Those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile know my travel coverage has focused on less well traveled destinations — Ethiopia, Iran, Crete and others, and surprising discoveries in each. On a recent trip we went to the “new” Provence, or as the Wall Street Journal described, “Not Your Father’s Provence”. The attractions that have appealed to some of history’s greatest painters, from Cezanne to Van Gogh, still shine, but it’s becoming a new place thanks to global modern day billionaires in the tradition of the Medicis. Here are images and facts from travel in Provence that surprise, from visits to Aix-en-Provence, the Luberon and Arles. Enjoy!
Painting with scent? How cool is that! At the Lavender Museum (Musee de la Lavande) in Luberon, Provence, there are workshops in painting with lavender and 10 other scents. Read more in my upcoming post in Fabulous Friday.
Maybe I’ve lead a sheltered culinary life but never heard of vegetable butter tarts. What a great way to have one’s vegetables.
OMG these brioches, 5 inches high, and coming in flavors of praline, raisin, chocolate and lemon confit. Enjoyed in Arles.
You won’t believe the vessel pictured is made of algae on a 3D printer and what looks like tile is made from the fiber of a sunflower stem. These new materials were developed at an incubator working with natural regional materials from the Camargue in Provence. It’s part of a mega project opening next year called LUMA Arles Foundation,an institution dedicated to providing artists with opportunities to experiment in the production and presentation of new work in close collaboration with other artists, curators, scientists, innovators and audiences. The centrepiece of the 20-acre LUMA Arles campus is a new Arts Resource Centre building designed by Frank Gehry to house research and reference facilities, workshop and seminar rooms, and artist studios and presentation spaces. The patron is Maja Hoffmann, an heir of the Hoffmann- La Roche fortune.
One of the most impressive art experiences I’ve had this year is a visit to The Domaine Vinicole du Château La Coste. Developed by an Irish tycoon Paddy McKillen , it’s a unique mix of contemporary art, architecture, and wine culture.
Across 494 acres (320 of which are full of grape vines), vineyards, chestnut forests, and olive tree fields, it corporates what they call a Promenade of Art & Architecture. The path – about a two-hour walk with guided tours available – takes you through a series of artworks and installations, 30 in all, from many of the biggest names in contemporary art worldwide. Works are major in scale and created specifically for the site. Names include Louise Bourgeois, Tracy Eminem, Ai Wei Wei, Jean Michel Othonel, Sean Scully and many others.
Here, a vibrating bell (Meditation Bell, Paul Matisse, 2012), there, porticos made of steel (Richard Serra, 2008) or electromagnetics (Tunga, 2011). Behind a bush, discover a monolithic cubic pavillion (Tadao Ando, 2008-2011), or a multicolored metallic dividing wall (Liam Gillick, 2010).
There are also wine tastings of their fine organic red, white and rose wines, and several restaurants including one by Francis Mallmann. The latest addition is the super stylish Villa La Coste hotel and spa on a hill overlooking all the gloriousness (McKillen owns Connaught, Claridge’s and the Berkeley in London).
Cakes, pastries and gelato are usually my desserts of choice. But I was surprised at how delicious and jewel-like the sugar glazed fruits were from the 150 year old firm Lilamand Confiseur. And then there’s the whole, lengthy artisanal process. Sugar syrup is made to replace the moisture in select fruits. Over a period of 3 to 4 weeks, the fruit is simmered so gradually there’s an osmosis between the flesh of the fruit and the sugar syrup. The fruit rests for at least two months and voila.
Is this Rome? No, the impressive amphitheater in Arles which is still in use, serving as a venue for bullfights and concerts. In fact, besides traditional bullfights, there are ones where the matadors are on horses (Including female matadors) . It’s one of many monuments dating from 123 B.C. when the Romans took the town. According to Wikipedia, they expanded it into an important city, with a canal link to the Mediterranean Sea being constructed in 104 BC. However, it struggled to escape the shadow of Massalia(Marseilles) further along the coast.Its chance came when it sided with Julius Caesar against Pompeii, providing military support. Massalia backed Pompeii; when Caesar emerged victorious, Massalia was stripped of its possessions, which were transferred to Arelate as a reward. The town was formally established as a colony for veterans of the Sixth Roman Legion.
The city reached a peak of influence during the 4th and 5th centuries, when Roman Emperors frequently used it as their headquarters during military campaigns. It became a favorite city of Emperor Constantine I who built baths there, substantial remains of which are still standing. Arles became renowned as a cultural and religious centre during the late Roman Empire.
I can’t leave a description of Arles without mentioning the Hotel Julius Cesar designed by none other than Christian LaCroix!
As you’ve read by now, art is everywhere in Provence –– not only in vineyard art parks, incubators of design, Roman statues gracing public squares, sidewalks marking the steps of Cezanne, of course museums, but also on hotel facades. Check out the facade of the Renaissance hotel in Aix-en-Provence that makes a statement about its commitment to art in the form of 400 artworks displayed or hung around the hotel with a light projection at night.