Monday, March 2, 2015

A Beginner's Guide to Brocantes in Provence

Above: Two popular ways to find brocantes and vide greniers are signs like this one...and the website
Grant Innes has filled his beautiful old farmhouse in Maussane with antiques and brocante items found locally.
"I have a fetish for silver cutlery," Grant says. "I can spend hours on the hottest summer day, searching hundreds of stands for a dusty, tarnished old set of flatware, the one that, with a bit of spit and polish, will look like a million bucks. You can find wonderful brands like Ercuis, Christofle and Ravinet D'Enfert. They make lovely gifts too." 
(Five photos) More of Grant's favorite finds. He paid 9€ each for his Napoleon and Josephine plates...and 50€ for the Champagne bucket. Lots of brocante loot is on display in his open living room, dining room and kitchen.
Blogger/brocante maven Corey Amaro found a "transition period" pair of armchairs in seafoam colored leather for 500€ at the brocante in Barjac, one of her favorites.
More of Corey's found treasures.
For her house in St. Remy, my friend Karen Pohlman is making a pillow from the old French postal sack she found at Emmaus. You can buy the pillow above here.

Antiquing is a both a national pastime and competitive sport in France...and Provence is known to have some of the finest antiquing in all the land. But it's also know to be expensive, unless you know where to go.

The great American tradition of the rummage sale, yard sale, garage sale or estate sale doesn't exist here. (Actually, when I wanted to have one in my driveway, I was told it's illegal. Yep, I did it anyway...and sold nothing. But I had fun giving things away to passers-by!)

What does exist here is a wide range of other ways to buy old things, from the very cheapest cr*p to the most-exquisite antiques. 

Locals who love antiquing tend to follow the circuit...meaning they know which village to go to when...and where they're most likely to find things they love at fair prices. But for tourists--and those of us who love brocante but don't follow the scene closely--the code can be a bit tough to crack. And that's where the terrific website comes in....and there's more info on that below. 

First, here's some general info and popular places to get you started.

The village of Isle sur la Sorgue is the epicenter...a major antiques center for all of Europe. In addition to the items sold at the huge weekly Sunday morning market, there are as many as 250 antique shops and malls (with multiple vendors) spread out around the village. Keep in mind that many shops and stalls/malls are open on weekends only; others are Thursday through Sunday.

Then, there are second-hand shops such as the Depot Vente in Eygalieres...and the European chain known as Troc. These shops tend to take old items on commission rather than buy them from owners outright. While the selection is generally of lesser quality than what you'll find in the shops of Isle sur la Sorgue, people have been known to happen on screaming good deals. These shops can quickly feed your addiction for second-hand treasures with a quick, cheap hit: dishes, small pieces of furniture (side tables, etc.), lamps, art, linens, jewelry, books, etc. You’ll also find huge pieces of wood furniture...not particularly beautiful but heavy, well made and inexpensive...and lots of not-so-pretty couches. Shops like these can be a good source for what’s known in the business as smalls; see what the New York Times says about smalls here

Around France, you'll also see shops with Troc in the name that aren't part of this national chain; some sell clothes only, others, a bit of everything. If you see "Troc" on the sign, it could be pop in. 

Then there are charity shops such as Emmaus near Arles (on the D570, also known as the Route Saintes Maries de la Mer, phone 04 90 49 79 76). Here people donate their old things and the proceeds benefit a specific community, charity or cause. The equivalent in the US would be Salvation Army or Goodwill. Again, you're not likely to find a precious treasure...but it’s been known to happen. On the first Saturday of every month at 9 am, this particular Emmaus (there are others around France) opens the “special room” where they gather the best stuff all month. My friend Karen Pohlman went a few weeks ago and found a 7€ vintage linen La Poste mail bag, from which she plans to make pillow for her St. Remy rental house. “It’s a pickers’ paradise,” she says, “but you really need to dig.” (To see Karen's house, click here.)

Some weekly village markets, such as the Sunday one in Isle sur la Sorgue, have old furniture, decorative items and addition to all the usual market items such as food, clothing, jewelry, linens and more. The Wednesday market in St. Remy, for example, almost always has a couple vendors selling small antique items such as tableware, artwork, pottery, decorative items and small pieces of furniture.

Moving on...most villages of any size have certain days of the year set aside for a community brocante or vide grenier. (At a brocante you’ll find more antiques and more dealers selling, whereas a vide grenier--literally, “empty attic”--is more of a rummage sale with more individuals selling.) They're announced via signs (pasted to trees and light poles, usually) and they happen in parks, parking lots and town squares. Blogger Corey Amaro, a passionate brocanter who features many of her finds in her online shop here, says one of her favorites is the one in Barjac, which happens twice a year: the week before Easter and again around the 15th of August. Corey used lots of her finds to decorate her own home in Provence, of course, but also her Paris rental apartment here

Corey says she tends to have good luck at the smaller brocantes organized by Jean-Marie Dropsy, who does at least one brocante a month, with nearly 200 dealers. "I find most of my smalls there,” she reports. "I know for example that when I see Mr. Dropsy's name on Brocabrac, the fair will be good...he has dealers that follow him yearly." You can also find his brocantes listed on his blog or on under the company name Utopies et Lumieres. Or, you an call email him (utopies-lumiè or call him: +33 (0)6 17 80 07 36.

Moving on...on certain days of the week, some villages have a weekly brocante, vide grenier or marché aux puces (flea market).  The vide grenier on Wednesday morning in Beaucaire comes to mind, held in a pretty, tree-shaded park by the Rhône River. Three other examples are all day Sunday in Carpentras; Saturday and Sunday mornings in Mornas (just off the A7 north of Orange) and every Sunday in Jonquieres (in the Vaucluse).

A very nice brocante (known for high quality and good prices) is every Saturday morning in Villeneuve lez Avignon, across the Rhône from Avignon.

Most markets and many brocantes and vide greniers finish up around 1 pm...but if sales are strong, the vendors stay on longer. Some go all day so make sure to check.

The city of Arles has an all-day (8 am to 6 pm) Foire à la Brocante the first Wednesday of every month.  My friend Jill Mitchell reports: “The weekly Arles brocante is friendly with lots of charm, a good selection and good prices." The brocante is on the Boulevard des Lices, the same grand street where the large Saturday morning market is held. The Arles Tourist Office tells me to expect roughly 50 exhibitors at this brocante year round, with as many as 60 in April and May.

Still another way to feed your antiquing fever is at one of the large antique fairs or foires. Two of the biggest ones in Europe are held each year in Isle sur la Sorgue: one over Easter weekend (April 2 to 6, 2015) and one the weekend of August 15. There you'll find hundreds of vendors selling all over town. You can try their website here but it’s a bit maddening as some of the info is two years old. The Isle sur la Sorgue Tourist Office website here should have complete info as the event draws closer.

Having never been to this particular Isle sur la Sorgue fair, I asked Jill Mitchell—who leads antiquing trips in Provence and sells French vintage goods on Etsy and Ebay--what she thinks of it. "It's very good," she reports, "offering an amped up version of the regular Sunday market, with vendors often coming from around Europe. My two cents though, is that on any Sunday of the year, Isle sur la Sorgue is already so abundant with fantastic items (nearly to the point of overwhelm) that it's a great destination either way. In general, however, prices in L'Isle are much higher than you'll find in other city and village markets in Provence. The rule is, using the price for an item bought in Marseille as a base, add 35% for the same item for the Isle sur la Sorgue price and add another 35% to that for the Paris price."

And yet another big foire (also known as a déballage, which means unpacking) happens in an Avignon expo park seven times a year--roughly every six weeks--but you need to have professional credentials to get in (the info is here). A friend who’s been reports: “It’s a wonderful collection of some very fine antiques. Mostly dealers buying for their shops. Good prices and some room for negotiation. Things sell very fast so you need to make quick decisions.  Mostly indoors in multiple buildings and some on lots outside.” Beziers and Montpellier have similar déballages.

Of course you’ll find examples of all the above all throughout France, not just here in the South. The annual Grande Braderie of Lille (in northern France), for example, is a mega-brocante, with a reported 200 km (125 miles) of stalls. I’m told it dates to the 12th century and attracts as many as 10,000 sellers. It takes place the first weekend in September. Let’s go! 

Ok so what about  I learned about it just last week at dinner at the vacation home of my friend Grant Innes. I was admiring all his wonderful antiques and objets...and he told me that most came from local antique shops, brocantes and vide greniers. Grant's been collecting for years and uses Brocabrac religiously to plan his forays. He says his favorite find ever was the pair of blue and white Delft-style plates pictured above--one with image of Napoléon, the other, Josephine--that now hang on the wall in his dining room. The plates were 9€ each, at a vide grenier in Carpentras. His more-recent purchases include the elegant seau à Champagne also pictured above, from a pop-up brocante in Sénas for 50€, and a set of nine Salvador Dali plates for 10€. 

Grant likes to plan ahead, checking the Brocobrac site the day before he heads out. “Then I get on the road early with my dog, Luca,” he reports, “and we make a day of it, visiting up to five or six different towns. It’s a lovely way to explore Provence.”

The Brocabrac site is only in French but it's easy to figure out. Just find your region on the map, click it...and wait for the list to appear on the right. What's great is the site shows you what's happening today, this week...and for quite a few weeks to come. 

For brocante beginners, Grant's best advice is: dress down, carry coins and small bills, try to haggle if that’s your thing, always start any inquiry with “bonjour Monsieur or Madame”...and above all, be polite and respectful. He also suggests you have a couple sturdy shopping bags in your trunk, plus newspaper and bubble wrap, “because you may find the perfect set of Baccarat wine goblets but not in the original packaging.” Bring water in summer, he adds, because brocantes and vide greniers are often held in open parking lots or sports fields, in direct sun.

So that's the general lay of the land. Obviously, you're not going to find the same things at a flea market in a dusty field as you will at a high-end antiques show...but both are fun and could be fruitful! So have at it...good luck...and let me know what you find! And if you have a favorite shop or regular brocante you care to share, please leave it as a comment below. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Guided Fishing and Foraging in Provence

Lisa and Johann Pepin, the folks behind the truffle and olive farm Les Pastras, are now offering fishing and mushroom-hunting adventures in the Provençal countryside.

The idea for the new program came from their long-time truffle-hunter Jean-Marc Hennequin; Lisa calls him "the ultimate outdoorsman." One day after a particularly successful hunt, Jean-Marc was telling the Pepins how happy he was to be earning extra money doing what he loves and, at the same time, sharing his passion with travelers from all over the world. "If only people would pay me to fish and mushroom hunt!," he said, half joking.

Knowing that finding a guide to do these things in Provence is virtually impossible--serious fishermen and mushroomers are hesitant to share their favorite sites and would certainly never invite tourists to tag along--Lisa and Johann immediately saw the possibilities. 

So the trio joined forces to create Provence Outdoors, offering daily excursions over the rivers and through the woods. They launched the company this month.  

From May 15 to November 30, Jean-Marc will take you to fish local lakes and rivers for pike, carp and perch. The tour includes an English speaking guide, one-day fishing license, all equipment and the quintessential outdoorsman's breakfast: pâté, sausage, baguette, olives and red wine. Fishing is in the early morning or late afternoon...and it's all catch and release. 

In fall (September 15 to November 15) you can tromp the unspoiled forests of the Luberon or the Alpes de Haute Provence, foraging for 10 varieties of mushrooms: cepes, chanterelle, golden chanterelle, hedgehog mushroom, blue stalk mushroom, Tricholoma myomyces, saffron milk cap, white saddle, elfin saddle and black trumpet. Knives and baskets will be provided, along with a tutorial on how to distinguish edible mushrooms from poisonous. You'll also be treated to an outdoorsman's picnic or aperitif, depending on the time of day. (Just an aside: Pharmacists in France are trained in mycology. So if you find delicious but suspicious looking specimens, just take them to any pharmacy to be sure. Isn't that great?)

Costs for excursions vary slightly depending on the day and time, but adult prices start at 50€ (mushroom hunting) and 60€ (fishing).  Kids are welcome on all tours and pay lower prices. For all the info, click here

And if it's a truffle hunt and tasting you're after, winter truffle season at Les Pastras runs November 15 to March 15...followed by summer truffle hunting from May 1 to September 30. For info on those programs, click here.

Photos: (1) Jean-Marc (left) with a friend...and carp. While some people call carp ''pigs with fins," they're prized by British and Russian anglers. A Frenchman holds the world carp-fishing record, having landed a 74-pounder. They're hard to catch, hard to clean...and the most widely eaten fish in the world. Jean-Marc releases everything he catches.  (2) Jean-Marc with pike. (3, 4) Two of Jean-Marc's favorite Provençal fishing holes. (5, 6) Chanterelles in the wild; white saddle mushrooms in the basket. (7) Man does not live by fish alone...he needs wine, olives, sausage, pâté and baguettes. So on morning fishing and mushroom excursions, your Provencal picnic is included. (8) Lisa and Johann Pepin are Jean-Marc's partners in the new venture.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cycling in the Shadow of Mont Ventoux

John Helmkampf and Gerry Patterson, co-owners of 44|5 Cycling Tours in Nîmes, have 25 years of experience biking southern France’s roads between them. John, an American, moved to Nîmes in the Languedoc in 2006; he and his wife, Marie-Laure, have 2 children. Gerry, born and raised in Canada, came in 2008; he and his wife Shoko also live in Nîmes. John and Gerry joined forces in 2010. Today they offer a variety of cycling experiences, from guided half-day to week-long tours throughout Provence and the Languedoc. They actively participate in regional races and are often called on to support clients from around the world who want to climb the famous 1,912 meter (6,273 ft) Mont Ventoux.  For those of you who love to bike on your own, I asked them to share one of their very-favorite rides...and they sent this 55 km (30 mile) loop that starts and finishes in Bédoin. Feel free to contact John and Gerry for more details on this ride or to receive a route map. And to find out why the company is called 44|5 Cycling Tours, click here!

We often start our rides with clients in Bédoin, a small town of about 3,000 people, as it’s here that so much Provence cycling history has been made. Bédoin sits at the foot of Mont Ventoux, the much-feared Tour de France climb, which literally starts in the center of town.  Also known as the Giant of Provence, Ventoux has played host to the Tour de France 15 times since 1951, when it was first included in the race. For cyclists of all types, it’s a mythical mountain whose captivating powers compel them to climb the summit road at least once in their lifetime.

We’re not here to climb Mont Ventoux (not today at least), but we'll have the tempting pleasure of viewing its impressive forested flanks and rocky summit throughout our ride.

If we’re lucky enough to be riding on Monday, we might first visit Bédoin’s vibrant Provençal market, one of the largest in the region, showcasing a broad array of artisanal products. Otherwise, we park our car in one of the designated lots and ride to the top of the main road, where a round-about indicates our first turn to the left towards Malaucène, in a northwesterly direction.

The next 13 km of road leading to Malaucène prove to be one of the smoothest, most scenic and exhilarating stretches in the area.  Our legs and bodies will warm slowly as we pedal the gentle slopes outside Bédoin, and continue upward through pine stands and “garrigues,” the mix of rocks, shrubs and small plants that's emblematic of Provençal landscapes.
A bit further on, we’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the expanding valley floor, and off in the distance the looming footprints of the Vaucluse, Luberon and Alpilles massifs.  The real fun begins when we see the sign for the “Col de la Madeleine,” not to be confused with its 1,993 meter namesake in the Alps. It’s here that we begin to sweep down for several kms, braking only to enjoy the cherry orchards and vineyards lining the road on our way into Malaucène.

If it’s Wednesday, then it’s market day in Malaucène.  We could buy a few snacks here if needed, but with a good rhythm underway, we’re likely just to continue toward our next destination, the village of Beaumes-de-Venise.  Following the main road out the north side of Malaucène (D938) we take a right at the round-about just in front of the gas station, and then an immediate left (D90) following the signs to Beaumes.

For the next 23 km or so, we'll experience some of the most varied and magnificent countryside in the south of France.  But you’ll have to work for it, because this is the most demanding section of the ride, with larger hills and steep sections followed by winding descents where braking is obligatory.  At the top of our first climb, we’re rewarded with a birds-eye view of the jagged limestone outcroppings known as the Dentelles de Montmirail, so close it feels like we can almost reach out and touch them.  It’s here, on the hillsides and in folds of the Dentelles, that a handful of confidential wineries produce some of the finest AOC Ventoux and AOC Beaumes-de-Venise wines.

Twisting down into a beautiful small gorge, and then heading slightly back up, we arrive at the hilltop village of Suzette, where you might return to enjoy a fantastic meal on the patio of Les Coquelicots, overlooking the vineyards.  At the village’s only intersection, we head left toward Le Barroux (sign-posted) and immediately plunge down a hidden valley road that will leave you breathless.  Just outside of Le Barroux, we’ll take a sharp right (D90a) toward La Roque-Alric.  This very “petit” village has no more than 100 inhabitants, but offers postcard-perfect we usually stop for some pictures and to admire its small church built into the side of the rock itself.

There’s only one road leaving La Roque-Alric, and it’s 7 km of pure cycling delight, almost all downhill to our next destination, Beaumes-de-Venise.  Arriving in Beaumes’ village center, you’ll feel like you just returned to civilization after having cycled through the Dentelles’ backcountry roads.  An espresso stop may be in order, knowing that the hardest part of our journey is over and that we’ve already ridden two-thirds of today’s route.

Looking back up at the homes perched on Beaume’s rocky hillside, it’s not surprising to learn that these same ridges and grottoes sheltered the local Gaul population (think France’s famous comic book character “Asterix”) for hundreds of years before the Romans conquered the region at the end of 2nd century BC.  In more modern times, Beaumes has made its vinous name as one of 16 Côtes-du-Rhônes “Cru” wines, and is perhaps best known as one of only two appellations in the Rhône valley allowed to produce “vin doux naturel” or sweet wine.  This, along with a handful of higher-end restaurants, provide ample reason to come back and experience Beaumes’ gustatory pleasures at a later time.

For the remaining portion of the ride back to Bédoin, we’ll be cycling on flat to gently rolling roads, allowing us to sit up a bit and take in some more spectacular scenery.  Departing Beaumes on the main road heading east (D21) we’re riding through the agricultural heartland of the area.  Vineyards, yes, and lots of them, but also groves of olive, fig, cherry, apricot and apple trees. It’s no wonder that the summer weekend markets that dot the area are chock full of succulent produce.

Rolling through Saint-Hippolyte and onward to the villages of Caromb and Saint-Pierre-de-Vassols, we’re constantly reminded of why cyclists around the world make the pilgrimage to this site: Mont Ventoux.  Its imposing shoulders stretch out for kilometres to either side, and if we didn’t know better, we might be fooled into thinking that its limestone scree summit was capped in snow.  So what is man’s fascination with climbing mountains, and in particular Ventoux?  To answer that age-old question, you’ll have to go all the way back to the Italian poet Petrarch, who is said to have been the first to climb Ventoux in 1336, and based a famous work on his experience.

Finally, back on the main road leading into Bédoin from the south, we catch a glimpse of the monument to all who have cycled up Ventoux in the past, and feel rather relieved that we've opted to take up that challenge another day! Pulling into the village center once again, we’re greeted by the noon-time animation of children heading home from school, artisans and shop-workers breaking for coffee, and tourists browsing up and down the main thoroughfare.  While our cycling adventure has ended for the day, we agree that a restorative lunch is in order, and head off to one of the many excellent restaurants Bédoin has to offer.

Photos: (1) A Private Peleton: Gerry and friends tackle the roads near Bédoin. (2) The main Bédoin round-about; photo by Véronique Panier.  (3) No Ventoux for us today, thank you...but we'll be back. (4, 5) Sausages and ceramics in the Bedoin market on Monday; Photos by Michael Green. (6) Smooth roads and garrigues.  (7) The pretty village of Caromb. (8) The Dentelles de Montmirail. (9) When you hit Beaumes-de-Venise, you'll have ridden two-thirds of the route. Espresso is in order!  (10) After the Etape du Tour in 2012: John's in the center, Gerry's on the right. The guys made it into the prestigious "Top 10% of Finishers" in this grueling "sportive" which allows amateurs to ride a full mountain stage of the Tour de France before the pros do it. Some 10,000 people ride the Etape du Tour annually.

Monday, February 9, 2015

New Show in Les Baux Opens March 6

The Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light) is a magical space in a vast cave-like quarry at the base of the village of Les Baux. There in the cool darkness, close to 100 video projectors generate the choreographed movement of 3,000 images over an area of more than 75,000 square feet, onto walls as high as 45 feet, onto the ceilings and even the floor. The sound-and-light show changes roughly once a year and has become one of the most popular sites in Provence.

The 2014 show, called Klimt and Vienna: A Century of Gold and Coloursled visitors on a journey through 100 years of Viennese painting, featuring Gustav Klimt, his contemporaries and the artists he inspired. It closed Sunday Jan 4th and attracted 480,000 visitors in 10 months. It was fantastic.

The new show, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael: Giants of the Renaissancewill be unveiled on March 6, 2015. You'll have until January 3rd, 2016 to see it.

It celebrates the greatest masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance made between the late-15th and early-16th centuries in Florence, Milan and Rome. It lasts 35 minutes on a continuous loop and includes 3000 images.

Accompanied by music, the show was produced by Culturespaces and directed by Gianfranco Iannuzzi, Renato Gatto and Massimiliano Siccardi.

Roaming freely around the quarry, you'll discover works such as The Annunciation, Virgin and Child with St. AnneMona Lisa and The Last Supper by da Vinci (1442-1519); The Young Woman with Unicorn, The School of Athens and the Triumph of Galatea by Raphael (1483-1520); and the ceiling vault of the Sistine Chapel and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo (1475-1564). 

Certain details of the frescoes that normally decorate the walls and vaults of churches, villas and Italian palaces are specially highlighted, offering the visitor a unique opportunity to see them as never before

A bit of backstory: The Cathedrale des Images closed in 2011 and re-opened as the Carrières de Lumières in early 2012, with 7000 square meters of exhibit space, new management (the folks at Culturespaces) and new state-of-the-art technology. More than €2 million was spent to refurbish the site. The first show after the re-opening (Gauguin, Van Gogh: Painters of Color) drew great reviews and 239,000 people. The 2013 show, Monet, Renoir...Chagall. was an even bigger smash, attracting 360,000 visitors. Since the opening of the Carrières de Lumières in 2012, more than 1 million people have visited. 

The Carrières de Lumières is located in the Val d’Enfer, a stone's throw from Les Baux. The quarries first produced white limestone, used in the construction of the village of Les Baux and its chateau. In 1821, the aluminum ore bauxite was discovered here by geologist Pierre Berthier, who named it after the village. In 1935, economic competition from modern materials led to the quarries' closure. Dramatic and otherworldly looking, the area has inspired artists of all sorts; the Val d'Enfer provided the setting for Dante’s Divine Comedy and Gounod created his opera Mireille here. Later, Cocteau came to film The Testament of Orpheus in these very quarries. The Carrières du Val d’Enfer has been awarded Natural Monument status in France. 

For opening hours, prices, directions and more, click here.

Route de Maillane  
13520 Les Baux de Provence 
Tel. : +33 4 90 54 47 37

Friday, January 30, 2015

New: Sweet Rooms for Rent in St. Remy

After leaving this old St. Remy Maison du Village sit empty and rubble-filled for many years, the owner finally agreed to sell: to next-door neighbor Mireille Mazel-Pera and her husband Jean-Pierre de Detugny, who run the Atelier Pera gallery downstairs. “I'm the artist," Mireille told me, "and Jean-Pierre’s the comedian." 

Originally from the Languedoc, the couple has been in St. Remy ten years...and they’d had their eye on the 17th/18th-century ruin almost since day one. With the ink barely dry on the compromis de vente they began a total renovation, and were just rounding the home stretch when I visited them earlier this month. 

This is a small but stylish house, filled with art, antiques, custom fixtures, lovely linens and lots of pretty decorative touches. Christened as Harmony Home, it’s brand new on the rental market for 2015. The old stone walls and graceful archways are still there but beyond that, Mireille explained, everything else is brand new, such as the large windows at the front and back that let in a surprising amount of light. 

Pass through the welcoming foyer and you’ll find three bedrooms on two floors, each with its own en suite bathroom and pretty amenities, plus a spa/exercise room (with a large Jacuzzi, Power Plate and stationary bike), a small but comfy kitchen (with a round dining table)...and a perfect little terrace overlooking St. Remy’s tuiles rooftops and 14th-century church spire. What’s really nice is that the bedrooms may be rented separately—in which case guests share the kitchen, terrace and spa--or the house can be rented as a whole. 

There's a TV in every guestroom, Wifi throughout, A/C upstairs and—wait for it!—an elevator. This a terrific option for anyone who wants a reasonably priced pied a terre in a historic setting, with all the modern comforts, in the heart of one of Provence’s most-popular villages. 

This is not a B&B with breakfast service--you’re on your own there--but tea and coffee are provided and the local boulangeries, cafes and a newsstand with international papers are just outside your door. For those who speak no French, Jean-Pierre will happily do the meet-and-greet in English...and since the couple lives and works right next door, there’s almost always someone around to help. 

The house is listed on the French site Le Bon Coin, on Airbnb here and on its own website here. Opening rates are 100€ per room per night (minimum stay four nights) and 500€ per room per week. If you're renting by the room, you'll share the kitchen, terrace and spa room with other guests. The whole house can be rented for 300€ per night or 1500€ per week...and monthly rates are negotiable.

Harmony Home, Impasse Jaume Comte, St. Remy de Provence, +33 (0)4 32 60 12 95, +33 (0)6 62 50 20 87,

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cool New Google Translate Update!

The good folks in Mountain View, California have just updated Google Translate, creating a fantastic tool for foreign travelers and anyone struggling to learn a new language. Basically you speak into the mic...and the app speaks back in the language of your choice. For those of us who learn better visually than aurally, the app lets you see the translated phrase as well as hear it. The new update is for both Android and iOS.

"When talking with someone in an unfamiliar language, conversations can... get... realllllllly... sloowwww," Google says. "While we’ve had real-time conversation mode on Android since 2013, our new update makes the conversation flow faster and more naturally." 

Once you've downloaded the update, go to Translate and tap the mic to start speaking in your selected language, then tap the mic again and the app will automatically recognize the language being spoken. For the rest of the conversation, you won’t need to tap the mic again—it'll be ready. Go for it! Now you can ask directions to the autoroute, tell the waiter that you're fromage intolerant and chat up anyone in French with relative ease....if you speak slowly and enunciate, of course.

The instant translation currently works for translation from English to and from German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. More languages are coming. Pretty soon you'll be able to communicate with just about anyone on earth...a fairly remarkable thought.

The Translate app has also been updated for written text. It already lets you use camera mode to snap a photo of text and get a translation for it in 36 a street sign, for instance, or a restaurant menu. But this new update lets you instantly translate text using your camera. While using the Translate app, just point your camera at a sign or text and you’ll see the translated text overlaid on your screen—even if you don't have an internet or data connection. You can also use your finger to highlight and then scan just the part of the text you want translated. I tried it and it works...but nowhere near as smoothly as the voice translator. The voice translator rocks!

Merci, Google! Now if only you could make an app to help me find my phone in the bottom of my handbag when I'm searching for a French phrase and need it right away...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Generator Hostel to Open in Paris Feb 1

Generator Hostels will open their first Paris hostel on Feb 1, bringing their worldwide total to nine.

With 950 beds in five room categories--including private rooms with private terraces--this is the largest Generator so far. Amenities include "bespoke" beds, en suite bathrooms, power showers, fast and free WiFi and interiors designed to evoke a boutique-hotel experience. Generator's slogan is ''affordable luxury."

Generator Paris sits in an old office building in the 10th arondissement, a 15-minute walk from the Gare du Nord (and the Eurostar). It's close to Buttes-Chaumont Park, art galleries, vintage shops and the cafes by the Canal St. Martin. 

They have a 24-hour bar/lounge with large screen TV, breakfast service from 7 am to 10 am, a cafe serving ''locally influenced" food from noon to 10 pm,  snack machines, a chill-out room, a 24-hour laundry room, 24-hour reception, luggage storage, a multi-lingual staff and a shop for buying tour tickets and such. There will also be occasional events such as live or DJ music, art collaborations and more. 

The London-based company, founded in 1995, already has "design-led" hostels up and running in Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, Hamburg, London and Venice. Properties in Rome and Amsterdam are coming soon. .

Rates begin at just 25€ per night. To see all room categories and prices for Paris, click hereThe full website is here

Photos: Paris photos haven't been shot yet but these four renderings should do in the meantime. The room photos are from the Generator Hostel in Barcelona: a private room, female shared room, premium room and private quad.

*Hostels not your thing? Then check out the new, moderately priced Paris hotel options here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Own a Piece of Monte-Carlo Hotel History

As part of a four-year, €250-million renovation at the five-star Hotel de Paris, its owner--Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer--will stage a major auction of the hotel's fixtures, furniture, linens, tableware and art from January 25 to 30. 

Artcurial, the prestigious French auction house, will do the honors; they handled recent auctions at the Hotel de Crillon and the Plaza Athénée in Paris. 

The auction takes place in the Hotel de Paris' Salle Empire and will be preceded by a four-day exhibition, January 21 to 24. The exhibit will trace the history of the decorative items and will be displayed in a trail around the hotel. 

All told, some 4000 lots containing 10,000 items will go under the hammer, including furniture from two restaurants, the lobby and the garden; furniture from 138 suites and rooms (including the 210-square-meter Winston Churchill Suite); 400 items of tableware; and monogrammed bath linens. Total value is estimated at €1 million.

The Hotel de Paris will remain open throughout the renovation, with a limited capacity of 53 rooms and suites. Its famous façade overlooking Casino Square will remain untouched, as will the historic spaces such as the lobby (with its equestrian statue of Louis XIV, said to bring luck to those who touch it),  the American Bar, the Empire Room and Alain Ducasse's Michelin three-star restaurant Le Louis XV. (Attention Foodies: Seventeen pieces from Le Louis XV will be on auction.)

"This exclusive sale heralds the first stage of our renovation, which is part of a major metamorphosis of Casino Square," explains hotel director Luca Allegri.  "The Société des Bains de Mer is also remodeling the Sporting d’Hiver, which will bring a new feel to the whole of Monte-Carlo and improve its offering of residences, shopping spaces, gardens and venues when fully completed in 2018."

(Allegri, for his part, says he hopes to purchase something from the Churchill Suite, the hotels' most-luxurious apartment. Located on the 8th floor, it offers private access, two bedrooms, two bathrooms...and splendid views of the harbor, the Rock and the sea. Sir Winston Churchill was a loyal Hotel de Paris guest starting in 1945 and stayed several times in this apartment. The penthouse replacing it will be considered the jewel of the newly done property).

Built in 1864, Hotel de Paris was inaugurated shortly after the magnificent Monte-Carlo Casino.  It was created by Francois Blanc, the founder of the Société des Bains de Mer, who had made his fortune at the Hamburg Casino. His goal? To give the arid Spélugues Plateau--at that time covered in olive, lemon and orange trees--a sumptuous setting for gambling and luxury which would draw "the international elite." To build it, Blanc brought together some of the most-talented designers from France and abroad; the Belle Époque architecture is the work of French architect Godinot de la Bretonnerie.

Eroll Flynn celebrated his wedding here; James Bond stayed here in GoldenEye (1995). Karl Lagerfeld, Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dali, the Prince of Wales, Alexandre Dumas, Baron Haussmann and Prince Napoleon have all been guests.

The redo will impact both public areas and guest rooms, with rooms being enlarged and the number of suites increased. A new garden courtyard will be created along with a new fitness, spa and pool area and a “rooftop villa” with private pool and garden. Architects Richard Martinet and Gabriel Viora have been entrusted to do the lavish update while maintaining the spirit and integrity of the original design. 

The Société des Bains de Mer now owns and operates four casinos, four hotels (Hôtel de Paris, Hôtel Hermitage, Monte-Carlo Beach, Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort) and 33 restaurants including the Le Louis XV, the flagship of Alain Ducasse's empire. (For my story about the restaurant's 25th Anniversary Party, click here.) 

A team of 20 Artcurial employees worked seven months preparing for this sale, with 40 days spent on inventory alone. Leading the sale will be auctioneer and managing partner Stéphane Aubert and co-president Francois Tajan.

Founded in 2002, Artcurial staged 123 sales within 20 specialty departments in 2013 alone, generating sales of €178.1 million. (One recently auctioned piece, La Rivière, a sculpture by Aristide Maillol, brought in €6.1 million and was the year's third most expensive auction item in France.)  Based in Paris, they have offices in Milan, Brussels, Vienna and China, and stage travelling exhibits in the US and Asia.

To see the full auction catalogue with lots of great historic photos, click here. For the auction details, see the Artcurial website here. Finally, for still more info and other art-world happenings (including the Feb 5 charity auction of Pope Benoit XVI's Harley-Davidson, at the Grand Palais in Paris), click here.

Photos: (1, 2) The hotel night and day. (3) This wool-and-silk lobby rug (made in 1962) measures 10.4 x 6.7 meters and is signed "Iran – Daroshtareh – Naïn." It's the most valuable item being auctioned and is expected to bring 10,000 to 20,000€.  (4) Chairs waiting for new homes. (5) Set of 12 “Constellation" plates from the restaurant Le Grill, in Pillivuyt porcelain, marked "Constellation - Le Grill - S.B.M. Monaco."  (6) Teak terrace furniture. (7) Winston Churchill stayed regularly at the Hotel de Paris, starting in 1945. He had his own 210-square-meter suite which he decorated to his own taste, first on the 4th floor and then on the 8th. Churchill often painted early in the morning on the balcony, dressed in his dressing gown. Furniture and objects from the suite to be auctioned include this model boat. (8) A pair of signed "Funny Valentine" chairs by Jean Charles de Castelbajac for Ligne Rosset. (9) You need this grained-leather mini bar, no? (10) This pair of 20th-century "Feuilles" (leaves) lamps in gilded, burnished metal are expected to bring €600 to €800. (11) A set of four lavishly adorned Louis XIV-style torchères, in carved and gilded wood, is estimated at €5,000 to €8,000. (12) More stuff!   (13) Salvador Dali in the hotel kitchen in 1949, photographed by Robert Oggero. (14) Charlie Chaplin lunching on the terrace, 1959. (15)  The hotel and Casino Square in 1910.


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