By PAT HARTMAN
Is there a place-name that conjures up more pleasant visions of contentment than the name of Provence? Seth Sherwood in The New York Times offers a nice glimpse of the attractions to be found in the city of Aix-en-Provence, including the weekend hot spots. (The bi-continental author is based in both New York and Paris, the better to fulfil his travel-writer imperatives.) But there are nightclubs all over the south of France. What sounds uniquely interesting here is an art museum, the Fondation Vasarely, of which Sherwood says:
Opened in the ’70s by Victor Vasarely, the Hungarian-born mastermind of the Op Art movement, this retro-futuristic museum is packed with soaring, kaleidoscopic and mind-bending geometric art that will blow out your retinas and sizzle your brain – think M. C. Escher abstractions on a cathedral scale.
There’s a lot of history in these parts, and the old city is proud of being the former home of world-class writer Emile Zola and genius painter Paul Cezanne. A famous café called Les Deux Garcons is the spot where such luminaries as Sartre, Cocteau and Picasso engaged in the ancient tradition of people-watching. Songstress Edith Piaf used to hang out there too. And while we’re tuned in on the art wavelength, there’s a place called Musee Granet where an enormous exhibit featuring many works by both Cezanne and Picasso will be shown through September 27.
Way back in Biblical times, the Romans came to town and started the gentrification process, exploiting the thermal springs for their bathing pleasure. There’s a big modern spa that encompasses part of the archaic bath-house, which is on view as kind of an archaeological exhibit.
Sherwood gives hotel advice, and an overview of the shopping opportunities: furniture, beauty products, kitchen implements. Then he moves on to the gastronomical wonders. We are, of course, in gourmet olive oil territory, as explored by Agnès Lascève. Provence may be the herb-growing capital of the world, global headquarters for herbs of both the cooking and potpourri varieties. You can book a special package tour that includes luxury hotel accommodations and cooking lessons from a master chef. Eclectic sausages are a local specialty, I mean made out of things you never heard of going into sausages before. There’s a great farmers’ market, and a weird yet Michelin-approved restaurant where food is manipulated to look like other kinds of food.
And there is of course the wine. Don’t forget the wine, as if anyone could. Examiner expert Taylor Olson gives us the lowdown on which wine-producing regions of France are best at doing what, and reminds us that Provence is no longer just about table wine and rose’. In France Today, Frank Prial really goes into the subject with a scholar’s ardor. He recaps the sometimes disreputable history of the house wine of Provence, and assures us that, “Slowly, these well-made Provence rosés are rising above the tawdry reputation of the cheap, high-alcohol blends of yore.”
It will surprise no one to learn that Kevin has written about this region in a delightful essay titled “Of Romans and Pussycats: Provence, France” which is of course found in his book.
The cities are wonderful, the villages are wonderful… The edge of Provence is the shore, which English-speakers call the French Riviera and the French call the Côte d’Azur, or “Azure Coast,” because the water is blue. Really blue.
So, there you have it. How does a trip to the south of France sound right about now?