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When I saw this header in today’s Times, I thought, ‘I bet they are going to recommend Porquerolles’.  The largest of the little cluster of islands off the coast near Hyeres usually makes these annual listings, and sure enough,  it did today too.

‘The Cote d’Azur without the gloss, Porquerolles is a traffic-free Provencal time warp…part of a protected land and marine park’, says the Times.  Strangely they don’t mention the new and totally unforgettable Fondation Carmignac which hosts dazzling modern art in an equally dazzling gallery and gardens. Here’s a link to details: https://aixcentric.com/2018/09/20/fondation-carmignac-at-porquerolles-not-to-be-missed/

It re-opens on July 4th this year – reservations must be made as they only allow 50 in at a time; and this year, unusually, visitors must keep their shoes on.  No more bare-foot visits, and masks must be worn. (Tuesday-Sunday, 10-18, last admission 16.30, until November 1st)

So perhaps it’s a good time to make the trip before the tourist industry gets going again.  Already, boat services have been increased in frequency: https://www.hyeres-tourisme.com/les-iles-dor/porquerolles/traversees-maritimes-bateau/

And here is a post with some practical information on visiting the island. https://aixcentric.com/2018/09/20/visiting-porquerolles/

Below our photo of Notre Dame beach, ‘un petit coin de paradis’, just a short bike ride through pine woods from the port.

Plage Notre-Dame, one of Europe’s top beaches…at Porquerolles

 

 

Boats at Port de Cassis

Mid-June is when I usually urge Aixcentric followers to hurry to the vaulted gallery tucked behind Aix’s ancient cathedral to enjoy a garden with dark green ivy and little white flowers glowing in the candle-light, leading indoors to the annual exhibition of paintings by Jill Steenhuis.

But of course not this year.

And this is a shame as it would have marked her 40-year anniversary as an artist living and working in Provence.  Influenced by the Cézanne landscape, Jill who was born in Atlanta, Georgia, continues to paint daily, either “en plein air” or in the light-filled studio of her country home, capturing the essence of Provence with landscapes, still-lifes and scenes from the coast or the streets and markets of Aix.

Instead, like many artists right now, she is using technology to show her work and is offering a gallery of 40 paintings at half-price.  Launched today, some are already sold so time is clearly of the essence: https://www.artinprovence.com/40-years-in-france-legacy-gallery/

This website also has Jill’s blog which has interesting reminiscences of her 40 years in Provence, including meeting her husband-to-be

Almond Branches in Glass Vase by Jill Steenhuis

on Day 2!

Good decision, the couple have raised an artistic family – and son James, a film-maker, has produced a documentary about Jill and her work which can be purchased through the website.  Trailer here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/paintingtheinvisible

Jill looking out at medieval cloister

 

 

 

 

Best wishes to Jill on her anniversary.  This is the photo I took at the gallery and expo last year. Let’s hope 2021 sees us all safely back there to enjoy her paintings in person once more.

This week, Susan Gish visited the historic village of Cucuron in the Luberon and had her first restaurant meal in three months.  She writes:
Finally the start of “A Good Year” with A Good Meal at MatCha in Cucuron!
We’re having a genuine spring! The mornings are cool and the afternoons warm but not too hot. Now there are less airplanes and road traffic and you can actually smell springtime: lavender, broom/gorse/genisteae, magnolia, honeysuckle, rosemary, thyme, and pine. The perfume of the flowers, the garrigue, are stronger than we’ve smelled in years. The poppies are still here and the lavender fields are just about in their prime. Gorgeous splashes of colour in the countryside. The grapevines are in full leaf, while olive and almond trees are showing the beginnings of fruit. Mirabelles! Cerises! Driving around we’re always reminded of how France still has deep agricultural roots. We visited a friend’s garden a week ago in Puy St. Reparade. There’s a gorgeous 300 year old mulberry tree that was planted when the silk merchant from Lyon built the house. Just amazing. 
So we took a lovely drive and ventured out for our first restaurant meal in 3 months in Cucuron.
Cucuron’s l’etang (or pond) is beautiful and has been featured in two movies: “A Good Year” and “The Horseman on the Roof”. The basin is surrounded by plane trees and its water was originally sourced from the Luberon massif, which helped to operate a flour mill. The present village dates from before the 11th century. The basin now is only ornamental.
The commune of Cucuron suffered a serious plague epidemic in 1720, exactly 300 years ago! 
We have dined at the restaurant MatCha quite a few times previously, and thought that a Monday lunch would be perfect as there wouldn’t be very many people wandering about. It was just what we needed as we missed dining out – to relax and have lunch for a few hours. We reserved to sit outside, not close to others. Everything was very, very clean, I felt totally comfortable. (Their toilet was really clean as well, which was a concern of mine). Matthieu, the pleasant front of the house owner and waiter, was wearing a mask. 
The little details and the creativity of the food at MatCha impress us every time. Owned by a young couple, Charlotte D’Angelis is the amazingly talented chef and Matthieu Charrier runs the front of the house. They use seasonal ingredients sourced locally. 
It’s probably the most creative and delicious restaurant we’ve been to in a few years in Provence. No kidding. Even better than a few 1stars we’ve eaten at. Beats anyplace in Aix. 
MatCha is listed in Michelin and Gaut Millau but the restaurant is not fussy at all. In fact it is very casual.
They have a 3 course weekday lunch menu for 22 euros which I had.
Sam ordered off the regular menu which was 39euros for 3 courses.
We had a delicious white Burgundy from Macon-Azé for 33 euros.
Sam started off with petit moules, fresh petit pois with a light curry bouillon poured over at service. It was served just lukewarm, perfect. I had rillettes of maquereux. Normally mackerel is too strong and greasy for me. This was melt in your mouth delicious. Crispy cucumber, radishes, spicy sprouts and scallion added to the party my mouth was having.
For our main courses, I had cabillaud with an aioli foam, accompanied by vegetable beignets, carrots, potatoes, beets, and grilled zucchini slices. Sam’s plat was loup with a lightly fried zucchini blossom, courgette mousse with pumpkin seeds and verveine oil.
Our desserts were a chocolate mixture of all sorts of textures and chocolate pieces with Sarrasin ice cream! Wow! Also a Praline Dacquoise with chocolate, citron and topped with tarragon. Very unique, and the flavors all worked together.
Funny that we both chose fish for our first meal out. They do have vegetarian options as well as meat on the menu.
Chef Sam and Susan
P.S. There’s even a gentle ‘house’ english setter dog named Litchee!
MatCha – the details
Montée du château vieux – Cucuron. It is located just off l’etang up a little street at the other end from the parking lot, but there is a little view of the plane trees if you sit outside.
Tel: 04 86 78 55 96;  you do need a reservation as they get booked up
@matcharestaurant – also on Facebook
Open Thursday thru Monday, lunch and dinner. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Visiting local vineyards for a walk, tasting and some art should provide a perfect outing for these days of social distancing. 

Here is a website which lists lots of vineyards across the Var: http://www.art-et-vin.net/expositions.php

See the work of Sophie Bourgon at the Domaine de Jas d’Esclans, La Motte

 

Good to see the museums re-opening, though do expect masks to be obligatory; social distancing is required too but most in Marseille are spacious and quiet enough for this to be do-able.  The three listed above – Vieille Charité, Musée d’Histoire and the Musée des Beaux Arts are all worth a visit.

MuCEM re-opens on 29th June (daily exc Tuesdays 10-20Hrs) and is free until 21st July.  New exhibition is ‘Vetements Modeles’, the story of 5 different types of clothing.

And if you want to visit Notre Dame de la Garde for one of the best views of the Med, the petit train is operating again. From what I saw on the TV news, the Vieux Port area looked very quiet and the petit train operator said they had very few customers for the moment.  A good time to take advantage of this as there are usually queues from passengers from the cruise ships.  They are operating trips around the ancient Panier district too.  Screens of plexiglass have been fitted behind each seat up to the ceiling for customer-protection. http://petit-train-marseille.com/fr/accueil/

Mask on….enjoy Marseille!

 

 

 

Admire ‘The village of Les Baux’ by Yves Brayer just where it was painted.  The little chapel you can see here was decorated by the artist too and can be visited….special.

If you are visiting Les-Baux-de-Provence now that the Carrieres de Lumieres has re-opened, here’s a must-see addition which involves a walk into the delightful village itself.

Long-time resident, the painter Yves Brayer, died 30 years ago and the musée Brayer are marking it by an exhibition dedicated to his wife Hermione who was his muse, model, assistant and constant support.  In addition there are landscapes from the couple’s travels around the Mediterranean as well as Provence and the Carmargue.

His paintings of Provence are not to be missed.

The exhibition is on til 31st Dec, closed Tuesdays.  Masks are to be worn and admissions limited to 20 people but it’s usually quiet ensuring quality time to admire the pictures.

https://www.yvesbrayer.com/en/musee-des-baux-de-provence/practical-information/

 

 

The Hotel Caumont Centre d’Art is re-opening its lovely café on 10th June and will be – finally- launching its exhibition of the colourful works of Spanish impressionist Joaquin Sorolla on 10th July.

The new regime is as follows:

  • internet bookings only
  • masks to be worn
  • temperature check on entry
  • one-metre social distancing
  • no groups
  • no audio guides or coat/luggage storage.

This exhibition promises to be magnifica!

 

See Granet’s lovely view of Montagne Sainte-Victoire again!

Aix life is slowly getting back to normal.  The Musee Granet has reopened its doors and it’s free entry until June 30th.

Open Tues-Sunday, 10-18hrs.

With 21 Marseille beaches now open, what’s happening to the navettes maritimes which transport people from the Vieux Port to Les Goudes, Pointe Rouge, L’Estaque and Frioul?

They haven’t been servicing the first three ports during the lockdown, but reduced services did run across to Frioul, being an island with a community reliant on the link.

Frioul services have now resumed but at half-capacity due to every other seat being blocked.  So they need more boats, which means fewer for the other ports.  News is that from mid-June there will be a morning and an evening trip to Pointe Rouge and l’Estaque, with no ongoing boats to Les Goudes.

Meanwhile the Metropole transport department is looking to up the number of buses running along the coast to the beaches.

Well we’ve tied with Bordeaux which normally pips us on these types of survey.  Both towns get 7% from a survey of 1000 people asked where they would like to live. 

Six per cent favoured Biarritz and Vannes, but the interesting thing to note are Paris, Lyon and Marseille down at 3%, indicating what we’ve been hearing about people’s wish to leave conglomerations. 

Details below.

Aix-en-Provence, ville préférée des Français pour s’installer