Santon playing petanqueHere's the sort of miniature world that kids love, with a unique provençal twist: a display of 200-odd clay figurines acting out quirky scenes from Marcel Pagnol's life, books and movies. logoClick here to book a hotel in Aubagne

It neatly combines two of the things for which Aubagne is famous: the local clay and Pagnol (the author of Jean de Florette and the Marius-Fanny-César trilogy), who was born there in 1895.

Le Petit Monde de Marcel Pagnol was created by Aubagne craftsmen to honour the writer-director shortly after his death in 1974. It's not a huge installation and not worth a major detour.

But, recently restored and modernised in a new location in the Old Town, it's utterly charming if you are in the area. Entrance is free and photography is permitted.

The santons enact scenes from Pagnol's two autobiographical memoirs, La Gloire de mon père (My Father's Glory) and Le Château de ma mère (My Mother's Château).

You can also see them engaged in typical provençal scenes, with goatherds, bartenders, priests, lavender sellers and salty Mediterranean chaps swigging pastis while arguing over a game of cards or pétanque.

These figures belong to the ancient and popular provençal ritual of the santons: Christmas crib figures made out of clay which depict not only the usual Biblical characters but ordinary peasants on their way to pay tribute to the Baby Jesus.

A scene from The Little World of Marcel PagnolMost families maintain elaborate cribs, buying new santons each year. Click here to read more about the santons of Provence.

There's no crib here, though, and if you look more closely at these particular characters, you'll notice that some of them bear a marked resemblance to actors from familiar films.

There's the famous card game from Marius, pictured, and a hunchbacked Gérard Depardieu as Jean de Florette in the film of that name.

You might spot two Manons des Sources, Pagnol's wife Jacqueline from the 1952 film version and Emmanuelle Béart from the 1986 remake.

The Garlaban mountain, AubagneDaniel Auteuil is there as Ugolin, the shifty peasant in that same story and the local comedian Fernandel grins toothily as just about every older male character. At the centre of it all Pagnol himself smiles benignly in a red checked shirt.

A cinema screens a selection of eight movies by Pagnol, who was a prolific film director as well as a writer. His beloved Garlaban mountain, pictured, provides a spectacular backdrop to the experience.

These lively, comical scenes are fun for small kids. And they're a good introduction for older children to Pagnol's work.

Film poster for Marius Pagnol's Fanny by Alfred DuboutThere are also displays of film stills, old photographs of his family, first editions of his books and a matchstick model of the Château de la Buzine, his childhood home immortalised in My Mother's Castle (just outside Marseille, this is now a museum of cinema and open to the public).

A small selection of souvenirs is on sale including reproductions of Alfred Dubout's delightful vintage posters for Pagnol's best-known films: pictured is his design for Fanny.

Where: Le Petit Monde de Marcel Pagnol has moved! It was located for over 40 years in a former bandstand on the esplanade Charles de Gaulle in the centre of Aubagne.

But in 2018 it found a new home in the heart of the Old Town, in a centre for local santon-making named after Thérèse Neveu, a pioneering santonnière of the early 20th century.

Ateliers Thérèse Neveu, 4 cour de Clastre, 13400 Aubagne. Tel: (+33) 4 42 71 17 81. Website for Le Petit Monde de Marcel Pagnol

Aubagne is 20 km/ 12 miles from Marseille. By car, it's about 20 minutes.

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By train, it's a 20-minute ride from Marseille to Aubagne. Click here for the train timetable Marseille-Aubagne. Select timetable no.1 (Marseille-Toulon) from the drop-down menu.

The Aubagne Tourist Office is at 8 cours Barthélemy, 13400 Aubagne. Tel (+33) 4 42 03 49 98.

If you want to see santons in Marseille, the master-santonnier Marcel Carbonel has a workshop and museum with santons of historic interest from around the world and demonstrations of the various specialised techniques used to make them.

Where: Marcel Carbonel Santons, 47-49, rue Neuve Sainte Catherine, 13007 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 13 61 36.


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