Archive for the ‘Patrimoine’ Category

The Death of Peter Mayle

What sad news to wake up to today. Peter Mayle, the author best known for writing ‘A Year in Provence’, has died in hospital near his home village of Vaugines.

In fact I had just posted this week about visiting his favourite restaurant in Marseille which had prompted me to pick up ‘A Year in Provence’ to reread a few chapters.

Peter Mayle in Lourmarin, Provence in 2006.
Peter Mayle in Lourmarin, Provence in 2006. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

This book inspired an entire genre of Provence-themed memoirs but he really was the godfather of them all.  His descriptions, so incisive and witty, were the product of his skill as an advertising man, added to a benign nature that saw the best in people and places.  His work is always optimistic and sunny, capturing the imagination of the millions who bought his books.

In true advertising tradition, he crafted his product, Provence, giving it an image and personality that so appealed to holiday-makers and people looking for a new life. No wonder the French made him Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur in 2002.

He was 78.  A sad loss.




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Peter Mayle once wrote that Chez Etienne was his favourite Marseille restaurant for lunch and it seems he is not alone.

As the locals say, ‘Il faut absolument passer, un fois, dans sa vie, chez Etienne’.

Even Gault & Millau call it a ‘veritable institution’.

Mayle was charmed by the old owner’s stance: no telephone, no menu, no reservations and no credit cards.  I couldn’t wait to visit!

It’s a tiny restaurant tucked away in the Panier, really busy when we managed to find it yesterday, but we did squeeze into a table. ‘Calamares or pizza?’ asked the server.  Mayle really wasn’t kidding about the lack of menus.

My companion enjoyed a plate of calamares, with the bowl of salad and bread that came to the table.  My pizza came some time after she had finished….but I was so busy looking around, I really didn’t mind. The walls are covered with memorabilia of the Cassaro family who arrived from Sicily in 1943.  They opened up their restaurant to provide good Italian cooking for the local labourers who probably didn’t care about choice.  Yesterday, dessert was tarte feuilletées aux pommes or…tarte feuilletées aux pommes, no coffee available with milk.

We loved it – the food was excellent and inexpensive.  Great ambiance and friendly service too. Sadly Etienne died in August. He sounds like he was such a character and I’m sorry not to have got there sooner.  But he has a son and it looks as though the family are carrying on with their gastronomic tradition.

Chez Etienne is at 43 rue Lorette and I do have a telephone no: 04 91 54 76 33 – and you didn’t really expect a website!  Cash only. Closed Sundays.

Thanks to Karen for introducing me to this ‘veritable institution’.




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Martigues as captured by Antoine  Ponchin, to be seen in the ‘Escales Mediterranees’ show

‘Escales Mediterrannées’ at the Musée Regards de Provence has been extended until 28th January – it really is a pleasure to step inside out of the wind and see a feast of sunny views of Venice, Naples, Alger, Dubrovnik, and closer to home, Cassis, Agay, Martigues, Saint-Tropez and Marseille itself.  Blue sea, palm trees, boats, fruit-sellers, mosques and souks animate these beautiful paintings.


The upstairs gallery is dedicated to the work of André Maire, a committed traveller from Marseille.  He produced sepia sketches from countries such as India, Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as much larger and more colourful works which combine elements of each country into a composition.  So you get not so much a view of Cambodia, as a composite of Asian vegetation, an elephant, a Buddha, perhaps a local girl.  Til 27th May. More here: http://www.museeregardsdeprovence.com/exposition/voyages-dandre-maire

This upstairs gallery is a lovely sunny space and it is always a pleasure to watch the boats across the road – yesterday two were setting off to Corsica and Algeria. Of course there is a roof-top restaurant and terrace café with similar views – and there’s a good shop downstairs with all manner of temptation.

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I wouldn’t normally post something so far ahead but in this case, quick bookings seem sensible.

The tourist office at Gardanne has organised a programme of visits, Indus3Days, running from 17th-25th February.

It is really wide ranging.  There are opportunities to go behind the scenes at the new Arena, the Grand Théatre de Provence and France Bleu Provence. (more…)

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…except in Paris there isn’t a handy quarry so they have adapted a nineteenth-century iron foundry to convert into a massive space for projecting moving images along with themed music.

It is being morphed from this:


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As most of you living in and around Aix will know, the region has long been associated with Mary Magdalene the companion of Jesus who, according to legend, was driven out of Palestine during early Christian persecutions.  She was expelled together with other saints in a boat without sails which pitched up at Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue.  After preaching around Marseille, she came to the Sainte-Baume mountain where she lived and worshipped in a cave.

Remains believed to be those of Mary Magdalene rest in the crypt  of the basilica at Saint-Maximin.  They intrigue all who visit them, and now two French scientists have used computer modelling of the skull and facial recognition technology to create a picture of the person. (more…)

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The former convent and college des Precheurs in Aix centre ville has been sold for 11.5 million euros to house an extensive collection of Picasso’s works – paintings, ceramics, sculptures – 2,000 in all.


The Musée Jacqueline et Pablo Picasso will be the third museum in France to be dedicated to the artist, after Paris and

           Jacqueline and Pablo Picasso


At 4600m2, it will be three-storeys high and, as well as the collection, will include:

  • space for temporary exhibitions
  • a 200-seat auditorium
  • a documentation centre dedicated to the artist
  • a pottery workshop for the public.

The objective is to attract 500,000 visitors a year, that’s 1,500 a day ….and that’s where opponents of the scheme are raising objections. The ‘Democratie pour Aix’ group have pointed out that vehicular access will be difficult in this newly-pedestrianised site, with little parking available nearby; that the large market which runs outside three times a week must be considered; and that an underground auditorium could have a destablising effect on neighbouring buildings especially given that they are built on clay.

I hope they can make it work as this historical building is lovely and the collection would be an internationally-significant attraction for the town. It is currently being used as an info-point for the archaeological dig going on outside, so why not take the opportunity to go in for a look around before the transformation begins? It’s supposed to be open Mondays 9-12, Wednesdays and Fridays 14-17hrs.

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