News

histopad avignonWalking round the huge, bare rooms of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, it has often been difficult to imagine the glory of the palace in its heyday. But now all that is changing this month with the arrival of the HistoPad.

This brilliant interactive digital tablet uses augmented reality to conjure up history. You point it at an area, look at the screen and – hey presto! – you see what that same space looked like centuries ago.

The images are in 3D, and you can rotate them through 360 degrees or zoom in to the smallest detail. The technology is impressive.

The HistoPad is already a hit at several other French châteaux and museums and you can read more about it and see a demonstration here.

As well as allowing you to be a guest at the Popes' banqueting table, the HistoPad fills you in with historical detail and background. It can be personalised too: there are versions in a number of different languages, as well as for visitors with disabilities. Kids get sent on a fun treasure hunt.

From 21 October the HistoPad replaces the audioguides previously used at the Palais des Papes – and, best of all, like them, it's included in the price of admission.

oktoberfest1Munich's famous Oktoberfest is coming to Marseille - again! Its first edition in 2016 was a roaring success and in 2017 the legendary Bavarian beer binge has expanded from five to a full ten days: 26 October-4 November.

It's based in a big tent in Marseille's Parc Chanot (next to the Vélodrome football stadium), where various beers will be flowing, from the Oktoberfest special brew to a non-alcoholic white beer. When hunger strikes, you can munch on Würste (sausages), slow-roasted pork, Apfelstrudel and other hearty German specialities.

You can even buy yourself a dirndl or lederhosen to wear if you really want to get into the mood. There'll be a traditional oompah band too, of course, plus a funky Franco-German innovation: the Bavarian cancan.

Click here for more information and to pre-book tickets. These are selling like hot pretzels: last time we checked, in early October, over three quarters had already been snapped up, so don’t hang around. Prost!

Italian-themed festivals are popular in Provence and Avignon is hosting a big one from 15-22 October. Its centrepiece is a craft and food market on the place du Palais des Papes, but there are all sorts of other things going on around town.

You can try your skills at the Italian card game of Scopa, learn how to make pasta, watch a play by Dario Fo, listen to music by Monteverdi or catch a classic Italian film by Visconti at the Cinéma Utopia.

Several museums have Italian themed exhibitions and Italy is on the menu at local restaurants. Chances are that the odd glass of Prosecco will be on the agenda too. Click here for the full programme.

cassis italian festival smallMeanwhile, down on the coast of Provence, the pretty fishing village of Cassis is the twin town of the equally picturesque fishing village of Portofino a little further along the Mediterranean.

Their relationship is marked each year when an Italian-themed festival in Cassis serves up a brief taste of La Dolce Vita. Now in its ninth edition, it runs from 1-5 November in 2017. More details of the programme as they emerge.

halloween smallPlanning to come to Provence with children for the half-term school holidays? These are our top ten suggestions for activities for kids in the period leading up to Halloween, peaking on the weekend just before 1 November, the Toussaint, or All Saints' Day.

This date is a public holiday in France and generally very lively. In many years the weather in Provence is even mild enough to venture outdoors.

Check our regular sections of family-friendly activities in the areas around Marseille, Aix en Provence and Avignon for permanent attractions in the region.

1. Aix en Provence has a huge annual cultural festival for children called Mômaix. This year it runs from 18 October-23 December and has dozens of shows, including music, dance, magic, puppeteers, pantomime, circus and theatre, at venues all across town. Click here for the full programme.

2. The Château de la Barben traditionally pulls out all the stops for Halloween and this year is no exception. A packed line-up of activities includes games, dressing up, music and dancing, a fire show, nibbles and (for grown-ups) mulled wine in the castle, its dungeons and gardens.

The shows last from 5pm till the witching hour, take place on 28-31 October, and cost (a rather terrifying) 22 €uros a head for both adults and children.

Halloween3. Marseille has a new exhibition on the theme of colour at its super Préau des Accoules, a museum created especially for children.

4. Les Baux de Provence offers events all through the autumn and winter. This year during the school holiday period, it has a lively programme of children's workshops on bird-watching and - to tie in with this year's show at the nearby Quarries of Lights - the role of the "fantastic and marvellous" in the Middle Ages.

There's also the chance for kids to meet santonniers, the artisans who create Provence's traditional terracotta Christmas crib figures, and make their own one under their guidance.

5. Aix's Fondation Vasarely is a great place for children. They love the zany huge-scale work by Victor Vasarely, the father of Op Art, and the Fondation has an imaginative programme of workshops all year round. The half-term ones run almost every day from 23 October-3 November. Click here for details.

6. From 27-29 October Toulon hosts the Festival du Jeu et du Jouet (the Festival of Games and Toys). It's based at the Palais Neptune (near the Mayol rugby stadium) where top games creators will be present, and there'll be plenty of opportunities to play games of every imaginable kind.

Conservatoire des ochres RoussillonThere's an entrance charge to get into the Palais Neptune, but all across Toulon itself a host of activities, including real-life games, treasure hunts, dressing-up, competitions and more, are free. Click here for the full programme.

7. Roussillon's lovely Conservatoire des Ocres, pictured, has regular workshops for children. The ochre trail through the surrounding multi-coloured landscape is an excellent attraction in its own right too.

8. Also near Roussillon, the cavernous former ochre mines of Bruoux can be visited throughout the tourist season, but they lend themselves especially well to goings-on at Halloween.

Sorcerers, skeletons and spidermen and -women lurk in the echoing corridors to surprise and scare visitors during visits over "Hallomine" and the Toussaint. 2-5 November.

9. The OK Corral theme park, near Marseille, closes for the winter shortly. But it raises a last hurrah over the Halloween period, when witches and monsters are in attendance, special spooky rides are on offer and there's a bloodcurdling show at nightfall. You can carve your own pumpkin too.

Halloween starts early at the OK Corral this year: these shows run from 30 September-5 November.

10. The Tourist Train of Central Var morphs into a ghost train on 31 October when a "trip with a strange atmosphere and full of surprises" is promised.

In fact there are two trips: one, for younger kids, leaving Sainte Anastasie at 3pm and the other, for teenagers (with a disco after the trip), leaving at 8.30pm. Tickets from 10 €uros. Click here to make a booking.

montgolfiere provenceThis autumn there's what promises to be a magical event at the Pont du Gard: on 21 October a fleet of 25 hot air balloons will float over the iconic Roman aqueduct.

It's part of a month-long festival called Envolées célestes celebrating the region's roots in Mediterranean culture.

The day begins with at 11am with a guided tour of the Pont du Gard. After that is a costumed procession accompanied by music from Tunisia.

The hot air balloons will be released at 3pm, accompanied by the singer Alia Sellami and the day closes with a concert of music inspired by the sounds of the medina of Tunis.

Envolées célestes includes a longer programme of other events, including an exhibition of African pottery at the Pont du Gard (17-27 October) and processions, screenings, exhibitions and music in Uzès and other towns in the region. Click here for more details.

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.

boules dangerous airportHave you taken a flight recently from Marseille-Provence airport? And did you make a mistake when packing and include a "banned" item such as a bottle of pastis, a set of boules (yes, they're banned too!), a toy weapon or a Swiss army knife in your hand luggage?

Now you don't need to lose it forever at the security check! Marseille-Provence airport, in collaboration with a new start-up called Tripperty, is pioneering a new scheme.

Travellers can, for a small charge, retrieve confiscated items, either by picking them up from the airport when they return or by having them sent on to their address.

Or they can donate the item to charity rather than just throw it away. What a great idea! It's currently available at all terminals of Marseille airport only - let's hope it's successful enough to catch on. More details here.

Van Gogh Self PortraitLoving 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 and animated in the movie.

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 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.

 

But the story doesn't end there. Yet another film, called At Eternity's Gate and exploring the same period in van Gogh's life, is about to start shooting on location in Arles and Auvers sur Oise.

The American actor Willem Dafoe plays Vincent. The director is the painter turned film-maker Julian Schnabel, who has previously made movies about other doomed artists.

These include Jean-Michel Basquiat in the film of the same name; the gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas (in Before Night Falls); and Jean-Dominique Bauby, a writer who suffered from locked-in syndrome, in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was nominated for four Oscars.

At Eternity's Gate "is a film about painting and a painter and their relationship to infinity," said Schnabel at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. "It is told by a painter. It contains what I felt were essential moments in his life, this is not the official history — it's my version. One that I hope could make you closer to him."

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.

Chateau Borely small 5 November 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.

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