What to see in Gordes

IMG_5095Next in my list of places to visit in Provence was Gordes, one of the best known hilltop villages in the region, and one of the most beautiful in France. It was a little harder to get to; I took one bus from Avignon to Maubec and then had a half-hour wait to transfer to a different line to get to Gordes. Maubec has some cute shops and a small restaurant right in front of the bus stop, so it wasn’t an unpleasant wait.

IMG_5098The site has been occupied since prehistoric times due to its great strategic importance as a gateway to the Calavon valley. It was a fortified city in the Roman period. An imposing château that dominates the village dates from the 10th century and was remodeled during the Renaissance. Many artists have lived in the village of Gordes, such as Marc Chagall and photographer Willy Ronis, and they contributed to its reputation for rugged beauty.

IMG_5104During the Second World War, the village of Gordes was an active resistance center against the German occupiers. It was bombed on August 22, 1944 and a dozen houses were dynamited in reprisal for the death of a German soldier, killed by resistance fighters.

img_5105.jpgToday, the town is also famous for its proximity to the Abbey of Sénanque. You may have seen pictures of the stone monastery surrounded by fields of lavender. The lavender season was already finished in the sizzling heat of early August, but a kind police officer pointed out that there were a few sprigs of lavender in front of the police station. I was surprised that they had hung on! I had originally planned to visit in June, before my summer job started, and then I would have seen those magnificent fields. Maybe another year.

Next up, what to see in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

IMG_5710Markets of Provence: Food, Antiques, Crafts, and More

 

 

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What to see in Saint-Rémy

IMG_4853.JPGI had heard a lot about market day in Saint-Rémy, so it was high on my list of places to visit while I was in Provence. I traveled there by bus from Avignon, which brought me right into the heart of the market. It was packed! It was overwhelming! There were so many vendors and so many shoppers that it was tough to move about. I did do a little shopping, especially for fragrant lavender,  before making my way out of the throngs and to the Tourism Office. There, the very helpful woman gave me some ideas of sights to see that would be less crowded.

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My first stop was les Antiques, the oldest Roman triumphal arch in France and a perfectly preserved mausoleum. They marked the entrance to Glanum, a fortified town on the Via Domitia, the Roman road that connected Gaul to Italy. I had hoped to also visit Glanum, but the heat was so intense at over 100 degrees Farenheit (or 40 degrees Celsius) that I just couldn’t face exploring stone ruins without a scrap of shade. So it was off to lunch.

IMG_5351.JPGOn my way to les Antiques, I had noticed Villa Glanum, an inn and restaurant. They had salads on the menu, and that was exactly what I was in the mood for. I opted for roasted beet and sweet potato, with a big wedge of feta, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. It was delicious and just what I needed to continue my explorations.

IMG_5707Basically opposite the inn was the entrance to Saint-Paul de Mausole, the asylum where Vincent van Gogh was treated for a year. The route from Saint-Rémy to the rest home is dotted with reproductions of van Gogh’s works in the places where he painted them. It was quite inspiring to look at gnarled old olive trees and wonder if they were exactly the same ones the artist had painted. Inside the rest home, I saw the cloister of the former monastery where van Gogh and other patients were free to wander as well as the artist’s tiny, cell-like room. I could see why he felt cured after a year of this peaceful, simple life and why he was able to paint some of his most famous works, including The Starry Night.

IMG_5708.JPGThe woman in the Tourism Office had suggested some particularly photogenic spots in town, and now that the market was wrapping up, I was able to actually see the ancient stone buildings. Saint-Rémy is the birthplace of Nostradamus, author of that book of mysterious predictions from the sixteenth century, and there is a fountain in his honor. After a pleasant wander through the little streets, I took the bus back to Avignon and my blessedly air conditioned hotel.

IMG_5710Markets of Provence: Foods, Antiques, Crafts, and More

 

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What to see in Avignon

IMG_5147In my prior post, I mentioned that I used Avignon as a base to visit other towns in the region, but I passed pleasant hours walking its medieval streets. Here are some of the places I think are worth a visit:

IMG_5181Palais des Papes – In the fourteenth century, the papacy was itinerant, moving from one papal holding to the next. When a French pope was elected, he decided to set up his residence in Avignon. Seven popes called this palace home, often expanding it to suit their needs. Some of the dimensions of the rooms were astounding – 150 feet long with no supporting beams. The Palais was decorated with frescoes painted by the Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti, many of which have been restored over the past 100 years, but there is still much to do. I bought a twin ticket that also allowed me to visit the famous bridge in town. I recommend the audio guide to get the most out of your visit.

IMG_5176Pont Saint-Bénézet – More familiarly known as le Pont d’Avignon, all that is left of the famous bridge are four arches of the original twenty-two. The bridge was built in the twelfth century, but it was already in ruins four hundred years ago. The Rhône river was prone to flooding, which changed the topography of the riverbed and weakened the footings. In addition, a mini ice-age in the late Middle Ages caused blocks of ice to form that battered the footings to dust. You can also visit the tiny chapel to Saint Nicolas that obstructs most of one end of the bridge. Here’s a much more complete account, recently published by a regular reader of my blog.

IMG_5663Rue des Teinturiers – Between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, this street was the hub for a vibrant textile industry. The power of the Sorgue river turned waterwheels that powered the mills. Today, four still remain of the original twenty-three. But you can also find the remains of an ancient church, the still active Grey Penitents’ Chapel, and a gothic house, complete with gargoyles and turrets. That’s a lot for one street!

IMG_5662Square Agricol Perdiguier – The prettiest little park in Avignon is located right next to the Tourism Office. Vestiges of a gothic cloister are highlighted by abundant flowers. Right across the road is the Brasserie du théâtre where I had my morning coffee and croissant most days. Looking at this beautiful garden was a good way to start the day or spend a few minutes on my way back to my hotel in the evening.

IMG_5710Markets of Provence: Food, Antiques, Crafts, and More

 

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Sur le pont d’Avignon

IMG_5016Sur le pont d’Avignon / On y danse, on y danse / Sur le pont d’Avignon / On y danse tous en rond. (Loosely translated as  “On the bridge of Avignon, we’re all dancing, we’re all dancing. On the brudge of Avignon, we’re all dancing round and round.”)

This is one of the first French songs I ever learned, maybe from school, maybe from television. And from it, I decided to visit this small, ancient city in Provence, to use it as a base to visit other towns in the region. In this post, I’ll give you some recommendations for Avignon, and then I’ll tell you about the other places I visited.

IMG_5342Hotel d’Europe 12 place Crillon – This is probably the swankiest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. It is centrally located, just inside the city walls and near the major tourist attractions. My room was unusually large for a European hotel with an elegant, marble-clad bath.There were pretty antiques, a shady courtyard, and good service. Since it was HOT when I visited, I was glad of the air conditioning, but I also sppreciated other little luxuries, like high quality linens and Hermès toiletries.

IMG_5286La Cour d’honneur 58 rue Joseph Vernet – I tried a few different restaurants in town, but I came back to this one four times. They had a great prix fixe menu of appetizer or main course or main course and dessert for 26€. I liked each thing I ordered, but the shrimp and scallops were particularly good.

La Brasserie du théâtre 36 cours Jean Jaurès – Breakfast at my hotel was very expensive (22€ or US$26), so most days I got a light breakfast of coffee, croissant and juice at a pleasant restaurant near the train and bus stations for under 6€. There were plenty of options, and service was quick and cheerful.

PEM Avignon 5 avenue Monclar – The bus station, or gare routière, is right next to the train station, just outside the city walls. For most places I wanted to visit, the buses offered more frequent routes at tiny prices (2€ to 7€). The drivers even made suggestions about better ways to make connections or made sure that I got off at the right stop. It was also a much better way to see the endlessly changing scenery of Provence.

Next up, what to see in Avignon.

 

 

 

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Chefs d’œuvre du Bridgestone Museum of Art

IMG_5321Well, my time in Paris is drawing to a close. I managed to see almost all of the shows that I had wanted to check out this month. The last one on my list was Tokyo-Paris. Masterpieces from the Bridgestone Museum of Art, Ishibashi Foundation Collection. This exhibit with such a long name is in the little musée de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries garden, near the Louvre, until August 21, 2017.

img_5326.jpgI hadn’t realized that the founder of the Bridgestone tire company was a Japanese man, Shojiro Ishibashi, whose last name literally means “bridge” and “stone” when translated into English. He used his fortune to purchase art, eventually amassing a collection of 2,600 works.

img_5322.jpgAt first, he collected Japanese artists who painted in the Impressionist style, then French Impressionists, then other European contemporary artists. He built a museum in the heart of Tokyo in order to share his collection with others. While the museum in being renovated, part of the collection is bringing delight to visitors to the musée de l’Orangerie. I was particularly impressed by some lovely Caillebottes, Monets, and Renoirs that I had never seen before. It’s worth checking out if you will be in town.

 

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Sublime

IMG_5259.JPGToday I had the pleasure of seeing the sublime (soo-bleem)  Dior exhibit at the musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The retrospective marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of one of the most influential couture houses of the 20th century and it will continue until January 7, 2018. It opened on July 5 and two weeks later, the lines to get in are still crazy long. If you are going to check it out, it would be well worth your while to buy a billet coupe file on-line that allows you express access for the same fee as buying your ticket at the door. That probably saved me at least a one hour wait to get in. There were so many people inside that I wished that I had been able to come just as the exhibit opened to avoid some of the crush.

IMG_5255The exhibit spreads across both halves of the museum and it covers two floors, so once you do get in, you will have plenty to enjoy. It starts with photos and documents chronicling the couturier’s childhood, then moves to the avant-garde art gallery that he ran with a partner that did not achieve lasting commercial success, before moving to his explosion into the world of couture.

img_5265.jpgThe “chromatic” rooms displayed dresses, hats, purses and other accessories in a wave of color, starting with white and then moving through all of the colors of the Dior rainbow before terminating with the color that he felt was the most elegant of all – black. I was most fascinated with the miniature dresses made by the Dior seamstresses from the original designs.

IMG_5253Another room featured Versailles inspired dresses, designed by John Galliano, one of the successors of Christian Dior, who died after only ten years at the helm of his couture house.

IMG_5266Then there was a room whose ceiling was entirely covered with paper leaves and flowers that cascaded all around flower-inspired dresses, celebrating Dior’s great affinity for flowers.

IMG_5263In the second half of the exhibit, there were soaring displays of gowns stacked ever higher all the way to the vaulted ceiling. This was the best fashion exhibit I have seen since the 2010 Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Petit Palais. I do hope you’ll be able to visit it for yourself.

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Hors du commun

IMG_4898Have you ever heard of Dalida? She was a larger-than-life beauty queen, turned singer, originally from Egypt. I use “Laissez-moi danser” and “Je suis malade” in class and my students are usually rather overwhelmed by all that she was.  Recently, her brother donated many of her old stage costumes to the Palais Galliera and the exhibit is on now through August 13, 2017. Whether in ready-to-wear or haute couture, Dalida dazzled her way through the New Look in the 50s to disco in the 80s. In addition to the extravagant gowns she wore to perform, you can also see her glamorous day wear. The French equivalent of “larger-than-life” is hors du commun, (or due com-mun), and that phrase fits Dalida as perfectly as one of her slinky dresses.
IMG_4899Very Best of Dalida

 

 

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