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Musique dans la rue smallThe Festival d'Aix might be over for another year but that hasn’t stopped the music. For one week from 19-26 August the city swings again every evening to the sounds of Musique dans la Rue (Music in the Street).

This festival was created back in the 1970s and continues to go from strength to strength. This year it offers over 130 musical performances, from rock, tango and jazz to classical pieces, opera and mediaeval song.

And, best of all, everything is free! Arrive early for the show of your choice to be sure of a seat.

It’s not all good news, though. The heightened security alert and continuing terrorist threat overshadowing France mean that it’s no longer possible to hold spontaneous performances in the streets all over town, as was the tradition in previous years.

Instead they will take place in six closely supervised venues including the place d’Albertas, the Archbishop’s Palace and the courtyard of the Town Hall. Click here for the full programme.

arelateEach summer in late August Arles celebrates its Roman roots with a fun, educational and highly family-friendly festival called Arelate.

Now in its eleventh year, it offers a brilliantly varied and inventive programme and runs from 21-27 August.

Run by volunteers and enthusiasts many of the events and activities are either free or offered at a small charge. Unsurprisingly Arelate, has proved immensely popular: some 25,000 people have attended in previous years.

Almost every town and village in Provence seems to have some sort of historical festival. But the Roman one in Arles is on a much bigger scale.

 

And it's not about kitschy folklore: Arelate makes it a point of pride to mix strict historical accuracy in with the entertainment. The city's Roman monuments provide an unrivalled backdrop to it all. Click here for the full programme.

Some of the things featured at the festival: processions of chariots and gladiators through the streets, a Roman-style circus and pop-up catering by the Roman cuisine specialist Mireille Chérubini (formerly of the Taberna Romana in Saint Rémy de Provence).

The theme this year is what luxury meant for the Romans, to tie in with a major exhibition on this theme at Arles’ excellent Musée départmentale Arles antique. And, just to broaden the festival’s scope a little, Hortus, the Roman-style garden at the museum is hosting a Greek encampment.

arles12Arelate has plenty of workshops for children, where they can learn how to fight like a gladiator, create a Roman costume, see a war machine in action, make clay jewellery and mosaics, play Roman games or write in Greek and Latin.

Or they can go on a Roman treasure hunt or take a guided tour of one of Arles' monuments designed especially for kids. If you want to dig deeper into history, Arelate also has guided tours and scholarly conferences.

Running parallel to Arelate is an annual film festival organised by peplum enthusiasts. This event has been going even longer: it’s now in its 30th year. The 2017 dates are 21-26 August.

The film festival stages open-air screenings in the Ancient Theatre of classic sword and sandal epics such as (this year) Ben-Hur, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and Fellini’s Satyricon.

They’re preceded by Roman-style apéritifs at which you can discuss the films’ themes with scholars, archeologists and movie specialists.

 

 

railway carriages by van goghLoving Vincent, a new animated film, brings Vincent van Gogh’s paintings to life and explores the mystery surrounding his suicide.

Four years in the making, it takes some of the most famous works created by van Gogh in the last year of his life and makes them move.

Every one of its nearly 65,000 frames has been hand painted in oils in the style of the Dutch master, drawing you into his hallucinatory world.

Starry Night over the Rhone and Café Terrace at Night are among the famous paintings – many of them done in Arles or Saint Rémy de Provence – which are reproduced in the movie.

Watch out in the trailer for Railway Carriages, pictured above, the van Gogh painting owned by – and on view at - the Musée Angladon in Avignon.

The story is a sort of detective thriller. A young man who sat for Vincent is on a mission to find out what drove the artist to suicide in the space of just a few weeks. He talks to other people whose portraits van Gogh painted during this period to explore the mystery.

Loving Vincent certainly looks technically impressive, as you can see from the trailer. However the reviews have been mixed and some art critics, such as Jonathan Jones in the British newspaper The Guardian, have attacked the movie as trivialising van Gogh's life.

You can judge for yourself when the film opens this autumn in the US, Britain, France (under the title La Passion van Gogh) and other countries.

Every year in late summer / early autumn, Avignon's Palais des Papes lights up for Luminessences, a spectacular son et lumière show in the Palace's open-air Cours d'Honneur (Court of Honour). In 2017 it runs from 12 August-30 September.

luminessences avignonLuminessences lasts 35 minutes and thousands of people go along each season. Last year we thought we'd take a look too. Photograph: © G Quittard for Luminessences.

Thanks to the magic of sound and light, you look on as, around you, the Palais des Papes lives through over a thousand years of eventful history.

The space is magically filled with crowds of revellers at a mediaeval feast, is transformed into an enormous library, burns and crumbles under attack (pictured below, © SJ for Marvellous Provence), is flooded with water, and, after the Second World War, becomes the backdrop to the famous Avignon Theatre Festival. This year new scenes featuring the Pont d'Avignon have been added.

Incredibly, the complex machinery behind this grand illusion all remains invisible. A battery of large-scale video projectors has been hoisted up the narrow spiral staircases and concealed behind the Palace's windows. It's an impressive feat of technology.

Luminessences is a promenade performance: the audience stands in the middle of the Cours d'Honneur. This is effective, as the show is fully in-the-round. You can wander around and turn to catch things happening behind you.

A handful of older people had chairs, but it was unclear whether they'd brought their own or had put in a request for them.

While Luminessences is certainly very visual, there's a lot of voice-over commentary too, with background information which enhances the experience. Declaimed in a very actor-ly fashion, the French-language version we saw was flowery and philosophical in the best (!) Gallic tradition.

The English version is probably advisable for anyone whose French isn't good. In either case, the show is not really suitable for younger children (we saw very few there that evening), especially as it starts so late.

avignon luminessences 2016Luminessences begins after dark, of course. The French one is at 9.15pm nightly and the English one is at 10.15pm nightly.

Security at such events is now tight in the light of the recent terrorist attacks in France, and you need to arrive half an hour early to pass through the checks.

One last tip: even if it has been hot by day, be sure to bring a sweater or jacket. On the evening we attended, there was a strong Mistral and, while you would expect the Cours d'Honneur to be sheltered from the wind, it was quite cold and drafty.

Entrance price 12 €uros (10 €uros for concessionaries, free for children under eight). Website for Luminessences

Over 70 sculptures by leading contemporary African artists are currently on display all over Avignon. And they include some dazzling discoveries.

confluences el anatsuiThis must be the year's most exciting art event in Provence: an absolute must-see if you are in town, and worth a special trip there even if you are not.

In the Palais des Papes, a spectacular, glittering cape, pictured, by Ghana’s El Anatsui is made of crushed cans and bottle stoppers.

The exhibition notes – which are, helpfully, in English as well as French - point out that Pope Clement VI, one of the biggest-spending Avignon popes, had a fondness for sumptuous golden sheets too.

These African artists achieve their glorious effects with humble, recycled junk or natural raw materials. A mighty bison turns out to be an assembly of spark plugs and other car parts. We also loved Andries Botha's massive, noble wounded elephant made of wood.

The sculptures are on loan from the Fondation Blachère in the Luberon, near Apt. So they aren't site-specific. But they work marvellously in their new surroundings. And much thought has been given to their placing.

For example, Diagne Chanel’s bronze women, victims of the war in Sudan, lie like sepulchres in the courtyard of the Petit Palais, a museum which houses similar tombs of popes and cardinals.

The story behind the pieces is fascinating too. The Fondation is owned by Jean-Paul Blachère, the head of a hugely successful multinational company that makes Christmas illuminations. The exhibition's title, Les Éclaireurs (The Pathfinders, or Enlighteners), must be in part a sly reference to this.

universal prayer ndary lo avignonHe first discovered African art in 2000 and has been an avid collector ever since, making regular trips to the continent to discover new talent. His Foundation now owns over 1800 pieces. It also invites African artists to France for residencies.

Monsieur Blachère, who has been wheelchair-bound for over 30 years following a car accident, told the French newspaper L’Express in an earlier interview, "I’ve spent a long time in the desert and Africa brought me out of it. It has so much human richness."

These magnificent sculptures are all around Avignon until 14 January 2018. Some are in key museums: the Petit Palais, the Musée Lapidaire and the Musée Calvert.

Pictured, one of Ndary Lo’s tall, slender, yearning figures throws up his (or her) hands in supplication on the square in front of the Palais des Papes.

But the great majority of these pieces are inside the Palais itself, and so this should be the focus of your visit. On sale at the Avignon Tourist Office, a ticket costs 11 €uros and gives you access to the Palais as well as all the other museums. An absolute bargain!

And, if you can't make it to the Papal city in time to catch Les Eclaireurs there, never fear: you can always head off to Apt to view the permanent collection at the Fondation Blachère, which is open to the public.

 

 

marc chagall smallThe former bauxite quarries just outside Les Baux de Provence have become the backdrop to a breathtaking light show.

The Quarries of Lights - as they're known - project multiple images - around 3000 of them in the course of a 35 minute performance - on the ceiling, floor and huge rock walls.

The theme is always art-based and changes yearly: in 2017 it's "the fantastic and the marvellous" and features three wildly imaginative artists of the 16th century from both Northern and Southern Europe.

And now in the late summer you can catch up with some of the earlier shows as well, all in one go! On selected evenings, three spectacles from previous years are screened back-to-back in a bumper edition called Les Intégrales des Carrières.

This year they are the shows from 2014 (Klimt and Vienna), 2015 (Giants of the Renaissance) and 2016 (Marc Chagall), pictured above. And the ten dates for them are 24-26 July, 7-9 August, 15-16 September and 22-23 September.

The event begins at 8.30pm and runs all evening with an intermission: refreshments are available to keep you going. You can pre-book a ticket here and advance reservation is advised as they tend to sell out quickly.

 

 

Aalfred sisley hoar frostix en Provence is one of the places to be this summer for art and we were there last week to catch two must-see shows!

The Caumont Centre d'Art is already the most popular tourist attraction in town, just two years after it first opened.

It maintains its high standards with a magnificent retrospective devoted to the shimmering landscapes of the Impressionist Alfred Sisley (pictured). Until 15 October; click here to read our review.

Over at the Musée Granet is another fascinating show called Passion de l'Art celebrating the keen eye, adventurous taste and, yes, passion for art of three generations of gallery owners.

Some big names are on display here (Picasso, Braque and co) but also some brilliant new discoveries. Until 24 September; our review is here.

 

 

trets festivalCertain spots in Provence are magnets for tourists. The guides on this website to such legendary destinations as Cassis, Saint Rémy, Lourmarin and L'Isle sur la Sorgue are among the most visited pages on Marvellous Provence - and so are those towns and villages themselves.

Yet Provence is jam-packed with lovely secret places that most international visitors have never heard of and never go near. And so they are mercifully free of souvenir shops and tour groups, you can park there relatively easily and lunch won't cost a king’s ransom.

Now the region has decided to single out one of these hidden gems - a town or village with a popukation of under 20,000 - to be the "capitale provençale de la culture" each year: perfect for anyone in Provence this summer who would like to try something a little bit different, away from the crowds.

The chosen "capital" for 2017 is Trets, a small, pretty, mediaeval town in the beautiful foothills of Mont Sainte Victoire, pictured, a short drive south-east of Aix en Provence.

The programme runs from June to December and is a mix of traditional festivals, street theatre, art shows and concerts open-air feasts and other food and drink events and ambitious spectacles, such as a Brazilian-style mini-carnival to kick-start it all.

sainte victoire late afternoonSome of the region's bigger shindigs, such as the Aix music festival, the piano festival of La Roque d’Anthéron or the Five Continents jazz festival of Marseille will be staging guest events in Trets too.

The inspiration behind the project is Marseille-Provence's dazzlingly successful year in the spotlight as the European City of Culture in 2013. The new initiative has nothing like that budget, of course, and is on a much smaller scale.

It's also confined to the Bouches du Rhône region around Marseille, Aix and Arles. But this could be a fantastic way for you to discover the authentic, undiscovered Provence. Click here for the full programme.

Niolon2This summer galleries and museums across Provence are clubbing together for a collective, event under the umbrella title L'Appel du Large (The Call of the Sea), celebrating the romance of the deep blue yonder.

First up is Martigues, the "Venice of Provence", whose Musée Ziem has a show of seascapes painted in this pretty little town and highlighting its exotic qualities. 17 May-17 September.

Arles' excellent Musée départementale Arles antique journeys back in time to explore navigation in the Rhône delta during the Roman era. 1 July-30 September.

It's not just about the Mediterranean: some shows are setting sail for more distant shores. Over the summer and autumn a number of museums in Marseille have marine-themed exhibitions.

The most intriguing of them, at the Vieille Charité, charts the writer Jack London's adventures in the southern seas, from Hawaii to Samoa. 7 September-7 January 2018.

And in Aubagne, home of the French Foreign Legion, the focus is equally exotic: the escapades of the intrepid legionnaires in the Indian Ocean. 21 September-15 January 2018.

There can be few more delicious ways to spend a summer day or night than on one of Marseille's open-air toits terrasses (roof terraces) contemplating the Mediterranean.

rooftop terrace marseilleAnd there's something for everyone in this most eclectic of cities, whether your thing is sipping a sophisticated cocktail, lingering over lunch or dinner, grooving to the sounds of some of the world's leading DJs, catching an avant-garde art exhibition or even watching a movie.

An improbable major venue is the Terrasses du Port, the shiny new shopping mall in the city's Joliette district near the ferry and cruise ship terminals.

Pictured, its enormous roof terrace on two levels with breathtaking panoramic sea views has been an instant hit: last summer an average of 1,500 people a night flocked there.

Inspired by the commercial port which it overlooks, ship's containers have been crane-lifted in and repurposed as bars, gourmet fast food kiosks and DJ cabins.

And it has a packed schedule every night except Mondays from now until mid-September. The rooftop terrace stays open late - until 2am on some evenings.

Each evening has a different theme from rock 'n roll and disco to deep house and funk. If you don't feel like dancing, there's always babyfoot (table football) and arcade games.

Among the international guest DJs and artists expected over the summer of 2017 are Carl Craig, Breakbot and Feder. Details and a link to the ticket office here.

Across town on the south side of the Old Port the five-star Sofitel hotel has a mini-terrace, an extension of its lobby bar.

It offers all-day food, artisan ice-cream (courtesy of Le Glacier du Roi), cocktails and, on some evenings, live music (jazz, pop, rock or soul) - plus one of the best views in town over the Old Port and the MuCEM.

The Sofitel has now created an even larger terrace on its roof where the scene is even more fabulous. Called the Dantès Sky Lounge (after Edmond Dantès, the hero of Alexandre Dumas's legendary, Marseille-set novel The Count of Monte Cristo), it has a DJ in attendance on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

Expect to stump up 16 €uros plus for a cocktail (with minor nibbles such as peanuts and olives): you're paying for the stunning view.

Also on this side of the Old Port with similar views, the Rowing Club has a roof terrace that's open all year round. It's open to the public and especially reputed for its (rather pricey) buffet brunches.

The MuCEM, with its own rooftop restaurant, pictured, Mediterranean garden, open-air performance space, chill-out area with chaises-longues and panoramic walkways has also quickly become a firm favourite with both Marseillais and tourists.

mucem restaurantBorderline organises legendary parties in some of the most beautiful locations in Marseille and is particularly famed for its boat discos.

And let's not forget La Friche La Belle de Mai, the cutting-edge arts complex near Saint Charles station which pioneered these rooftop events.

Its truly vast roof terrace launches the 2017 summer season on 26 May and promises a fabulous line-up, from live music from all over the world and film screenings (deckchairs provided) to sundown apéritifs and discos late into the night.

Bring a picnic, or buy a classy takeaway. There are children's games too - and a pétanque court. Best of all, entrance is entirely free!

Finally, those into modern art and architecture should head straight over to Le Corbusier's pioneering modernist apartment block, the Radiant City, where a series of events is planned on its own stunning roof terrace throughout the summer. This year's exhibition is devoted to the French artist Jean-Pierre Reyaud.

If your next travel plans are for a trip to the US rather than to Provence, this E-Visa FAQ will help you navigate the complicated ESTA Visa Waiver Program. Our thanks to them for this sponsored link.

 

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