Category Archives: Provence

Fondation Maeght – Modern Art Museum

The South of France is a jewel box, and holds many treasures to explore and discover.  Fondation Maeght museum of modern art is a hidden gem…one of the many treasures in the south of France we’ll be exploring in the next few posts. Compressed Red woman

Set in the gorgeous wooded hills of the French Riviera, the museum lies 20 km west of Nice, and just 500 meters beyond the lovely village of St. Paul de Vence. 

The museum was founded in 1964 by Aime and Marguerite Maeght “to present to the public modern and contemporary art in all its forms” and includes over 500 paintings, sculptures and works by 20th century masters such as Chagall, Miro, Caulder, Leger, Giacometti, and many more. Compressed Fondation Maeght Modern Art Museum

I’ll admit, it’s taken me a while to come to appreciate modern art, as I’ve always been a fan of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.  But this museum changed me, and helped expand my tastes.  The vivid colors and thought-provoking works are beautiful…sometimes whimsical, sometimes desolate….even if I don’t always understand what the artist is trying to say to me.  Compressed Yellow Tree
Compressed Giacommeti Sculptures
Compressed Chagall
Compressed Museum Box
The building was designed by Catalan architect Luis Sert and incorporates important art works into the building and gardens….”the Giacometti courtyard, the Miró labyrinth filled with sculptures and ceramics, mural mosaics by Chagall and Tal-Coat, a pool and stained glass window by Braque, a Bury fountain.”  The sculpture gardens alone are worth the trip.
Compressed PitchforkCompressed Man sculpture
Compressed Water Sculpture

Getting there:
Check the museum’s website for arrivals by bus, car and train.  The museum is open every day July 1-Sept. 30 from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm, and October 1-June 30 from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. Admission is currently 11 Euros, and children under 10 are free.  Téléphone: +33 (0)4 93 32 81 63.  Opening hours and prices are current at time of posting, but are of course, subject to change.

From Fondation Maeght website

From Fondation Maeght website

Allow a minimum of 2 hours for your visit.  Combine your trip to Fondation Maeght with a tour of the charming perched village of St. Paul de Vence and you will have a wonderful day trip from Nice, Cannes or Antibes.

Carrieres de Lumieres & Les Baux de Provence

We’re leaving Roussillon, and traveling about an hour to the southwest, en route to Les Baux de Provence.  Les Baux is a medieval village situated on a rocky outcropping in the Alpilles mountains, and is most noted for the castle ruins.  Check out their site:

Les Baux Panorama

Centuries ago, it was the seat of a powerful feudal establishment that controlled 79 towns and villages in the vicinity.  Today, you can wander around and imagine what life was like, defending your castle from all those marauding invaders, who sought to plunder, pillage, and steal your land.

In peak season, Les Baux is a tourist mecca, with day-trippers coming to explore the ruins.  If you’re lucky, you may happen upon colorful medieval re-enactments complete with costumed knights jousting on horse back, and medieval maidens in colorful garb.

Be sure to check out the ancient catapults…..I like this better than smart bomb technology. Les Baux Catapult

Despite all the attractions of this medieval Disneyland, the reason I visit Les Baux (and the whole reason I’m writing this post) is to introduce to you the incredible “museum” down at the base of the village of Les Baux.

Carrieres de Lumieres is an absolute “must see” and worth a long detour. It is an unforgettable sensory experience, the likes of which you cannot imagine.

Leave it to the French to create a museum where the less imaginative of us would only see an abandoned limestone quarry.  The “museum” was an active quarry until the mid-1900s, as you can see the worker in this photo scoring the stone in preparation for harvest and removal.  les-baux-worker-limestone

Limestone is bright white, and because of the harvesting techniques used, the remaining flat walls of the quarry have become the perfect natural backdrop for the most unique artistic display I have ever seen.  You can see how high the walls are from this photo.


The empty cavern has been turned into a multi-media feast for the senses.  Using a series of 50 projectors, thousands of art images are projected on the 20 foot high walls, as well as the ceiling, and floors.  A soundtrack is written especially for the each exhibit, and the slide show is professionally synchronized and choreographed to the music.

If you visit in the summer, you leave the blazing sun and bright white light of the Provencal countryside, and enter into a dark, cool, cave.  You are enveloped by the darkness, and the cave’s sharp contrast to your senses can be unnerving at first, as your eyes try to adjust to the light.  You stumble around a bit, trying to get your bearings, hoping here is a handrail.  But then, you hear the strains of the beautiful music, and off in the distance, the huge, colorful images come into view. les-baux-still-life

As you are drawn down into the heart of the quarry, you start to feel as if you are becoming part of the paintings.


The works of a different artist are featured each year.  In 2008, the work of Van Gogh is on display (if you hurry, you can still see the Van Gogh exhibit until Jan. 4, 2009), and next year, Picasso will be the “artist in residence”, beginning March 1, 2009.

For me, it is an extraordinary, life-changing experience, as I look around at the moving, visual feast.   The image below is projected on a wall about 20 ft. high.  Look closely and you can see the score marks. les-baux-starry-night

Stunning….powerful….masterful….magnificent……and something you must see and experience for yourself.  I get goose-bumpy just thinking about it.

Words fail me as I try to describe the experience, so I will point you to an article Jean Wright has written for Beyond France website to describe the masterpiece that is Cathedral d’Images

This has to be in one of those “Hundred Places to See Before You Die” books.  If not, I’ll have to start my own list!  C’est magnifique.

Roussillon – the Artist’s Palette

Today we leave L’isle Sur la Sorgue and travel about 30 minutes east to the ochre cliffs of Roussillon (roo see yohn).  Designated as one of the most beautiful villages in France, Roussillon is a small, quiet village, famous for its beautiful ochre cliffs.  

Photo by Herve Vincent

 Surrounded by a beautiful pine forest, Roussillon was home to a thriving ochre industry that began in the late 18th century and flourished well into the 20th century.  The ochre was harvested and used to tint paints before artificial pigments were introduced. 

 As you look across the cliffs, you see the whole color palette that inspired Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir  and other great artists.  Every shade of burgundy, red, rust, crimson, rose, salmon, peach, gold, saffron…even green is evident in the cliffs on which the village is built. 

 The rich, varied hues are everywhere, in the facades of the buildings, the trompe l’oeil paintings, as well as the pottery and textiles.



 Active travelers will enjoy one of the two hiking paths that wind through the pine forest…there’s a 30 minute loop and a 1 hour loop.  Art enthusiasts may want to check out the Conservatory of Ochre and Applied Pigments, where you will learn the history of the pigment industry and can join in on artist workshops. 


But today, let’s just sit in an outdoor café and enjoy lunch overlooking the valley below, surrounded by the rich, vibrant hues.  You’ll feel like you are part of the painting itself.  Pick up some post cards, tableware or small pottery items to take the beautiful color palette home with you.

L’Isle sur la Sorgue – San Antonio River Walk in the Heart of Provence

Choosing your favorite village in Provence is a little like choosing your favorite child… impossible task!!  You love them all!  Though I try to be impartial, there are a few special villages that have captured my heart.  Come along with me over the next few weeks and I’ll take you to some of my favorites.

 Let’s start in L’Isle sur la Sorgue.   Phonetically, you would pronounce this something like …  Leel sur la sorg.   But roll that “r” in the back of your throat. 


L’Isle sur la Sorgue is known as the “Venice of Provence”, for the Sorgue River that splits just north of town, and winds it’s way through the village via a network of canals.  I’m not sure I’d call it the “Venice of Provence”, but I would definitely call it the “San Antonio Riverwalk of Provence”.  My daughter calls it “the easiest place to get lost in the world”, but that’s another story….(something about mom’s ability to get hopelessly lost even with the rental car’s GPS system, whose annoying female voice my son nicknamed “Giselle”……her British accent got on my nerves after a while). 


L’Isle Sur la Sorgue charms you with: 

  moss covered water wheels




 narrow cobbled streets,



and patisseries with fluffy, mile-high meringue clouds my friend Babs would die for.   


Sit outside in the evening and savor Provencal cuisine at one of the many outdoor cafes lining the crystal clear canals.  Feed Mother Duck and her babies scraps of baguette as you wait for your entrée.





Admire the beautiful views from every turn:



If you go in mid-summer (recommended), as you approach the village, you will be greeted on the outskirts by fields of brilliant sunflowers……which I probably never would have stumbled upon if I hadn’t gotten us hopelessly lost!  Good thing I didn’t listen to Giselle.



L’Isle Sur la Sorgue comes alive on Thursdays with a delightful Provencal market.  And on Sundays, the village hosts the largest antique flea market in France, outside of Paris.  Arrive very early if you have any hopes of finding a parking spot.  Or better yet, spend Saturday night in one of the local hotels or inns and you’ll be in the heart of the action come Sunday morning.