux Galois and you can catch it tomorrow night, next Friday or next Saturday. 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. 

Once again, the producer is Groupe F, the internationally acclaimed pyrotechnician group known for their shows at the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Olympics. If you want a smile, have a look at their website; their work is technically dazzling and incredibly beautiful. 

On show days, the Pont du Gard site will be open all day but only until 7 pm, after which special show tickets will be required. After a certain hour it will be impossible to cross the bridge from the left bank to the right--where seating is for the show--so check the website for specifics. Be sure to bring cushions, chairs and blankets or you'll be sitting on the ground; the shops on site should sell seats if you forget. My best advice is sit as close to the bridge itself as possible for maximum impact.  ''And don't forget to bring also warm wears,'' my contact at the Pont du Gard sweetly tells me. 

Tickets for Feux Galois range from €15 to €25; kids under six are free. You can buy them at the Pont du Gard anytime including the day or evening of each show, as long as there are still places available. You can also buy them online here (if you have a French credit or bank), at FNAC stores and on FNAC.comFranceBillet.com and Ticketnet.com. Group rates are available (call 04 66 37 51 10). If you have an annual pass to the Pont du Gard, you get a discount; an annual pass is 26€. Parking these evenings 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 definitely reserve ahead. 

If you can't go to the show but plan to visit the Pont du Gard at another time this summer, it's open in summer until midnight and it's illuminated beautifully. The museum and shops close at 7 or 8 pm, depending on the month. 

The Pont du Gard is a highlight in the region...a must-see for anyone visiting this part of Provence... a UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning the Gardon River near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard. Built around 19 BC, it was the critical link in a 30-mile canal that supplied nine million gallons of water per day to Nîmes, one of ancient Europe’s largest cities.

As you're planning your site-seeing days, I suggest making it your morning or afternoon. That leaves ½ day for exploring Avignon (on its own day, below) or for Uzes, the first Duchy of France. Uzes is a beautiful village with pretty architecture and history, narrow traffic-free medieval streets and shops both elegant and artsy. If you love pottery and ceramics, tack on a visit to the tiny village of St. Quentin la Poterie, where 20-plus potters have open studios and shops.

In July and August, guided half-hour tours through the water channel at the very top of the Pont du Gard (third level) are available. 4€/adults and 2€/children. No reservations are required or taken...just ask for this at the welcome desk.

Also in July and August  you can "Dance at the Bridge" every Friday "with live music from an orchestra and a very  jazzy atmosphere." 

You can also see the Pont du Gard by kayak; the outfitter is KayakVert and you leave from the town of Collias. You can keep the kayak all day if you like but most people like the basic two-hour paddle, taking them 7 km on the Gardon River, up to and under the Pont du Gard. What a fun way to see this magical relic up close, particularly on a hot day. The two-hour trip is 23€ for adults, 11.50€ for kids...info in English is on their site here.

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

If you want to catch a Groupe F show at another time, check their schedule here. On Bastille Day (July 14), they'll be doing the fireworks in both Paris and in Arles. And once again they'll be staging their musical fountain display called ''Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes'' at the Chateau de VersaillesAll the info is on the Versailles website here.