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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In Pagnol's Footsteps

Marcel Pagnol, regarded as one of France’s greatest 20th century novelists and a pioneer in French cinema is being honoured in 2015 in and around Aubagne. His autobiographical works based on his childhood experiences are still featured on the mandatory reading lists of school children throughout France. French director Claude Berri’s 1986 adaptations of Jean de Florette and the sequel Manon des Sources, with exceptional performances by Yves Montand, Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil, received several BAFTA awards.

The breathtaking scenery of both those films are now part of a 3 separate walking tours organised by the Tourism Office of Aubagne. Walk in the footsteps of the young Marcel until September 15, 2015 by signing up at excursions-strolls


AixPression Microbrewery

A pression is a draft beer in French so you have probably guessed that Aix Pression is a beer made in Aix. Well close enough – it’s brewed in the town of Rognes, just north of Aix-en-Provence.

Steven Giroud was born into a family of winemakers and successfully convinced his parents that they could ferment beer just as well as wine. Beer being the beverage of choice for the younger generation his microbrewery launched 3 varieties in early 2015: the blonde, the white and the rosé. 

Available in most local wine shops in the Aix-en-Provence region and well worth a try. 

More on star chef Passédat

Obtaining a last minute reservation at Le Petit Nice may not be tat easy so why not plan a visit the MUCEM this summer? Gerald Passédat’s other restaurant La Table serves lunch (52 euros) or dinner (73 euros) al fresco with stunning views of the Marseille harbour until August 23rd. Dining moves back indoors after that date.

Passédat has a passion for the Mediterranean and the culinary treasures it has to offer. He even has his own fresh vegetable patch on the rooftop of the MUCUM overlooking Notre Dame de la Garde where legumes and herbs are harvested for the daily menu. 

If you want to learn more about his cuisine why not take part in one of his cooking classes. Small groups of no more than 10 people take part in either the 3 hour long gourmet class or the 1.5 hour market cuisine class. For those with a sweet tooth there is also a 2 hour pastry class. Have a look at http://www.passedat.cookingclass


La French - Connection

Gene Hackman’s performance in the 1971 Oscar winner film French Connection brought lots of attention to Marseille and shaped the city’s lingering unsavoury image – that is until you visit Marseille. 

A recent film starring another Oscar winner, La French, is based on real events as a local magistrate  played by Jean Dujardin, attempts to break up a heroin mob king in the 70’s.  Helen Van Kruyssen, wrote this review:



Marseille Olympic contender 2024

France lost the bid for the 2012 Summer Games in Paris to London and the 2018 Winter Games in Annecy to Pyeongchang South Korea.  But France is intent on hosting them – perhaps in 2024.

Some of the applicant cities still in the race include: Rome, Hamburg, Paris, Budapest, Boston and Doha. If France does win the bid plans for the nautical portion of the games are to be hosted in Marseille the city that had previously been a contender for America’s Cup in 2007 but lost the bid to Valencia Spain. 

The climatic conditions of Marseille are ideal for sailing with over 200 days of sunshine a year and guaranteed wind – sometimes too much of it when the Mistral blows. Each year the port city already hosts dozens of sailing races including the Juris Cup and the Massila Cup. It’s also on the route for the annual Tour de France Sailing race that started in 1978. Couldn’t be a more perfect venue. 


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.