nimes musee romaniteOpening in Nîmes on 2 June, the Musée de la Romanité is one of France's most prestigious new national projects. And one of the most expensive: it costs a cool 38 million €uros.

Designed by the Franco-Brazilian architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc, the spectacular, ultra-modern building, with its rippling glass façade, pictured, sits in the heart of Nîmes, right opposite the ancient arena.

Inside you will be able to explore the history of one of France's major Roman cities. Apart from 25000-odd priceless artefacts, the museum will also feature a roof terrace garden with panoramic views, landscaped Mediterranean grounds, a bookshop, café, a restaurant overseen by the Michelin starred chef Franck Putelat and a temporary show about gladiators (until 24 September).

In short, this will be a massive new tourist attraction. And, with it, Nîmes is hoping finally to be recognised as a UNESCO World Hetitage Site (Arles, just down the road, already boasts the coveted label). Website for the Musée de la Romanité

bd festival 2018The BD (bande dessinée, or graphic novel) is a much revered artform in France. And, now in its 15th year, the Festival de Bande Dessinée in Aix en Provence is the largest in the region. This year it runs from 7 April-27 May.

After the long grey winter, this is always a welcome arrival, with colourful, witty images popping up on posters and in shop windows all over town to lift the spirits and announce that spring is finally on its way.

The long, ambitious programme sprawls over several months, with exhibitions, conferences, workshops, book and poster signings and, importantly, informal drinks and networking parties at museums and other venues. Entrance to most of them is free.

This year the festival has a new format. Instead of concentrating its main activities on one keynote weekend, highlights will be scattered throughout the two month programme.

Ten major exhibitions are scheduled and guest artists include Sweden's Max Anderson, Switzerland's Helge Reumann and Germany's Atak. One of the main themes will be the 50th anniversay of the famous May 1968 students' and workers' protests.

We'd always assumed that the festival was mainly for fanboys and geeks, but went along last year and found this to be far from the case. It attracts people of all generations, from tots to pensioners.

In fact the whole thing is highly family friendly (any displays devoted to films and comics with adult, erotic and/or violent content are discretely screened off in separate areas).

This year's poster, detail pictured above, is by the German artist Jakob Hinrichs. In a "treasure hunt" at shops all overtown, you can collect a free set of his exclusive cards for a Happy Families style game with a local theme, from Cézanne to cicadas.

Click here to visit the festival website for the full programme. And click here to read about Aix's Graphic Novel Festival in 2015, in 2016. and in 2017.

arles penaEaster marks the beginning of the tourist season in Provence - and one of the biggest celebrations is the Feria de Pâques in Arles, a city which certainly knows how to throw a top party.

This year it runs from 30 March-2 April (there's another big one in early September) and, as is traditional, is centred on the big bull-related events in Arles' Roman amphitheatre. But worry not if bullfights are not your cup of tea: there's plenty more going on.

Little local bands known as peñas, pictured, will be tootling merrily in the streets, and bodegas (bars) with terrific music and dancing will be popping up all over town.

Even if you understandably want to avoid the corridas (bullfights), at which the poor animal gets killed, the programme includes all sorts of enjoyable and more benign bull-related events.

Don't miss one of the more playful courses camarguaises or the dramatic abrivados, at which Camargue cowboys on white horses demonstrate their brilliant skills while herds of bulls thunder through the streets of Arles.

Click here for the full programme here to read more about bull games of Provence, here to read our full guide to what to see in Arles.

antiques market smallThe antiques fair of L'Isle sur la Sorgue is one of the biggest in Europe and one of the most popular tourist attractons in Northern Provence. This Easter it launches its 104th edition.

The fair, which runs from 30 March-2 April, has been rebranded as Antiques, Art & You, with a new website (it used to be called the clunkier Foire internationale Art et Antiquités de L'Isle sur la Sorgue).

As the Eng-lang name hints, the aim is to draw even more overseas visitors. Recent editions of the fair have attracted 100,000 people, around half of them international.

Apart from the antiques, special sections will be devoted this year to contemporary art, design, old books, decor and vintage treasures from the 1950s-1980s. Around 500 sellers are expected.

A packed programme of concerts, exhibitions and conferences is also promised. And, if you can't make these dates, don't worry.

There's a second antiques fair in Isle sur la Sorgue from 11-15 August and a big brocante fair on 19-21 May (brocante is a level or two down from posh antiques, spanning everything from second hand goods and bric à brac to flea market junk).

Click here for our full guide to the antiques stores and markets of L'Isle sur la Sorgue and here for our guide to the town itself.

easter eggsSpending Easter in Provence with the family? We've selected some of the best special events for kids taking place in early April - and they should be enjoyable even if you and your children don't speak French. Some of them are entirely free too!

Check our regular sections on family-friendly activities in the areas around Marseille, Aix en Provence and Avignon for lots more ideas for year-round things to do in the region. And check our pages on kids' stuff in Marseille, Aix, Arles, Avignon and Toulon for permanent attractions in those cities.

pont du gard easter festivalOne of the top family draws in the region is definitely the Pont du Gard, and its fabulous Garrigue en Fête festival (1-2 April).

It includes musicians, street theatre, pictured, picnics and a farmers' market. We went to this event in 2017 and can thoroughly recommend it as a fantastic day out.

And the icing on the cake: all this entertainment is free - and entrance to the site itself is free on those days too.

Just after Easter comes another super festival designed especially for children in Avignon. It's called the Festo Pitcho: pitchoun or pitchoune is a provençal word for a small boy or girl. 7-22 April.

The programme features shows and performances - puppets, dance, theatre and music - all over the papal city itself and in other towns across the surrounding region. There's something here for everyone, from toddlers to early teens.

Many places in Provence organise Easter egg hunts. But some of the best ones look to be on the pretty Tourist Train of Central Var, which runs between Carnoules and Brignoles (click here for details of the hunt and to reserve seats).

Or try the deliciously spooky and Gothic Château de la Barben to the north-west of Aix en Provence, which this year also has a magic show and workshops at which kids can make their own mediaeval crown or shield. And, still on the subject of castles, the super Château des Baux has Easter egg hunts among many other activities.

Conservatoire des ochres RoussillonDepending on the venue, they are on 31 March, 1 and/or 2 April (check with the organisers for exact timings). And, even if you aren't around on the Easter weekend itself, these places are exceptional family attractions in their own right.

Are your kids budding artists? Just outside Roussillon in the Luberon, the Conservatoire des Ocres et de la couleur, pictured, is a treasure house for children. Formerly an ochre factory, it's now an art academy, research centre, industrial museum - and a riot of colour, all rolled into one.

The Conservatoire has a busy year-round programme of colour-themed workshops and courses for children and adults, but during school holidays there's an enhanced programme.


More details here. Most of the website is in French only but, don't worry: the staff at the Conservatoire are multi-lingual.

Also in the area, the former ochre mines at Bruoux are great to visit - as is the famous ochre trail in Roussillon.

If you're in Aix en Provence, the place to head to is the Fondation Vasarely on the edge of town. An amazing building designed by and dedicated to Victor Vasarely, the father of Op Art, it has a great year-round programme of activities for children. Click here for details of the current ones.

Also in Aix, the Festival de Bande Dessinée (Festival of the Graphic Novel, or Comic Book) has many kid friendly elements. This year it runs from 7 April-27 May, with events all over town.

aix bd festival kids 2017Families with children of all ages roll up at these to take part in the free games and workshops, pictured.

Over at Marseille's delightful Children's Museum there's a special temporary exhibition, Si la Couleur m'était contée, a fun tour through the art and science of colour. Until 3 June.

Many of Marseille's other galleries and museums have junior programmes, though your family will need some French to make the most of them. And finally, for football fans, guided tours of the Vélodrome stadium resume for the Easter vacation.



Draughtsmans ContractOne of the major cultural events in March in Marseille, Mars en Baroque is an imaginative and unusual multi-media festival dedicated to the spirit of the baroque in the 21st century.

Concerts and operas juxtapose baroque and contemporary music. There are film screenings and conferences – and, this being France, food features prominently too, with two baroque banquets by candlight mixing music and fine period delicacies.

All these events are held in some of the most beautiful venues in town, from the Musée des Beaux Arts in the Palais Longchamp to the Château Borély.

Now in its 16th year, the 2018 edition stars a rare concert performance of the very first opera composed by a woman: Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola di Alcina, written in Florence in 1625.

Another diary date is the annual harpsichord concert by students at the Paris and Lyon Conservatoires of Music, in the gorgeous setting of the Château Borély on 11 March.

And there is more later in the month: a whole afternoon of music at Marseille’s terrific Musée d’Histoire. It's on 25 March from 11am-6pm. These performances - as well as some of the others in the festival - are free.

Mars en Baroque runs from 9-31 March. Click here for the full programme.

luma arles smallArles has just been singled out by the New York Times as one of 52 must-visit travel destinations for 2018. The selection, made from all around the world, focusses on relatively undiscovered, underrated or neglected gems that range from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Gansu, China - and the entire country of Colombia.

Arles clocks in at no.28 and is the only French town featured in the survey, apart from Megève in Haute Savoie.

French publications are also suddenly singing Arles' praises. This month the prestigious daily newspaper Le Monde compares the relative merits of Avignon and Arles. And it concludes that, while Avignon is traditionally the more famous and more loved by tourists, Arles is now trending as the place to be.

Arles has some stunning Roman monuments and is celebrated as the inspiration for Vincent van Gogh's greatest art. But for years this sleepy working-class city has been in deep decline.

Yet everything is now changing, with Arles' remarkable cultural regeneration. Pictured top: the huge LUMA Arles arts campus is just one of the projects transforming the face of the city. Click here to read our full guide to what's been going on there.

2013 was a watershed moment for Marseille, when it was at the centre of the European Capital of Culture programme. That year turned its image from dirty, crime-ridden dump to one of Europe's most happening cities. 2018 looks set to do the same for Arles.

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.

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.

Called MP2018: Quel Amour! (What Love!), it was launched, of course, on 14 February, Valentine's Day, with a big, free fireworks show on Marseille's Old Port. Some 45000 people turned up to watch it.

Between then and the end of August there will be some 200 cultural events across the region. They include street festivals, major exhibitions, operas, concerts and dance performances. The Circus and Street Arts Biennale is part of this too.

Marseille is the centre, but Aix, Arles, Aubagne, Cassis, Istres. Martigues and Salon de Provence are staging their own programmes.

Among the exhibitions in Marseille 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 agenda: a series of unusual culinary events, a focus on hip-hop, jazz and contemporary music and a series of operas including an adults-only "pornographic" one!

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 massive 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.

Chateau Borely small 1 April 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). It's not an April Fool!

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.

Just announced: some very big news indeed for Aix en Provence: the city is soon to receive its own Picasso Museum. Housed in the former Couvent des Prêcheurs, a beautiful Renaissance building in the heart of Aix's Old Town, it will display some 2000 works by the master: paintings, ceramics, sculptures, drawings, bronzes and photographs. If all goes well, it will open in 2021.

About two thirds of the vast space will be devoted to a permanent exhibition, and one third to temporary shows. Also included in the plans: a cafeteria and restaurant, pottery and engraving studios, a large auditorium and a library.

Most of the work that will be seen there is from Picasso's late period (1953-1973), when he lived in Provence with his second wife, Jacqueline: the museum will in fact be called the Musée Jacqueline et Pablo Picasso.

This is one of the most important collections of Picasso’s art in the world. It belongs to Catherine Hutin, Jacqueline’s only daughter. Pictured: Jacqueline in Picasso's Femme au Miroir (1959).

PicassoFemmeauMiroir3Madame Hutin also owns the Château de Vauvenargues, near Aix, which Picasso bought in 1958 and where he and Jacqueline are buried.

Because the Château is unsuitable as a gallery space, Madame Hutin had been casting around for a while for a suitable site for her project. This deal is a major coup for Aix and the Musée Jacqueline et Pablo Picasso is expected to attract up to 500,000 visitors a year.

...And, if you can't wait until 2021, never fear: there are plenty of chances to catch Picasso in Provence in 2018.

Also in Aix, the superb Caumont Centre d'Art currently has an exhibition comparing Picasso to the Colombian painter Fernando Botero, with plenty of works by both artists. Until 11 March. It's followed by another "two-man" show, this time at Aix's Musée Granet, which sets Picasso alongside the French cubist Francis Picabia. 9 June-23 September.

On 16 February a big new show called Picasso Voyages Imaginaires opens at Marseille's Vieille Charité. Pieces by Picasso are hung next to artefacts from Africa, Oceania and South America taken from the gallery's own collections. Until 24 June.

Not to be outdone, the MuCEM in Marseille is staging an exhibition during the same period (16 February-24 June) about Picasso and the Ballets Russes.

And Picasso stars yet again at the Quarries of Lights, near Les Baux de Provence, where the 2018 son et lumière spectacular traces his relationship to his fellow Spanish masters: Goya, Rusiñol, Zuloaga and Sorolla. 2 March-6 January 2019.

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