Behind the Scenes in Provence

Provence Confidential has been blogging about restaurant launches, cooking classes, food festivals, Provençal wines and spirits as well as tradition and folklore since 2008.

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Futur: Matisse, Miro, Calder - In Marseille


This exposition traces the links and influences between art, architecture, science, robotics, science fiction and astronomy since the beginning of the 20th century. Over a 100 pieces of art- including paintings, sculptures and photos- have been gathered from the most prestigious institutions worldwide to present the future as seen by modern artists. 

One of the best thing about seeing any exhibition at La Vieille Charité is that there are never any crowds. Unlike other museums or exhibition venues in Europe, visitors trickle in allowing people to really view the architecture and artwork at their own pace. The other advantage is that the site itself is truly remarkable. 

Construction began just behind the Major Cathedral in 1640 under Royal decree to house the poor and the sick – the name Vieille Charité means Old Charity.  It was not completed until the 1670’s when Marseille born painter and architect Pierre Puget took over the project. Several three story buildings with galleries overlook a central rectangular courtyard where a baroque style chapel with a dome roof stands. 

The site was also used as housing and an infirmary for colonial troops during both world wars. After WWII it housed over 140 families who had lost their homes during the fighting. During the 1960’s the site was completely abandoned after having briefly served as an anchovy canning facility and a basement warehouse for bananas shipped from Africa. After more than 25 years of restoration the site now houses several museums including the Mediterranean Museum of Archeology, Museum of African, Oceanian and Amerindian Art as well as hosting exceptional exhibits each year.

So if you miss the current exhibition think about visiting the site simply to admire the architecture. Matisse, Miro, Calder exhibit lasts until September 27, 2015. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am – 6 pm.  Coffee, sandwiches and salads are available at the Café from 9am – 5 pm. 







Les Chorégies d'Orange - Provence Opera Festival

One of the many highlights of the classical music and opera festival that runs from July 7 - August 4, 2015 is Jonas Kaufmann interpreting the role of Don José in Bizet’s Carmen on July 8th.  Kauffman first performance at the Chorégies dates back to 2006 when he performed in the Mozart’s Requiem.

The Festival that dates back to 1869 takes place in the perfectly preserved Roman Theatre in Orange just north of Avignon. Although Provence has many vestiges from the Roman Era, the theatre in Orange is one of the most beautiful in France. The stage extends for 65 meters. The venue which can accommodate 9000 spectators provides exceptional acoustics thanks to the 37 meter high wall that is 1.80 metre thick. Leading lyrical artists continue to perform at the festival year after year. 

Full programme details of the oldest French lyrical festival:


Train Travel Tips

You have probably already heard of IDTGV, the website where you can purchase discounted train tickets. In case this is all new information, SNCF the company that runs French rail transport, attaches a second train onto some regular routes like Paris-Marseille with stops in Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, and sells the seats at discounted rates. 

These seats go fast so SNCF launched OUIGO offering trips from Marne la Vallée (Eurodisney) to Lyon, Valence, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Nîmes and Montpellier. The low cost trains run less often and you have to take the RER (Paris computer rail system) to get to Marne la Vallée but the low cost might be worth the extra travel time.  Have a look at the website and compare.

Most recently the SNCF launched #TGVpop Sadly the website is only in French for now. The concept is a bit different. The tag line reads THE TGV THAT LEAVES THANKS TO YOUR FRIENDS. As an example TGVpop offers a train between Paris and Marseille and people can show their interest in taking that train 14 days before departure. Travellers are encouraged to share their travel plans using social media in order for more travellers to sign on. The train will not leave if it has not reached a certain number of confirmed bookings. Four days before the train is scheduled to leave each person receives an email confirming whether or not the train will be travelling and the final departure time. Tickets on confirmed trains can be purchased up until the last day at very reasonable rates. A one way Paris-Marseille costs between 25 and 35 euros.


July Lavender Harvest

In July the lavender is harvested in Provence.  Before the lavender is picked, head up to the bright purple fields just north of Aix-en-Provence in Valensole. The name of the town and the plateau where the lavender grows comes from the Latin word vallis meaning valley and solis which means sun. The lavender in Valensole is usually harvested around July 14th depending on the year.

Other towns in Provence also celebrate the season with Lavender Festivals so if you are visiting the Luberon you can head to the town of Ferrassières where the festivities kick off on July 5th. Activities include guided walks through lavender fields and a visit to a distillery where the essential oil is extracted for the fragrance industry.


35th International Piano Festival

La Roque d’Anthéron will host the 35th International Piano Festival, a world reference in piano recitals,  from July 24 - August 21, 2015 at the Parc du Château de Florans. The park is home to over 350 plane trees and hundred year old sequois as well as an outdoor stage that provides remarkable accoustics. In 2014 over 77,000 people attended the festival.

A dozen other venues in Provence that provide exceptional settings will host concerts during the Festival as well.  These include the Silvicane Abbaye, the Church of St. Jean de Malte in Aix-en-Provence, the Temple in Lourmarin and the Quarry in Rognes.

Young talent as well as leading musicians will be performing classical, contemporary and jazz. So if it's Daniel Matsuev or Chich Corea that you want to see live, have a look at the programme details on



Hôtel de Caumont


The Hôtel de Caumont Art Center opened its doors in Aix-en-Provence in May 2015 after 2 years of extensive renovations. The 18th century mansion in the heart of the Mazarin district had previously been the Darius Milhaud Conservatory, honoring the Marseille born classical music composer. 


Culturespaces, the cultural art management group that also oversees the exquisite Musée Jacquemart- André in Paris, the breath-taking expositions at the Carrières des Lumières in Les Baux and the Roman Theatre in Orange, has 2 expositions planned for the Hôtel de Caumont each year


Don’t miss the Canaletto exhibition that runs until September 13, 2015. Tickets available online at


Follow up your visit with lunch at the Café Caumont either inside or in the sumptuous garden. The Café offers such an exceptional setting that private groups have been reserving the entire venue so do call or check online if there is a private function before making lunch plans.

Fête de la Gastronomie Launched

Fête de la Gastronomie Launched

Last week Tourism and Commerce Secretary Frederic Lefebvre announced the launch of the Fête de la Gastromonie on September 23, 2011. This new annual event is the food equivalent to the Fête de la Musique (Music Festival) which was launched by then Cultural Minister Jacques Lang in 1982.

Fête de la Gastronomie

Fête de la Gastronomie

Late in 2010 I wrote about how the United Nations had declared the French meal one of the world’s most cultural treasurers. The Gastronomic Meal of France has since been on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. On the UNESCO website it reads “The gastronomic meal of the French plays an active social role within its community and is transmitted from generation to generation as part of its identity.”

Fête de L'Oursin

Fête de L'Oursin

During the 1st three Sundays of February  the village of Carry-le-Rouet, just west of Marseilles on the Côte Bleue, will be celebrating l'oursin or sea urchin in English. These are nasty critters to step on when swimming but they are a Mediterranean delicacy served fresh from the sea.

Craterellus cornucopioides

Craterellus cornucopioides

Also called the Black Trumpet, these mushrooms are known in France as Trompette des Morts which literally means the Trumpet of the Dead.  It’s not a very appetizing name but it is the most delectable mushroom. This season the markets of Provence offer a wide selection of mushrooms. We have had regular rainfall this autumn which makes for a good mushroom harvest.

Coquilles St. Jacques

Coquilles St. Jacques

Les Coquilles St. Jacques or scallops are not harvested anywhere near Provence but they are on every menu come the end of the year holidays. These delicately flavored shellfish are fished along the coasts of the Atlantic and the English Channel from October through April.