Parades free promenade concert in Aix en ProvenceThe world-famous Aix Music Festival begins in July - but if you are in town a few weeks earlier, don't worry about missing out.

Since 2013 the city has held a curtain-raising event, Aix en Juin, which offers a packed programme of concerts and masterclasses throughout June.

You can also get a sneak free preview of Ariadne auf Naxos, The Magic Flute, Dido and Aeneas and the other big operas in the main festival at public rehearsals. These are extremely popular, so be sure to pre-book a ticket early. In 2018 Aix en Juin runs from 9-30 June.

This mini-festival is aimed at locals. But it is open to everyone. And, best of all, many of the performances are free, if you get Le PASS, available from the Festival box-office.

Le PASS is free for anyone under the age of 30. and costs a mere 20 €uros for everyone else.

They're held both in the city centre and at atmospheric locations all over the surrounding region, including the beautiful Abbaye de Silvacane.

Aix en Juin reaches its climax with Parade[s], a very popular - and, again, free - open-air promenade concert, pictured top left, on the Cours Mirabeau, just before the start of the Festival d'Aix proper.

This year it's on 24 June, features extracts from this year's production of Orfeo and Majnun, starts in the mid-afternoon and continues into the evening. This new multinational commission is an ambitious collaborative project, a tragic love story in English, French and Arabic.

Click here for the programme for Aix en Juin and here to read our full guide to the Festival d'Aix.

pontdugard smallStand by for a sensational show at the legendary Pont du Gard! On four evenings, the majestic Roman viaduct will be brought alive by an elaborate combination of video-mapping projection, flame generators, light compositions, pyrotechnics and original music.

As in previous years, it's masterminded by Groupe F, a locally based but internationally renowned collective specialising in these son et lumière spectaculars. 

Called Les Féeries du Pont, it dramatises the Pont du Gard in the Middle Ages and Renaissance and takes place at 10.30pm on 1, 7, 8 and 9 June. Arrive early to bag a top spot by the river: the site opens at 7pm and there'll be live music and food trucks - or bring your own picnic.

Tickets cost 22 €uros (children nine €uros, free for kids under six) and can be pre-booked online here. Click here for our full guide to the Pont du Gard.

salon cote sud 2015 smallA super diary date if you're in the Aix en Provence area and love design: the Vivre Côté Sud salon from 8-11 June. Organised by the chic and glossy Côté Sud lifestyle magazine, this very popular event is now in its 20th year.

In Aix's leafy Parc Jourdan (a delightful destination in its own right), over 200 companies will be showcasing antiques, food and wine, furniture, garden accessories, fabrics, lighting and more - in short, everything you could possibly need for the House Beautiful.

It's not just about provençal produce either: "côté sud" ("south side") also encompasses desirable design from Italy, Spain and other countries from all around the Mediterranean. The salon will be focussing on how interior (and exterior) design has changed over the last 20 years.

Several of the region's top chefs will be giving culinary demonstrations, including, this year, a fair few Michelin stars, among them Jean-François Bérard of the Hostellerie Bérard in La Cadière d'Azur, Reine and Nadia Sammut of the Auberge la Fenière in Lourmarin, Pierre Reboul of the Hôtel Château de la Pioline in Aix en Provence and Ludovic Turac of Une Table, au Sud in Marseille. And the famous Provence gourmet food trucks will be selling high-class snacks too.

House and garden designers will be offering short coaching sessions for free, and longer, personalised ones for a fee (book ahead on the site). And a "festive atmosphere" is promised for the late-night opening until 11.30pm on the Friday.

Entrance: 10 €uros for adults (8 €uros on Friday night, concessionaries: 7 €uros, free for children under 12). Click here to find out more details and the full programme.

rooftop terrace marseilleThere 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.

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, also known as the R2, the shiny new(-ish) shopping mall in the city's Joliette district near the ferry and cruise ship terminals.

Pictured, this enormous roof terrace on two levels with breathtaking panoramic sea views has been an instant hit: last summer up to 1500 people a night flocked there.

Decorated by leading graffiti artists, it has a packed schedule every night except Mondays until mid-September. The rooftop terrace stays open late - until 2am on some evenings.

Each evening has a different theme from golden oldies and disco to electro and house. If you don't feel like dancing, there's always babyfoot (table football) and arcade games. 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 one of the most fabulous views in town over the Old Port and the MuCEM.

Its large roof terrace is called the Dantès Sky Lounge (after Edmond Dantès, the hero of Alexandre Dumas's legendary, Marseille-set novel The Count of Monte Cristo). It's open nightly until 2am and has live music on Thursdays and a DJ in attendance on Friday and Saturday evenings.

mucem restaurantDress code: smart and sophisticated. Expect a hefty price tag on the cocktails (with minor nibbles such as peanuts and olives): you're paying here 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. In the evenings it's open until midnight.

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.

Borderline 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 2018 summer season on 1 June 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 and exhibitions is planned on its own stunning roof terrace throughout the summer.



porquerolles fondation carmignacThe Fondation Carmignac, a top-flight collection of contemporary art, is opening a prestigious new gallery on the island of Porquerolles, near Hyères, on 2 June.

Founded by the businessman Edouard Carmignac, this fabulous collection focuses on American pop art from the late 20th century, with paintings and sculptures by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Europe is represented by the likes of Gerhard Richter and Willem de Kooning and there are also artists from the developing world. All in all, there are nearly 300 works.

A selection of these - plus more pieces on loan - will be on display in the vast, 1500 square metre / 16000 square foot basement of a provençal villa on the island.

On the ground floor, a pool with a transparent bottom will enable dazzling ripples of light to filter through to the galleries below it. After wandering through them, you can stroll in two sculpture gardens set up in the spacious grounds.

The Fondation will be run by Carmignac’s eldest son, Charles, a former rock musician with the band Moriarty. He plans to make the Fondation a cultural centre, with concerts and shows as well as exhibitions.

The site is a seven minute walk through lush woodland from Porquerolles’ port and main village. But attention! The Fondation Carmignac promises to be a major attraction and visitor numbers will be limited, so advance booking is advised.

Provence has always been a magnet for painters, and its galleries and museums pull out all the stops to celebrate it. A number of huge shows are about to open here, and their variety testifies to the vibrant art scene in the region. Here's our survey of the best events this summer.

With its two prestigious new centres, the LUMA and Vincent van Gogh Foundations, Arles has become an essential destination for art-lovers. Each summer the Fondation Vincent van Gogh stages a major exhibition centred on the master's work.

This year it's called Soleil chaud, soleil tardif (Hot Sun, Late Sun) and explores the relationship of his work to that of other artists, in particular Picasso, who were influenced by the Mediterranean light. It features seven works by each of these men, plus pieces by Alexander Calder, Giorgio De Chirico, Sigmar Polke and many more.

Running concurrently is an exhibition of the 20th century British surrealist painter and war artist Paul Nash. 21 April-28 October.

van gogh skullIn addition to this, one painting by van Gogh, loaned by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, remains on display in Arles all year around, changing each spring.

This year it is Crâne (Skull), pictured, painted by Vincent in spring 1887 while studying in Paris. His skull is very different from conventional academic studies and, far from being a traditional memento mori, shimmers with life.

Over at the LUMA is a huge career retrospective devoted to the provocative British artists Gilbert and George. Over 80 works spanning 50 years will be on display.

Also at the LUMA: A Story with Vincent, a series of behind-the-scenes photographs taken on the Arles shoot of an upcoming American film about Vincent van Gogh. Both shows open on 2 July.

And the summer excitement in Arles continues with the International Photography Festival. Click here to read about it and the 2018 programme.

nicolas de stael marseilleAix en Provence is no slouch when it comes to art either. The fabulous Caumont Centre d'Art (a relative newcomer but already one of the city's top tourist attractions) has a show dedicated to the Franco-Russian painter Nicolas de Staël, known for his gorgeous, intensely coloured abstract paintings and use of impasto (very thick paint).

It includes nearly 100 pieces created during his year in Provence in 1953-1954. Pictured: Marseille as seen by de Staël, private collection, © Adagp, Paris. 27 April-23 September.

Meanwhile the Musée Granet, also in Aix, contributes to the current Picasso celebrations all across the South of France with an exhibitions comparing him to the French cubist Francis Picabia. 9 June-23 September.

Speaking of Picasso, the ongoing show at Marseille's Vieille Charité is called Picasso Voyages Imaginaires. It displays exotic pieces by the great Spanish master next to artefacts from Africa, Oceania and South America taken from the gallery's own collections and showing how his art was inspired by work from all over the world.

The exhibitions here are always brilliantly curated and this one has been proving a real blockbuster, so arrive early if you want to catch it. Until 24 June.

In fact there are quite a few interesting shows in Marseille this summer: click here for a more extensive list of what's on and here to read our review of the current exhibition of 19th century French masterpieces at the Musée Cantini.

Finally, to see art in an exciting, unconventional venue, check out the Quarries of Lights, near Les Baux de Provence, where Picasso stars yet again in a son et lumière spectacular tracing his relationship to his fellow Spanish masters: Goya, Rusiñol, Zuloaga and Sorolla. Until 6 January 2019.

The Garlaban mountain, AubagneSpring is the absolutely perfect time to go hiking in Provence. The weather is warming up - but it's not yet blistering hot.

The trails are unlikely to be closed for risk of forest fires, and the brightly coloured wildflowers won't have been burnt off by the sun.

If you're in Southern Provence at this time, Aubagne, just ouside Marseille, is the place for the best spring hikes, with a whole series of interestingly themed events.

The first ones mark the anniversary of the death of the writer Marcel Pagnol, the town's most famous son. Pagnol died on 18 April 1974 and the hikes themselves - two, of different levels of difficulty - take place this year on Sunday, 29 April.

The shorter walk covers 9 km / 5.5 miles, lasts eight and a half hours and explores locations where Pagnol's books were set and/or his films were shot.

A longer and more demanding hike covers 20 km / 12 miles, lasts ten hours and climbs the mountain of Garlaban, pictured top, as well as passing through other iconic locations from Pagnol's work.

You'll need to sign up in advance to secure a place at these very popular walks. Click here for more details.

On 5-8 May Aubagne also hosts one of the largest hiking festivals in Provence, the Festival de Randonnées en Pays d'Aubagne et de l'Étoile. Now in its tenth year this fast-growing event offers 35 different guided walks and rambles of every level of difficulty.

etoile montjulienThey cover a very wide range of themes, including a nocturnal excursion and gourmet-themed itineraries.

Other activities are on offer too, from BMX biking to a climbing wall, painting workshops for childre, a walk for dog owners and a romantic sunset tour for single hikers! Picnic hampers are also available.

Pagnol's goat-crowned Garlaban is the inevitably the focal point, but walks also take in Mont Julien and the breathtaking Étoile mountain range, pictured, Sainte Baume, Saint Zacharie and other beauty spots in the region. Click here for the full programme.

Note that any guided commentary is likely to be in French only. Numerous other themed walks of various lengths starting in Aubagne are available at regular intervals throughout the year.

Finally, here's something rather unusual. For some years in spring and autumn, a theatrical troupe called Dans la Cour des Grands has staged weekly performances of Pagnol's stories.

But these aren't just conventional sit-down plays. Instead, you're taken on a day-long walk deep into the countryside of Aubagne, stopping every now and then to discover actors playing out Pagnol's scenes - in the very landscapes where the stories were set.

manon4You could describe it as the ultimate promenade performance. We've been on one of them and can promise that it's a very special experience.

The first, enormously popular shows, pictured, were based on Manon des Sources and every couple of years there's a new one. The 2018 season is inspired by La Fille du Puisatier (The Well-Digger's Daughter).

You can read more about it here, where we also review the earlier Manon des Sources production which gives you a good idea what to expect. They run at weekends from 1 May to 2 June and again for a short season in the autumn.

We checked their website recently and many of them are already booked out. So hurry, hurry if you would like to take part.

And, if you can't make these specific dates, click here to read about self-guided hiking in Pagnol country, actor Daniel Auteuil's Pagnol films and our full guide to the town of Aubagne itself.

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

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.

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.

Facing significant cuts in its budget, 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. Among the 20 guest artists are 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.

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