Behind the Scenes in Provence

Provence Confidential has been blogging about restaurant launches, cooking classes, food festivals, Provençal wines and spirits as well as tradition and folklore since 2008.

I have served as a contributor to:

    

I have also been a guide for:

  

So, if you are planning a trip to Provence or if you simply want to look up past blog posts to see what there is to 'see and do' just enter the subject name into the search bar.

Follow Provence Confidential on Provence Confidential on Twitter Provence Confidential on Pinterest Provence Confidential on Facebook Provence Confidential on Instagram

Musée d'Orsay and Paris in the 19th Century

After my invitation to review the Cezanne tour in Aix, I was offered yet another brillant tour by Context Travel. There were 3 of us on the tour. It is such a luxury to have small groups. We met our docent, Lorraine, a former student of The Louvre School who completed her Masters at Columbia University before working at the Guggenheim, across the street from the Musée D’Orsay. 

It was from this vantage point that our docent began the visit by giving us the history behind this train station built at the same time as the Eiffel Tour, using similar materials,  for the World’s Fair in 1900. The station provided rail service to Orléans for 39 years, stayed vacant for almost as many and became a musuem in  1986 with 19th and early 20th century collections.  The Gare d'Orsay also provided hotel accommodations and a restaurant for travellers. Luckily the restaurant located just behind one of the clocks is still open to the public as is a smaller cafeteria for those in more of a hurry. There is a spectacular view of the Right Bank if you look out from the clock.

Once inside we were introduced chronologically to the major art movements by showing us examples of both paintings and sculptures. We learned what the academics declared to be acceptable in the art world and the evolution of the various movements.

On our 3 hour tour we received in depth background into the Barbizon School and Realism to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. We learned about the new techniques and subjects that strayed from what academics had previously decreed. We were given explanations and viewed works on Neo-impressionism, Fauvism, Pointillism and Cubism by painters who were influenced by earlier movements. This is the perfect tour to understand the major art movements in the evolution of French art. And of course for lovers of Provence the Musée D’Osray is home to some exquisite works by Cezanne.  

I'm not sure I can visit another city without taking a Context Travel tour - as the name implies the tour gives you the added details that make the difference between simply seeing and understanding and admiring even more.  www.contexttravel.com?ref=provenceconfidential

 

 

 

The Calisson Cure

During the 17th century calissons, diamond-shaped almond based sweets, were believed to have banished the plague from Aix-en-Provence. In keeping with tradition a special mass is held on the 1st Sunday of September at the Church of St. Jean de Malte for the benediction of the sweets. In 2015 the benediction will be held at 3 pm. 

Orginally made by hand these sweets are now manufactured on a large scale using molds and cutters. When in Aix do visit the newly built Calisson Roy René factory that houses the Museum of the Calisson. http://calisson.com/en/content/8-visit-of-the-confectionary

 

In the Shadow of Mont Sainte Victoire- Cezanne and Aix

I have been on many and even led tours of Aix-en-Provence but what a treat to have California born Pamela Morton, expert in all things Cezanne as our docent on this Context Travel walking tour. Pamela, a long-time resident of Aix, artist and senior lecturer of Painting and Drawing, met our 4 person group (ideal for asking questions) in front of the chapellerie -the French word for hat shop- that once belonged to Cezanne’s father on the Cours Mirabeau.  After some insight into his childhood, education -he attended law school before pursuing his true passion-and aspirations we then headed to the outskirts of town. 

Pamela guided us to the Terrain des Peintres, on aptly named rue Paul Cezanne. It was from this very location that Cezanne painted one of his favorite subjects -Mont Sainte Victoire- over 80 times.  A handful of his most famous works in poster form have been laminated and set up on metal pedestals so that we could see how he treated the subject that so fascinated him and find out which museum has the joy of owning these masterpieces today.

We then descended to Cezanne’s Studio, the refuge from which he painted many of his still lifes. Restored to perfection you can see the workshop as it was during his lifetime. The plaster cherub featured in Still Life with Cherub and the skulls seen in Pyramid of Skulls are items that are still in his studio along with earthenware pots, vases, carpets, his satchel, easel and ladder.

And then onto the Musée Granet in the Mazarin district of Aix-en-Provence to view some of his works by following a trail of brass studs imbedded into the sidewalk with the letter C for Cezanne that led us to his place of birth, his favorite café and his school. Viewing the architecture, the warm tones of the pink and yellow stone of the buildings, and our docent’s in-depth knowledge helped us understand how  influential both the landscape and the colours of Provence were to Cezanne’s work. 

This is a MUST DO tour on your next trip to Aix-en-Provence.  Book here www.contexttravel.com?ref=provenceconfidential 

 

 

In Pagnol's Footsteps

Marcel Pagnol, regarded as one of France’s greatest 20th century novelists and a pioneer in French cinema is being honoured in 2015 in and around Aubagne. His autobiographical works based on his childhood experiences are still featured on the mandatory reading lists of school children throughout France. French director Claude Berri’s 1986 adaptations of Jean de Florette and the sequel Manon des Sources, with exceptional performances by Yves Montand, Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil, received several BAFTA awards.

The breathtaking scenery of both those films are now part of a 3 separate walking tours organised by the Tourism Office of Aubagne. Walk in the footsteps of the young Marcel until September 15, 2015 by signing up at excursions-strolls

 

AixPression Microbrewery

A pression is a draft beer in French so you have probably guessed that Aix Pression is a beer made in Aix. Well close enough – it’s brewed in the town of Rognes, just north of Aix-en-Provence.

Steven Giroud was born into a family of winemakers and successfully convinced his parents that they could ferment beer just as well as wine. Beer being the beverage of choice for the younger generation his microbrewery launched 3 varieties in early 2015: the blonde, the white and the rosé. 

Available in most local wine shops in the Aix-en-Provence region and well worth a try. 

More on star chef Passédat

Obtaining a last minute reservation at Le Petit Nice may not be tat easy so why not plan a visit the MUCEM this summer? Gerald Passédat’s other restaurant La Table serves lunch (52 euros) or dinner (73 euros) al fresco with stunning views of the Marseille harbour until August 23rd. Dining moves back indoors after that date.

Passédat has a passion for the Mediterranean and the culinary treasures it has to offer. He even has his own fresh vegetable patch on the rooftop of the MUCUM overlooking Notre Dame de la Garde where legumes and herbs are harvested for the daily menu. 

If you want to learn more about his cuisine why not take part in one of his cooking classes. Small groups of no more than 10 people take part in either the 3 hour long gourmet class or the 1.5 hour market cuisine class. For those with a sweet tooth there is also a 2 hour pastry class. Have a look at http://www.passedat.cookingclass

 

La French - Connection

Gene Hackman’s performance in the 1971 Oscar winner film French Connection brought lots of attention to Marseille and shaped the city’s lingering unsavoury image – that is until you visit Marseille. 

A recent film starring another Oscar winner, La French, is based on real events as a local magistrate  played by Jean Dujardin, attempts to break up a heroin mob king in the 70’s.  Helen Van Kruyssen, wrote this review: http://52frenchfilms.org

 

 

Marseille Olympic contender 2024

France lost the bid for the 2012 Summer Games in Paris to London and the 2018 Winter Games in Annecy to Pyeongchang South Korea.  But France is intent on hosting them – perhaps in 2024.

Some of the applicant cities still in the race include: Rome, Hamburg, Paris, Budapest, Boston and Doha. If France does win the bid plans for the nautical portion of the games are to be hosted in Marseille the city that had previously been a contender for America’s Cup in 2007 but lost the bid to Valencia Spain. 

The climatic conditions of Marseille are ideal for sailing with over 200 days of sunshine a year and guaranteed wind – sometimes too much of it when the Mistral blows. Each year the port city already hosts dozens of sailing races including the Juris Cup and the Massila Cup. It’s also on the route for the annual Tour de France Sailing race that started in 1978. Couldn’t be a more perfect venue. 

 

Futur: Matisse, Miro, Calder - In Marseille

 

This exposition traces the links and influences between art, architecture, science, robotics, science fiction and astronomy since the beginning of the 20th century. Over a 100 pieces of art- including paintings, sculptures and photos- have been gathered from the most prestigious institutions worldwide to present the future as seen by modern artists. 

One of the best thing about seeing any exhibition at La Vieille Charité is that there are never any crowds. Unlike other museums or exhibition venues in Europe, visitors trickle in allowing people to really view the architecture and artwork at their own pace. The other advantage is that the site itself is truly remarkable. 

Construction began just behind the Major Cathedral in 1640 under Royal decree to house the poor and the sick – the name Vieille Charité means Old Charity.  It was not completed until the 1670’s when Marseille born painter and architect Pierre Puget took over the project. Several three story buildings with galleries overlook a central rectangular courtyard where a baroque style chapel with a dome roof stands. 

The site was also used as housing and an infirmary for colonial troops during both world wars. After WWII it housed over 140 families who had lost their homes during the fighting. During the 1960’s the site was completely abandoned after having briefly served as an anchovy canning facility and a basement warehouse for bananas shipped from Africa. After more than 25 years of restoration the site now houses several museums including the Mediterranean Museum of Archeology, Museum of African, Oceanian and Amerindian Art as well as hosting exceptional exhibits each year.

So if you miss the current exhibition think about visiting the site simply to admire the architecture. Matisse, Miro, Calder exhibit lasts until September 27, 2015. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am – 6 pm.  Coffee, sandwiches and salads are available at the Café from 9am – 5 pm. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les Chorégies d'Orange - Provence Opera Festival

One of the many highlights of the classical music and opera festival that runs from July 7 - August 4, 2015 is Jonas Kaufmann interpreting the role of Don José in Bizet’s Carmen on July 8th.  Kauffman first performance at the Chorégies dates back to 2006 when he performed in the Mozart’s Requiem.

The Festival that dates back to 1869 takes place in the perfectly preserved Roman Theatre in Orange just north of Avignon. Although Provence has many vestiges from the Roman Era, the theatre in Orange is one of the most beautiful in France. The stage extends for 65 meters. The venue which can accommodate 9000 spectators provides exceptional acoustics thanks to the 37 meter high wall that is 1.80 metre thick. Leading lyrical artists continue to perform at the festival year after year. 

Full programme details of the oldest French lyrical festival: www.choregies.fr/en/news-43.html

 

Train Travel Tips

You have probably already heard of IDTGV, the website where you can purchase discounted train tickets. www.idtgv.com/en In case this is all new information, SNCF the company that runs French rail transport, attaches a second train onto some regular routes like Paris-Marseille with stops in Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, and sells the seats at discounted rates. 

These seats go fast so SNCF launched OUIGO offering trips from Marne la Vallée (Eurodisney) to Lyon, Valence, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Nîmes and Montpellier. The low cost trains run less often and you have to take the RER (Paris computer rail system) to get to Marne la Vallée but the low cost might be worth the extra travel time.  Have a look at the website and compare. www.ventes.ouigo.com/search.aspx?culture=en-GB

Most recently the SNCF launched #TGVpop www.tgvpop.com/tutorial Sadly the website is only in French for now. The concept is a bit different. The tag line reads THE TGV THAT LEAVES THANKS TO YOUR FRIENDS. As an example TGVpop offers a train between Paris and Marseille and people can show their interest in taking that train 14 days before departure. Travellers are encouraged to share their travel plans using social media in order for more travellers to sign on. The train will not leave if it has not reached a certain number of confirmed bookings. Four days before the train is scheduled to leave each person receives an email confirming whether or not the train will be travelling and the final departure time. Tickets on confirmed trains can be purchased up until the last day at very reasonable rates. A one way Paris-Marseille costs between 25 and 35 euros.

 

July Lavender Harvest

In July the lavender is harvested in Provence.  Before the lavender is picked, head up to the bright purple fields just north of Aix-en-Provence in Valensole. The name of the town and the plateau where the lavender grows comes from the Latin word vallis meaning valley and solis which means sun. The lavender in Valensole is usually harvested around July 14th depending on the year.

Other towns in Provence also celebrate the season with Lavender Festivals so if you are visiting the Luberon you can head to the town of Ferrassières where the festivities kick off on July 5th. Activities include guided walks through lavender fields and a visit to a distillery where the essential oil is extracted for the fragrance industry. www.fete-lavande.com/crbst_1.html