jas de bouffan galaLike most artists, Paul Cézanne liked to hang out in the most beautiful spots in town. And in summer his haunts in Aix are more than historic sights: they become the backdrops for some magical social occasions.

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These generally include a gastronomic event called Goûtez voir chez Cézanne in the gorgeous gardens of the Jas de Bouffan organised in June by the Aix Tourist Office. In some years this has been an informal afternoon reception with food and wine samplings, live music and dance performances and a picnic.

jas de bouffan gala dinnerMore recently it has become something rather more ambitious: an extended informal tasting offered by a dozen or so wine-makers from the Pays d'Aix region followed by a gastronomic open-air dinner prepared by the city's top chefs.

This delicious and convivial event took place in 2016 on 25 June and cost 65 €uros.

In the kitchen: Pierre Reboul of the Chateau de la Pioline, Olivier Scola of Ze Bistro and Marc de Passorio of the Michelin-starred L'Esprit de la Violette.

We were lucky enough to be invited to Goûtez voir chez Cézanne in 2014 and it was a fabulous evening: elegant yet friendly and very convivial, one of those memorable summer soirées that Aix seems to do so effortlessly.

It started with a private tour of the house where the artist worked on and off for 40 years and produced some of his greatest art.

Then we strolled around the large pond shaded by chestnut trees at the back of the Jas, while the wine-makers of Aix offered us samples of their wares. A procession of exquisite nibbles helped soak it all up.

Incredibly, most people seemed to be still hungry afterwards, which was just as well since it was followed by a four-course gala dinner for several hundred guests.

Jas de Bouffon gala dinner3Pictured: the chefs (in the background, left) toil over last-minute preparations for the meal, while an array of tables awaits the guests' arrival.

Michel Fraisset of the Aix Tourist Office also gave a revealing visual presentation about the artist and the Jas.

At this sort of occasion it helps if you can speak French but it isn't essential: certainly, most vintners and restaurateurs speak at least some English and seem to love the chance to practise.

There can be few more pleasurable ways to spend a summer night in Provence. And Cézanne, who (again, like most artists) was partial to good food and wine would surely have approved.

As the evenings get warmer and darker, the focus moves to open-air screenings - and, unlike the rather pricey banquet, admission to these is free.

In July there are usually one or two live video streamings on the lawn in front of the Jas de Bouffan of opera productions from the Festival d'Aix. (In 2016 these events are at other venues in Aix: Cosi Fan Tutte at the Parc de la Torse on 8 July and Kalila wa Dimna at the Théâtre de Verdure on 12 July.)

This is excellent news if you were unable to buy or couldn't afford a ticket to the in-the-flesh performance over at the Théâtre de l'Archevêché. Plus, unlike there, you can bring a picnic to the Jas: many people do.

And most arrive fully armed with folding chairs or blankets. We've been to these screenings on several occasions and they're tremendous fun.

You'll find feature films too on some evenings: but do check the programme to see if the English-language films are subtitled (VO / version originale) or dubbed (VF / version française). And arrive early if you're driving as parking spaces in this area are thin on the ground.

Meanwhile over in the idyllic setting of the Atelier Cézanne, the artist's studio at Les Lauves, pictured, there's often something going on in the evenings in its equally lovely gardens throughout July.

atelier lauves facadeThese events might involve a film screening, an apéritif-dance, a mini-exhibition, a meeting with an international artist or up-and-coming art students or a conference.

In 2016 there are screenings every Tuesday night of American classics and more recent blockbusters including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Godfather and Pirates of the Caribbean. There's a small charge (2.50 €uros) Again, you should should check which, if any, of these are subtitled.

The Aix Tourist Office should have information on them and all the other summer happenings at the various Cézanne sights.

Photo credits: all images © SJ for Marvellous Provence




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