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Choice French Museums & Historic Sites

Cafe Caumont Aix en Provence

Café Caumont terrace dining

Seasoned travelers to France are well aware of cultural icons like the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay of Paris, but a new Aix-en-Provence museum brings to mind an entire family of museums and historic sites that should move to the top of your French ‘bucket list’. After hundreds of years and countless uses, the Hôtel de Caumont Arts Centre opened in Aix in May of this year under the abiding care of Culturespaces.

This highly-successful and valued organization lends a professional approach to the production and management of prestigious monuments, museums and historic sites. With the Aix museum, the celebrated list continues to provide exceptional venues devoted to the general public and with particular emphasis on youth. Entrusted to Culturespaces by public entities and local authorities, the organization now manages the following locations:

 

  • Paris – Jacquemart-André Museum (since 1996)
  • Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat – Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (since 1992)
  • Beaulieu sur Mer – Greek Villa Kérylos (since 2001)
  • Orange – Roman Theatre, Art and History Museum (since 2002)
  • Les Baux de Provence – Château des Baux de Provence, Carrières de Lumières (since 1993)
  • Nîmes – Arena, the Square House, the Magne Tower (since 2006)
  • Mulhouse – Cité de l’Automobile, (since 1999)
  • Mulhouse – Cité du Train (since 2005)

Honestly, this range of offerings should inspire an enterprising tour guide to take in the whole lot – from the colorful caves of Les Baux de Provence to the regal Rothschild estate overlooking the Mediterranean! Yes, the organization sets out with a site steeped in cultural and historic value; but they add so much value with exacting restoration, professional management, informational websites, on-site tea rooms and cafes and a wealth of programs intended to reach youth and underserved populations. One of my own favorite touches is the inclusion of what we would think of as a gift shop but understatedly named, The Book and Culture Shop.

New Art Center in Aix-en-Provence

The Book and Culture Shop

Originally the mansion of aristocratic families in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Hôtel de Caumont Arts Centre kicks off its’ reopening with a stunning exhibition of the work of Gionvanni Antonio Canal, one of the foremost painters of Venice. The venue offers an ideal fit, having been built during Canaletto’s time; and visitors can even enjoy a prolonged stay with dinner at the Lounge Caumont (open until 11 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, with no reservations taken). Imagine dining as an aristocrat in this magnificent setting!

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Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

Autographed copies with notecard gift
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Thomas Jefferson’s Love of France

The lively market in Aix-en-Provence

 

Though I will never reside in the White House, I do have something in common with the historic American President Thomas Jefferson – a deep appreciation for France.  When Jefferson was Minister to France, he left Paris for an extensive trip to the South.

Over three months in 1787, he travelled in his own horse-drawn carriage and carefully examined the Canal of Languedoc that stretches from Toulouse to Agde on the Mediterranean Sea.  He travelled 25 to 30 miles per day, either walking along the shaded banks or sitting in his carriage aboard the boat that was towed along the canal.

Canal du Languedoc

In Bordeaux, he compared wines and noted the planting and pruning of the vines.  Later, he commented on his own contributions to America,  mentioning the olive plants he had sent from Marseilles to South Carolina and Georgia.   An accomplished farmer, Jefferson felt “…the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture…”

He chose to model the Virginia state capitol after the Roman temple, Maison Carrée in Nîmes and visited the ancient Pont du Gard aqueduct that dates to 19 B.C.  For the whole Jefferson story, with pleasure we recommend Thomas Jefferson’s Journey to the South of France by Roy & Alma Moore.  An excellent profile of another dominant American with strong ties to France.

 

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

 

#3 Reason to Travel – History

Paris monuments France

Gold-domed Invalides, Paris

We can begin in Paris – bien sur – where ‘history’ speaks to us at every bend.  Plaques adorn so many otherwise unremarkable buildings, plaques that pay homage to those lost to war; plaques that regularly receive small bouquets from elders who remember.  Invalides holds the remains of Napoleon.  Roman baths and arenas mix with the grand Arch de Triomphe, and the homes of Balzac and Rodin are simply there. 

Over at the extraordinary Père Lachaise Cemetery, eternal residents range from Chopin to Jim Morrison, from Oscar Wilde to “Aux Morts de La Commune – 21-28 Mai 1871”.  We came upon this small triangular corner, where an infamous chapter of French history is remembered.  Working-class Parisians, who were not in accord with the French capitulation to Prussia in 1870, formed the revolutionary and socialist Paris Commune in opposition even to the French government.  They held out for two months and suffered their final defeat in an Alamo-like last stand on May 28 in a battle at Père Lachaise Cemetery. 

Paris France Paris Commune

Pere Lachaise monument

Well, that is just Paris – so easy to get carried away, when you are surrounded by history!  Travel anywhere in France, and you find yourself in disbelief that you are standing in the American Cemetery dedicated to all of those young soldiers who died in World War II or visiting the hallowed grounds of Chambord in the Loire Valley.  From the stock exchange in Lille to the Roman Arena in Nimes, from the Canal du Midi footpaths trod by Thomas Jefferson to the grand hotels of the Cote d’Azur.  From simple village squares with ancient fountains to Cezanne’s studio, the wonderful tapestries of history demonstrate what a small part of our life on earth is included in the Big Book of all time. 

And perhaps that’s the whole point behind this reason for travel – that history gives us a profound sense of perspective.

Nimes France

Roman Arena, Nimes

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swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

“The Triumph of Caesar” – Nîmes

 

Nimes France Gallo-Roman

The fabulous Nimes Arena

“The Triumph of Caesar” is the special theme of The Great Roman Games to be held in Nîmes on the 4th and 5th of May.  This will be the 4th edition of the games, when visitors from all over Europe will see the entire city transformed to its Roman origins.  And for those planning a May trip to France, presales of tickets on the Internet are now open, with a 20% discount until 15 April (contact Director of the Arena, Michael at couzigou@arenes-nimes.com).

The historic re-enactment devoted to the Triumph of Caesar will take place in the spectacular Nîmes arena, where the Battle of Alesia will focus on the decisive clash between Caesar’s Roman legions and the Gauls led by Vercingetorix.  Prior to watching Caesar’s victory, spectators will enjoy the Pompa de l’Empereur (pomp of the Emperor), an elaborate procession in which the troops greet their audience. All sorts of conflicts take place during the games, from man fighting against wild animals to gladiators fighting one another on horseback. 

Roman games of Nimes

Processions through the streets of Nimes

Naturally history buffs are drawn to Nîmes to explore the Arena, the Maison Carrée temple and Magne Tower; but we enjoyed wandering the streets to visit galleries, sidewalk cafes, the colorful carousel and gourmet shops – a very warm and hospitable city!

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

Parisian Style, Provençal Colors

Marie Pastorelli's workshop in Provence

Marie Pastorelli’s workshop in Provence

As an offshoot of sorts from France Daily Photo, we have opened “Le Grenier aux Jouets” on our sister site – LuxeEuro. One of the artists with whom we have become acquainted through the years is the delightful ceramiste, Marie Pastorelli.

Marie lives and works near Nimes, where she creates extraordinary ceramic jewelry that seems to mirror the vibrant colors and natural beauty of Provence. She once wrote that she grew up in the same area as the famous French novelist, playwright and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol. Perhaps there is something in the air that stimulates creativity in that area of the country!

Marie's 'collier' -  www.luxeeuro.com

Marie’s ‘collier’ – www.luxeeuro.com

An independent artisan, Marie began her career in 1992, after studying fine arts at the Art School of Digne les Bains. In each of her creations, she seems to sculpt unique shapes and fuse a variety of enamel colors. In addition to participating in international trade fairs, Marie offers her work through select retailers and at the Atelier d’Arts boutique in Paris.

And speaking of the Ateliers d’Art de France , we really enjoy going to their boutiques in Paris. They bring together astonishing talents and unique objects and refer to their organization as a center of contemporary creativity that offers selections from more than 150 artists. 

Much to our delight, they showcase those vibrant creations in their two boutiques – Talents Opéra in the 9th arrondissement and Talents Etoile on Avenue Niel in the 17th. They are ideal boutiques for finding those limited editions in jewelry, furnishings, tableware and decorative accessories.

Paris France arts

Atelier d’Arts Boutique, Paris

We’d love to hear from you!
swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Pleasure of Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct near Nimes

We love the juxtaposition of oddly paired things.  As we left Nimes and headed toward Pont du Gard – “you must see this bridge,” the hotelier told us – we had no concept of what lay ahead.

We live in Florida.  We have enjoyed visits to Saint Augustine – the oldest city in the United States, soon to celebrate its 450th birthday in 2015.  And now we are en route to the Roman aqueduct that spreads across the gorges of the Gardon River, the last Rhone tributary, before the mighty river flows to the Mediterranean.

Now a UNESCO-anointed World Heritage site, the Pont du Gard is part of a natural, diverse landscape – “sauvage” (wild), as the French would describe the area.  And the aqueduct was constructed by the Romans in the 1st century A.D.  That fact merely offers some perspective about our ‘oldest city’.

We pull into the parking lot, certainly not the first to visit this revered place on a warm day in July.  It is the time of migration from the cities of France to the countryside, and it also is the peak of worldwide visitors to one of the most beautiful countries on this planet.  While families queue up for snacks and drinks at the visitors’ center, we wander down the path to the grand bridge.

Enjoying old and new on a summer day

“Jump!”

And when we arrive to see this centuries-old edifice, it is the juxtaposition that strikes us.   In the foreground, the aqueduct rises over 160 feet – the world’s largest – with graceful arches poised above the river.  In the background, girls and boys jump from riverside ledges into the cool, inviting water; while kayakers and canoers paddle under the bridge.  What a delightful mix of heritage and history with joyful celebration of a warm summer day.

We “get” the fact that Pont du Gard is an architectural marvel, yet another sign of Roman excellence in design and construction.  Perhaps more important, we understand the distinct pleasure of standing in the remote countryside of southern France with a masterpiece before us and a swell of happy swimmers and boaters beneath the aqueduct.  While we dipped our toes into the river, we had one regret.  We should have worn our swimsuits and brought a towel.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.


Luxury Easter Chocolates
 

 

3 More Reasons to Visit Provence

 

Flower market, Aix-en-Provence

Give me time, and I can fill a book with reasons you should travel to this remarkable region!  First, let’s look to the towns and villages – Avignon, the Papal Palace and retreat on the Rhône.  Aix-en-Provence, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Gordes, Cassis overlooking the Mediterranean, and the sprawling natural landscape of the Camargue.  In Aix, we duck around a corner to find the perfect café in the sun for lunch.  The friendly owner recommends plats and a Côtes de Provence Rosé.  We dine in Greoux le Bain next to a friendly young couple from Sophia Antipolis.  They insist we join them for a typical digestif. Phew!  Marc de Provence, I believe she called the drink, and it was s-t-r-o-n-g!  Thus the engaging people join the enchanting towns as reasons for our love of Provence.

Extraordinary Roman ruins point the ways of old Roman roads and customs, of religious communities and trade routes.  The amphitheatre in Nîmes, the Pont du Gard aqueduct above the city and ancient fountains in tiny hilltop towns – each provides a fascinating view of the past.  The defensive walls around Aigues-Morte and the secluded Romanesque abbeys – serene retreats from a land once thought to be sauvage (wild), a land routinely ravaged by Mistral winds through the seasons.

Along the rocky seafront by Saint Clair

And the Mediterranean spreads like luminous turquoise peacock feathers along the coast.  We stop in Bandol for a lazy lunch under wisteria-draped balconies. The markets along the water lure us with handmade soaps, fabric-covered baskets, pestos and Italian knits. It is each and every one of these experiences that nurture our love of Provence.  We find a rocky seaside path near Saint Clair to take a solitary walk along the coast.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Why Visit Provence? Color!!!

The vivid colors of Roussillon

There have been far too many invasions of France with devastating effects, but Provence experienced a different sort of invasion.  When Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence was published in 1989, within a year the word had spread like wild fire; and within 20 years, the book had sold 6 million copies!  Those who had previously enjoyed their provincial country life and those who had called Provence their second quiet home found the flood of tourists and property seekers overwhelming.  Even the Mayles had busloads of tourists dropping by their home in Ménerbes!

But I’ve gotten a bit off topic, haven’t I?  After all, I’ve not tangled with a truffle smuggler nor redone a Provençal home at the whimsy of local contractor’s schedules.  What immediately comes to mind about Provence is one attribute with two parts – color.  The blue skies, mustard-colored fields, spectacular rows of lavender, ancient olive trees and the rich red and ochre layers of soil near Roussillon. The play of light over the rainbow of landscape colors defies description; it simply seeps into your spirit, never to leave again.

The second part of the color equation is in the products that reflect the land.  Cheerful provincial linens burst with orange, blue, red, green and yellow threads.  Glazed potteries do the same, utilizing all of the vivid pigments from the land.  Red-tiled roofs top pastel and earth-red homes, while traditional brightly-colored shutters shield from the southern sun.

Enchanting fields of lavender

Provence eludes capture; it is a wandering place, neither a department nor an administrative region, officially part of “Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur.”   Where does one begin and the other end?  Perhaps, it is more a state of mind and heart, a reflection of the artists who have tried to capture her beauty or the writers who have reached for words to describe her diversity.  Some things simply cannot be defined.

 

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

NÎMES – GALLO-ROMAN CENTER

Nimes’ beautifully preserved Roman temple

The extraordinarily graceful Square House of Nîmes ushered in the new regime of Augustus, who wanted new sites and special events to underscore his authority. Built around 19 B.C., The Square House bore a gilded inscription to the two young children adopted by Augustus.  (Odd, too, that it was called The Square House – it’s neither square nor a house!)  Officially known as the “Maison Carrée”, the beautifully proportioned building is the only completely preserved ancient temple.  Through the years, the building served as a temple, stables, apartments and a church.

Today, the Maison holds art exhibitions and offers a cutting-edge film that traces the dramatic history of NÎmes.  And through July and August, the square fills on Thursday evenings with craftsmen and antiquaires, painters and musicians – a lively scene to spend an entertaining evening in the shadow of the Maison Carré.

 

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

The Simpler Sights of NÎMES

 

Belle Epoque Gallery in Nimes

Though we enjoyed visiting the famous Roman arena and other historic sites in NÎMES, our greatest pleasure came from the simplest of things.  We wandered along tree-lined boulevards and lingered in a square at night to watch the colorful carousel.  We stopped for a pleasant visit in this gorgeous gallery with gilded molding and a stunning glass ceiling. 

During lunch at an outdoor café table, the owner’s little dog perched himself right next to Leo.  He gazed up with a beseeching look, as if to say, “I am the cobbler’s son, and I have no shoes.”  The owner shooed him away and explained, “He is always trying to beg for food.” 

One morning, we rose to a most unusual sight.  On a balcony across from our hotel, a cat looked calmly, but with longing, at a bird in a cage on the balcony next door.  Finally, she grew bored and looked the other way.  Simple pleasures, all tucked away for rainy day musing.

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Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

Ancient Roman Pont du Gard, Nimes

The ancient Roman Pont du Gard bridge

“You must see the Pont du Gard, as you leave Nîmes,” the friendly boutique owner told us; so off we went on a hot July day to find the ancient Roman aqueduct bridge.  After parking, we thread our way down natural pathways to the shore of the Gard River.  The magnificent bridge gracefully spans the river; while lively young folks jump to the water from a nearby cliff, and canoers maneuver their way among the swimmers.  Had we but known, we would have worn our swim suits!  Alas, we did not, so we find a cool, shady spot from which we can admire a bridge that has reigned for over 2000 years.

The Roman architects and engineers once again applied their brilliance in designing the bridge with three rows of arches that rise 165 feet (the highest of all aqueducts) over the water.  The 15 years of construction took place from about 45 to 60 A.D. under the Claude and Nero empires.  The aqueduct itself was designed to channel the spring waters of the Eure to the water tower of the thriving city of Nîmes. The  UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most visited in France and spreads across 400 acres of natural Mediterranean countryside. 

We traveled on from the Pont with two memorable impressions – the exceptional ability of the Romans and the very small point in time we are on this earth.

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

 

Nimes’ First Century Masterpiece

Lovely arched walkways of Nimes Amphitheater

While Americans celebrate over 200 years as a nation, things are a bit different in France.  On our visit to Nimes, the centerpiece attraction is the most well preserved Roman amphitheater in France, built under Emperor Augustus around 70 AD.  It is a magnificent and mysterious oval arena, bringing forth images of ancient games and toga-clad Romans.  Two levels of sixty arches each cast geometric shadows along the colonnades, and low-ceilinged passageways and steps hint of a people shorter in stature than today’s population.   The amphitheater today presents twice-yearly bullfights, concerts and other public events. 


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Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.