News

Musique dans la rue smallThe Festival d'Aix en Provence - the city's major opera and music festival - might be over for another year. But the music hasn't stopped there just quite yet.

Organised by Aix's Conservatoire, Musique dans la rue (Music in the Street) is a fabulous programme of over a hundred open-air concerts at different venues across town in the early evening.

This year there are a number of lunchtime and afternoon events as well. And did we mention that they are all entirely free?

All kinds of sounds are represented from baroque and classical to jazz, rock, gospel, world music and Latin vibes. It runs from 18-25 August.

Alas, the continuing terrorist threat overshadowing France mean that it's currently not possible to hold spontaneous performances in the streets, as was the tradition in previous years.

Instead, they now take place at a handful of closely supervised locations, including the magnificent courtyard of the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), the gardens of the Jas de Bouffan (Paul Cezanne's family home) and the Fondation Vasarely. Arrive early to be sure of a seat. And click here for the full programme.

motorcycle raceGreat excitement at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet: the Bol d'Or will again be held at the track from 14-16 September.

The Circuit Paul Ricard hosted this legendary 24 hour motorcycle race between 1978 and 1999. After that the Bol d'Or moved to Magny Cours in the North of France.

But it returned to Provence in 2015, reportedly for at least five years. Vintage bikes will once again be racing too this year, in the Bol d'Or Classique, while amateurs can try their skills in the Bol d'Argent. Some 68000 visitors flocked there last year.

The Bol d'Or isn't just for motor cycling fans. It's also a fun family occasion, with a special zone dedicated to activities for children, including zip lines and go kart racing. Kids under 16 get in free if accompanied by an adult.

Among the other attractions: stunt driving, jet ski and flyboard demonstrations, helicopter rides, exhibitor stands, a funfair, food trucks and a rock concert.

The Musée de la Moto in Marseille will once again be present to show off 150 of its racing machines, among them a 100 year old motorcycle with sidecar.

The headline act on Saturday night is the French hard rock bank Trust. On the Friday, music will be supplied by a DJ. Click here for the full programme.

belem three masterThe Belem is in port! More precisely, she's in Toulon on 25-26 August and in Marseille on 1-2 September. And on those dates in both cities you can take a guided tour all around this beautiful historic three-master.

In the 19th century the Belem was a cargo ship, transporting sugar from the West Indies and coffee from Brazil to Europe (Belem is a city at the mouth of the Amazon).

Today the Belem is one of the oldest working ships of this size in the world. She is now based in France, from where she sails all around Europe, offering visitors the chance to explore her for a day or to sign up for a longer cruise. The crew will be on hand too, to show you around.

There is a small charge for this but children under six go free. And, if you don't want to go on a full visit, you can see the Belem under full sail arriving in the bay of Marseille in the afternoon of 31 August.

Go up to the grassy verge around the Pharo Palace for the best views. Many locals make a day out of it and bring a picnic!

After Toulon and Marseille, the Belem will be sailing along the Med, as far as Nice, Cannes and Antibes to the east and Sète and Port Vendres to the west. Click here for the full list of dates and to buy tickets.

vibrationsAvignon has a terrific late-summer attraction aimed at families: an open-air sound and light spectacle, all in 3D. It’s held in the Cours d'Honneur of the Palais des Papes and runs every night from 14 August-30 September.

Completely redesigned for 2018, the show is called Vibrations and lasts 30 minutes. Full details are still shrouded in secrecy but it seems it will take the audience on a dream-like tour through Provence, with the help of 14 projectors beaming images on all four walls of the Palace.

The performances should be quite different from the previous light show, Luminessences. That surveyed the history of the Palais and the Avignon Theatre Festival, with a rather academic voice-over commentary.

Vibrations, by contrast, is described as nine tableaux with themes such as “the Rhône and its watery universe”, wine, Mont Ventoux and "the vibrations of bodies and hearts", whatever that means.

It should be a poetic and impressionistic show, all linked by the recurring motif of a butterfly. And there's no voice-over commentary this time, so no need to worry about whether you're getting the French or English version.

The production company, Spectaculaires, has illuminated many other monuments and the impressive results can be viewed on its website. Vibrations runs twice nightly at 9.15 and 10.15 from 14 August-30 September and you can book tickets here. Full price: 12 €uros, reduced price:10 €uros, children under eight free.

If the budget won't run to that, don’t worry: Avignon also has three smaller light shows at venues around town and these ones are entirely free. You can catch them at the place du Petit Palais, the place Saint-Didier and the Église des Célestins between 10pm and midnight from 3 August-1 September.

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

Now in its twelfth year, it offers a brilliantly varied and inventive programme and runs from 18-26 August.

And there's an innovation: in 2018 the festival spills over to Glanum, the huge Roman site just outside nearby Saint Rémy de Provence.

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 24,000 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 than most.

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 armies in antiquity, to tie in with an upcoming major exhibition later this year 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 Greek and Roman army encampments, side by side in improbable harmony!

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.

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 31st year. The 2018 dates are 20-25 August.

The festival stages open-air screenings in the Ancient Theatre of classic sword and sandal epics such as (this year) Oliver Stone's Alexander, starring Colin Farrell, The Prince of Egypt, an animated film about Moses voiced by Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes and Sandra Bullock, and Pier Paolo Pasolini's Medea. Bear in mind that they are likely to be screened in dubbed versions.

They’re all preceded by Roman-style apéritifs at which you can explore the films' themes with archeologists and movie specialists plus late-night discussions after the screenings. Plus, to round it all off, an "electro-peplum" disco on 24 August. Togas desirable but optional! Click here for the full Peplum programme.

frioul islandsDiscover the flora and fauna of the calanques on a guided walk along the coastal paths or around the Frioul Islands, pictured.

Visit COMEX, Marseille's maritime engineering test centre, or its Marégraphe observatory, both of them rarely open to the public.

Take to the sea in a kayak, in a traditional provençal rowing boat, on a wakeboard - or in a Chinese dragon boat or a Polynesian dugout canoe!

Or, if you like, do all of the above. These activities are on offer throughout September as part of Septembre en Mer (September by the Sea).

Now celebrating its 20th edition, this has grown into a festival of dozens of marine-themed events in Marseille and along the surrounding coast.

Many of them are ideal for families with children enjoying a late vacation. And most are available during this period only: 1-30 September. Click here for the full 2018 Septembre en Mer programme.

raftingAs elsewhere all across Europe, it's hot in Provence at the moment. Very, very hot. Over the next few days the temperature will soar to over 35 degrees Celsius / 95 degrees Fahrenheit. And the summer heatwave looks set to continue for several weeks.

So how to stay chilled out? Some people will make straight for the beaches - but do try to avoid the sun exposure in the middle of the day.

And, when swimming in the calanques, beware of the contrast between the air temperature and that of the water. The sea can be unexpectedly cold, causing cramps - and, in the worst case, drownings. There have been several in recent years.

The endless series of sunny days has another downside. The vegetation has become extremely dry, especially on the coast, and forest fires are a constant risk here, as they have already been in Greece and Sweden so far this summer.

Be very careful with cigarettes or barbecues: you will face prosecution if you cause a fire, even unintentionally. And the local authorities here are impressively fast and skillled at tracking down offenders. If convicted, they can expect an enormous fine or even a prison sentence.

Check that hiking paths are open: access is forbidden on days of high fire risk, generally when it's windy. And telephone 18 or 122 (freephone numbers) immediately to alert the authorities if you see a fire starting, even a small one.

Grottes de Thouzon2If you prefer to find a haven of cool and calm, here are some suggestions for gentle excursions to help you chill out.

GO UNDERGROUND! Several of Provence's best tourist attractions are based in former quarries or mines.

Discover the fantastical stalactite formations of the Grottes de Thouzon, pictured, near L'Isle sur la Sorgue, where it's a cool 13 degrees Celsius / 56 degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperatures inside the extraordinary ochre mines of Bruoux, near Roussillon, can be as low as 10 degrees Celsius / 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so bring a sweater however hot it is outside!

Make for the popular Quarries of Lights, a spectacular son et lumière show in a disused bauxite quarry near Les Baux de Provence.

summit mont ventouxOr how about a cave aux vins? Provence's wine cellars aren't necessarily underground. But you can guarantee that they will be cool and temperature-controlled so that the wine ferments correctly.

You're never very far from a winery in Provence but, if you're looking for some ideas for where to go, check out our top ten suggested wine routes.

CLIMB A MOUNTAIN! You'll need to head up to the Alps for real altitude. But the top of Mont Ventoux in Vaucluse, pictured, is always significantly cooler than the surrounding foothills.

Don't try to cycle up in the midday heat, though, unless you're a real masochist. Or go up to the Ubaye river in Haute Provence - and maybe try a spot of white water rafting, pictured above.

FIND A PARK! In the cities of Provence it's sweltering - but trees, lawns, fountains and lakes offer a welcome touch of refreshment.

Try the Rocher des Doms with its superb views across the Rhône valley in Avignon or the city's peaceful, verdant river island, Barthelasse; the Jardins d'Albertas with their gorgeous fountains near Aix en Provence; or the shady Parc Borély in Marseille. Take a boat trip on the lake there, pictured: you'd swear you were on London's Serpentine.

borely park lakeOr for the full-on water experience, go surfing or tobogganing at the Wave Island theme park (formerly called Splashworld) near Avignon.

WANDER THROUGH A MUSEUM OR ART GALLERY! For obvious reasons, these will be nice and cool inside - and there are plenty to choose from in Provence.

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

quarry04The Quarries of Lights is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region. This extraordinary site was once a bauxite quarry in the bowels of the awe-inspiring landscapes around Les Baux de Provence.

Today it is the backdrop to a breathtaking show that projects multiple images - around 2000 of them during the 30 minute spectacle - on its ceiling, floor and huge rock walls.

Each show is inspired by a different painter or art movement and accompanied by a specially chosen music track. The theme changes each year: it might be anything from Gustav Klimt to Michelangelo.

The current daytime show celebrates Pablo Picasso. But, if you'd like to catch up with some of the earlier programmes, you can do so on ten evenings in the summer, when the three spectacles from 2015. 2016 amd 2017 are screened together all in one go.

They are: Giants of the Renaissance, Marc Chagall, pictured, and Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo. It's a brilliant way to see how the Quarries are transformed by these very different visions.

Performances begin at 8.30pm on 23, 24 and 25 July, 6, 7 and 8 August and 14, 15, 21 and 22 September. Refreshments are available to keep you going and advance booking is advised as these evenings - called Les Intégrales des Carrières - do tend to sell out quickly. Tickets cost 24 €uros and you can buy them here.

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.

This summer it's running a packed programme called Plan B throughout August, with nightly dance and circus performances, DJ sets, open-air film screening and more. Click here for the full programme (in French).

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 launched 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!

marseilleradiantcityroofterrademamoThose into modern art and architecture should head straight over to Le Corbusier's pioneering modernist apartment block, the Radiant City, in the south of Marseille.

Here, a series of events and exhibitions is planned on its own stunning roof terrace throughout the summer, pictured. This year's guest artist is Olivier Mosset, who has created two very large-scale installations for this very special space.

Finally, just up the road from the Radiant City is a brand-new addition to Marseille's roof terrace scene: an elegant, leafy, glassed-in area at the top of the Prado shopping centre.

House cocktails, Franco-Japanese fusion snacks ("japas") and late-night DJs are the attractions here. It's aimed mainly at locals, but would be just the place for a drink before or after a football match or rock concert at the next-door Vélodrome stadium.

cote bleue train at lestaqueThe beautiful Blue Coast train between Marseille and Miramas offers several terrific special ticket deals over the summer.

The "Bermuda" pass gives you unlimited travel along the line for a single day. It costs just 6 €uros and is available at weekends and on public holidays from 1 July-30 September. During August the deal gets even better: 10 €uros for two adults, available on any day of the week.

The special "Albatross" day trip ticket combines a train ride and mini boat cruise, enabling you to see the calanques from both the land and the sea on the same day.

You catch the train from Marseille to Carry le Rouet, take a ten minute stroll from the station down to the port, pictured, and go on a 75 minute boat trip along the coast before returning to Marseille by train.

This deal is available every Sunday from July-September and the combination ticket costs 20 €uros (12 €uros for children under 12). You need to reserve it in advance.

Both the Bermuda and the Albatross deals can be booked online here, at an SNCF ticket office or by telephone on 0800 11 40 23 (a freephone number within France).

Finally one other alternative is the daily Zou! rail pass which is on offer during the summer only and gives you one day's unlimited travel in any one of the six départements of Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur network for 16 €uros.

mucem ai weiweiWho would have thought that the leading Chinese artist Ai Weiwei had a direct personal connection to Marseille?

But he has, and it's a surprising and revealing one which is explored in a major new exhibition at the MuCEM. It runs until 12 November. Click here to read our full review of this must-see show.

And there's more good news at the MuCEM. Normally closed on Tuesdays, it is open seven days a week throughout August.

abbaye de snanqueIt's that time of year again! One of Provence's main tourist attractions, the glorious lavender fields, are beginning to burst into bloom, and the summer round of fairs and festivals begins.

The exact timing varies from year to year, and also on altitude. But as a rule of thumb, the lowland areas start turning purple around mid-June, while the higher ones will be in bloom from early July until early August.

Some people will simply want to admire the fields (and snap the odd selfie). But if you want to take part in the festivities, you’ll find something going on somewhere every week from the beginning of July until late August.

The programme varies depending on the town or village. Some such as Ferrassières, near Mont Ventoux, focus on walks, hikes, bike rides and outdoor activities.

Others are giant markets such as the Foire de la Lavande in Digne les Bains. Around 160 artisans and producers converge on this little town for one of the most important fairs in the region.

Most local lavender festivals will feature music, fun activities for children and demonstrations of how to harvest lavender by hand, use a still to extract essential oils or weave a pretty, decorative lavender spindle.

There may be tastings of lavender-flavoured food and you're bound to find plenty of lavender and artefacts on sale too.

Digne also hosts another major shindig, the Corso de Lavande in early August, which marks the lavender harvest with a lively carnival procession.

Below is our list of the main lavender festivals and fairs. Click here for our guide to lavender in Provence.

1 July Ferrassières, Drôme Provençale.

8 July Apt, Vaucluse.

15 July Valensole, Alpes de Haute Provence.

22 July Banon, Barrême, Alpes de Haute Provence.

29 July Sainte Agnès, Alpes Maritimes.

3-6 August Valréas, Vaucluse.

3-7 August Digne les Bains, Alpes de Haute Provence (Corso de Lavande).

15 August Sault, Vaucluse.

22-26 August Digne les Bains, Alpes de Haute Provence (Foire de la Lavande).

nimes musee romaniteNewly opened in Nîmes, 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 can explore the history of one of France's major Roman cities. The Musée de la Romanité has some 25000-odd priceless artefacts in its collection, of which around 5000 are on display. Interactive multi-media installations help bring them alive.

The museum also features an enormous roof terrace garden with panoramic views, landscaped Mediterranean grounds, a 180 seat auditorium, a bookshop, a café and restaurant overseen by the Michelin starred chef Franck Putelat and a temporary show about gladiators (until 24 September).

In short, this is a massive new tourist attraction. And, with it, Nîmes is hoping finally to be recognised as a UNESCO World Hetitage Site (the Pont du Gard and Arles, both just down the road, already boast 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.

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 reviews of Ai Weiwei at the MuCEM and 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.

Provence News Archive

 

Main Menu