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droles denoels2010arlesfireworksLooking for something a bit different from the traditional craft markets, carol concerts and nativity plays in the run-up to Christmas?

Head straight on over to Arles for its lavish, three-day curtain-raising fantasy, Drôles de Noëls (Funny Christmases), from 22 to 24 December.

Against the magnificent backdrop of the city's ancient Roman monuments, this fabulous winter festival mixes fireworks, singers, dancers, circus performers, puppeteers, theatre, a sled run and all sorts of other entertainments.

Now in its 14th year, Drôles de Noëls transforms the whole of Arles into one huge street-art spectacle. And it's all entirely free - even the car parking (at the parking des Lices).

This year more than 50 shows are promised. There will be small-scale performances all over town at various venues throughout the day, while the big events are held in the evenings.

CircusAmong the highlights: on the opening night, trapeze artists dressed as angels soar above the place de la République, Arles' main square, before showering the audience with thousands of white feathers. We saw this show in Marseille in 2013 and can promise you it's magical.

The following evening looks just as much fun: a show in the Roman amphitheatre based on Santa Claus' search for a missing reindeer. Expect the red-suited one to put in an appearance flying through the clouds.

Click here for the full programme and here to read about other Christmas events all across Provence.

 

 

olive oil in bottlesThe busy winter gastronomy season in Provence continues apace with a stream of festivals in early December to mark the brand-new pressing of the region's green-gold extra virgin olive oil.

The village of Mouriès, in the Alpilles, has its Fête de l'Huile d'Olive Nouvelle on 9-10 December. At it, you can taste the produce of growers throughout the region and buy truffles, honey, saffron (which is harvested in Provence in November), chocolate made with olive oil (yes, yes, it's surprisingly good) and all sorts of other edible treats. There will be cookery demonstrations from top chefs, plus a Christmas craft market.

The olive oil festival of Aix en Provence is also held on 9-10 December on the place François Villon near the Tourist Office and also includes a market with olive wood artefacts, olives themselves and related products such as tapenade.

The following weekend in Aix sees the bravade calendale in honour of the pompe à l'huile, the olive oil-based brioche which is one of the essential 13 Desserts of Christmas.

The bravade takes the form of a procession through the centre of town with costumed dancers, music and banners and takes place at 1pm on 17 December.

olivesFurther north, a new addition to the scene is the olive oil festival in Moustiers Saint Marie. Now in its second year, it takes place on 10 December. Click here for the full programme.

Just across the border between Provence and the Drôme, Nyons also has a notable olive oil festival. Now in its 34th year, it's known as the Alicoque (the name refers to the free tastings of olive oil on a crouton rubbed with garlic). It's on the first weekend of February, i.e. the next one is on 3-4 February 2018..

Click here to read our full guide to festivals, markets, museums, farms and other olive oil tourism in Provence.

crib castelletIf you're an admirer of the adorable traditional provençal Christmas crib, there is one essential place to head for: the village of Castellet in the Luberon, 10 km / 6 miles south-east of Apt.

Each year this tiny village (population: 120) hosts dozens of outdoor cribs: this year there are around 30. You'll find them all dotted around its pretty cobbled streets, on doorsteps and window sills, or in niches in the wall from 16 December-15 January 2018.

The cribs are both traditional and contemporary and made of everything from classic terracotta to papier mâché, stone - or even vegetables. The centrepiece is the crib in the village church, the Église de Sainte Croix.

This year the event marks its tenth anniversary with music in the streets from 5pm on 16 December and a friendly communal "potluck supper" (free, but bring a dish to share) with music in the village hall. Photo © Alain Hocquel for CDT Vaucluse. Click here to read our full guide to the santons and Christmas cribs of Provence.

pierrot fernando boteroA number of super art shows have just opened in Aix en Provence, a city that certainly doesn't shut down for the winter after the tourist crowds have left.

The Caumont Centre d'Art has a big exhibition exploring the Colombian artist Fernando Botero and his links to Picasso.

60 of Botero's outsize, curvacious portraits are on display as well as 20 major pieces by Picasso. Pictured: Pierrot by Botero (2007), private collection, © Fernando Botero. Until 11 March 2018.

Not to be outdone, the Musée Granet just up the road has two top shows of its own. Just opened, one of them celebrates the colourful 20th century artist Pierre Tal-Coat, who lived and worked in the region. Until 11 March 2018.

And Cézanne at Home (the title is in English) has paintings, drawings and engravings by the Aix master from the gallery's own collection, including fragile watercolours which are rarely on view for conservation reasons.

The star exhibit is a late oil painting on loan from the Pearlman Collection, Vue vers la route du Tholonet près du Château Noir. Until 1 April 2018.

The lively and energetic Fondation Vasarely has a display of work by the German sculptor Vera Röhm (until 31 December), plus an intriguing sounding sound installation by Marlène Puccini inspired by the Möbius strip! (7-27 December.)

And finally, if you're going by the Aix Tourist Office, take a moment to visit a fun display organised by the city's Natural History Museum.

The museum itself is currently closed for major renovation. But this free show scatters some of its most interesting exhibits - crocodiles, panthers, vultures - all over the Tourist Office, accompanied by illustrations by graphic artist Jean‐Luc Deglin. Until 24 February 2018.

 

 

truffles in handWinter in the South of France can be cold, cold, cold. But there are certain compensations. Like the black truffle season in Provence: four full months of delicious gastronomic treats.

That said, it's not all good news. It has been an exceptionally dry year, and so wild truffles are virtually non-existent. Cultivated ones are selling for around double what they cost in 2016.

The season is regulated by law in France and runs from 15 November-15 March. But it "officially" begins on the first weekend after that date: on 18 November in 2017, in the little village of Richerenches north of Avignon.

Here a colourful ceremony and procession, pictured below, announce the opening of the truffle season - and then the real party begins. A market, truffle feasts, cookery demonstrations and truffle hunts are just some of the events on the programme.

After that the season is in full swing. There's a weekly market each Saturday in Richerenches throughout the winter and another big ceremony there in January, the truffle mass: this season it's on 21 January 2018.

And you'll find plenty of weekly markets and occasional festivals in other towns and villages all across Provence.

ban des truffes richerenches processionWatch out in particular for the weekly Friday market in Carpentras, the truffle fair in Ménerbes in the week between Christmas and New Year and the truffle festival in Avignon in late January or early February.

The area around and north of Avignon is the region's "truffle capital". But you can find the black diamonds, as they're often called, much further south too. Late January - early February is the best time to buy black truffles, as their quality is at its best then and prices are more affordable after the Christmas and New Year holiday rush. Click here for our full guide.

Contemporary DanceNow in its 20th year, Dansem is still putting its best foot forward. In 2017 this cutting-edge contemporary dance festival is staging 14 productions at venues in Aix en Provence, Marseille and Vitrolles from 21 November-16 December.

Dansem is short for "Danse en Méditerranée", but it is very much an international festival that pushes preconceived borders and boundaries. This year's expanded edition will also include artists from North America.

Among the line-up of choreographers, performers and companies are Radhouane El Meddeb, Rosy Simas, Mal Pelo, Marc Vincent, Radouan Mriziga, Alessandro Sciarroni and Jasmin İhraç. Website for the 2017 Dansem dance festival.

j1 marseille smallDid you make it to Arles last summer for the city's blockbuster Rencontres d'Arles international photography festival? No? No problem!

An exhibition of some of the very best work from that event goes on show in Marseille this winter. Titled Le Monde tel qu'il va! the show runs from 1 November-7 January 2018.

There's a bonus: the exhibition is based at Marseille's J1 Terminal, pictured. This very long pier in the Joliette district near the ferry port was entirely refurbished in 2013 as a cultural centre for the Marseille-Provence Capital of Culture celebrations.

With its huge spaces and spectacular views, it was easily one of the most popular and most visited venues of that year. But ever since then the J1 has been closed, the victim of local politics and squabbling.

So the fact that it has now reopened - now called the MJ1 - is excellent news. There will be much more going on here throughout 2018 too as part of the big Quel Amour! festival (see below). Watch this space for more details.

Chateau Borely small 7 January is the first Sunday of the month - and that traditionally means free admission to museums and galleries in Provence (and, in fact, all across the country).

Arrive punctually at opening time to beat the crowds - or wait until around 12noon-1pm, when the locals all head off for the sacred tradition of Sunday lunch. And do check whether the museum you're eyeing up is part of the scheme: it doesn't apply to all private foundations.

Click here for our full guides to the museums and galleries of Aix en Provence, Arles, Avignon and Marseille.

 

 

Quel Amour romantic festival in Provence2018 is going to be a loved-up year in Southern Provence, with over six months of festivities, all with a romantic and amorous theme.

The programme, which has just been revealed, is called MP2018: Quel Amour! (What a Love!) and it's launched, of course, on 14 February, Valentine's Day.

Between then and the end of August 2018 there will be some 200 cultural events across the region. They include street festivals, major exhibitions, operas, concerts, circuses and dance performances.

Marseille is the centre, but Arles, Aubagne, Cassis, Istres. Martigues and Salon de Provence will join the party too (however Aix en Provence is notably absent).

Among the exhibitions are not one but two major Picasso shows and carte blanche to the leading French photographer and film-maker JR and the young Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai.

Also on the jam-packed programme: a series of unusual culinary events in Marseille, Arles and along the Blue Coast, a focus on hip-hop, jazz and contemporary music and a series of operas including an adults-only "pornographic" one! We’ll be reporting more on all these nearer the time.

In 2013 Marseille and the surrounding region were the European Capital of Culture.

MP2013, as it was known, was an enormous popular and international hit. It transformed the image of the region and gave a major boost to tourism. MP2018 Quel Amour! has a relatively tiny budget: 5.5 million €uros. But it hopes to give a powerful fresh boost to that momentum.

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.

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 population 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 starts on 16 June, runs until 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.

 

 

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