Monday, April 21, 2014

Eau La La!











Chloe + Isabel, the New York-based direct-selling jewelry brand, has released a new perfume designed to evoke Provence and its surroundings.  "Jardins du Midi was inspired by a midday, sunlit walk through the lush orchards of the South of France, drawing on founder/CEO Chantel Waterbury's French heritage and favorite aromas," the company says. "With notes of Lush Peach Nectar, Bergamot, Jasmine Sambac, White Violet, and Vanilla Absolute, the fragrance's name is also derived from the region, which is colloquially known as le Midi, which literally means midday."

Waterbury explains that Chloe + Isabel sees itself as a story teller, not just a jewelry company, and that the inspiration for her lifestyle brand was "Provence meets Paris." 

"Everyone has a personal sense of style, and the final touches to completing one's own style story include jewelry and perfume," she continues. "Launching a fragrance was a natural progression as it is a great way to embody our brand and communicate a mood in one product." The fragrance is available on the Chole + Isabel site in a 3.4 fl. oz. bottle for $58. To order, click here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Gordon Ramsay is Coming to France


The producers of Channel 4’s award-winning Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares are launching a new series to be set in France. And they're looking for British-owned restaurants, hotels and B&B’s throughout Europe who'd like some help from the multi Michelin-starred chef. The deadline for applications is May 3rd. 

Producer Nicola Lloyd says “This series will see Gordon travel to Europe’s holiday hotspots to help Brit-owned restaurants, hotels and B&Bs that are struggling to make ends meet.  We’d love to hear from any owners, managers or head chefs who feel they could benefit from Gordon’s help and advice.” While they're looking  for Brit-owned businesses all over Europe, the producers tell me they're particularly keen to hear from Brits in France. 

The series will be filmed during May and June and will be broadcast on Channel 4 later in the year. There's more info on the Channel 4 website hereIf you or someone you know qualifies, please email or call: restaurants@onepotatotwopotato.tv, +44(0)203 227 5867.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Another Fine French Book Giveaway


Fifty years ago, Karen Stoeckley found a dusty recipe-filled ledger in her grandparents' Pennysylvania attic and knew right then that it should become a book. A lifetime later she made it happen, telling the story of her immigrant grandfather's long culinary career through his notes, mementos, menus, photos and more. With recipes old and new, this is a loving tribute to a passionate, dedicated man...but also to French cuisine then and now. The book came out just a few weeks ago.

Those of you who love cookbooks will enjoy it for the usual reasons--mouthwatering recipes, gorgeous photos--but A Culinary Legacy has two added ingredients: the author's direct family connection to the historic recipes and the expertise to understand them in context and then bring them up to date. Plus, it has lots and lots of Provence!


Karen's publisher, Acclaim Press, is generously giving me three copies to give away. Read on...and then leave a comment to enter the contest. 


In 1897,  Karen's grandfather, Axel Blumensaadt, moved from his homeland of Odense, Denmark to Paris. He was 16 and he wanted to learn how to cook.  He carried all his belongings with him in a sea chest that he built himself. The trunk survived two trips across the Atlantic, went around France numerous times, made it to California and back. Today it sits at the foot of Karen's bed in Louisiana, Missouri. 

It's not clear to Karen whether Axel actually worked for the famous chef Auguste Escoffier (1846 - 1935) or not...but he definitely considered himself a disciple and protégé in many ways. At the time Axel arrived in Paris, Escoffier was at the summit of his reputation in London and was just about to leave the Savoy to open the Ritz in Paris with Cesar Ritz.  

Axel completed his culinary studies in Paris, then went down to Hyeres, France, west of St. Tropez, where he served his first internship at the Grand Hotel du Parc. (One of the terrific historic documents reproduced in the book is a letter of recommendation written for Axel by hotel director Felix Suzanne.) Axel's  career then took him back to Paris, to Monte Carlo and America, back to Denmark and finally to Oak Harbor, Ohio, where his wife Josephine's family had a large dry goods store. Finally Axel gave up professional kitchens, having been ''consumed into the family business of retail,'' but Karen learned that he dismissed the family cook at one point and took over that responsibility himself. 


Josephine and Axel had two sons, one of whom was Karen's father. 
And like her grandfather before her, Karen was always crazy about the kitchen, working as a cooking teacher (at Bloomingdales and Macy's, among others), a culinary consultant (to Le Creuset cookware) and elsewhere in the industry. For many years,  she has owned and operated the Eagle's Nest in Louisiana, Missouri,  which once comprised a bistro, a fine dining restaurant, a bakery, a winery and 11 B&B rooms in an historic building a block from the Mississippi River. Today the winery, B&B  and bakery are still in operation.

Finally after thinking about her grandfathers recipe book for all those years, Karen decided the time had come. And that the place to actually write the book was Provence. (She and her husband, artist John Stoeckley, have traveled to the South of France annually for many years and Karen has done brief stints in the kitchens of many Provencal chefs.) So, in 2012, off she went to Les Arcs sur Argens in the Var, where she rented an old stone house and got to work translating the recipes, testing the recipes and updating the dishes, writing the headnotes, adding other recipes and stitching it all together into this beautiful book. 

Her co-author is local chef Max Callegari, the second generation chef/owner of Le Logis du Guetteur"Without Max's assistance, the book would not have become a reality," she says. "His classic training allowed him to be able to read Axel's very old French writing and between the two of us our skills as chefs permitted the development of the recipes for today's cook." 

The book's forward was written by Michel A. Escoffier, who runs the Escoffier Foundation and Museum of Culinary Arts in Villeneuve-Loubet, where Auguste Escoffier was born, not far from Nice. Michel helped Karen with research and of course gave the book his blessing. 


The 168-page hardcover has 100 recipes and photos of food and Provence scenes.  If you'd like to go ahead and buy it, you can get it on Amazon here or direct from the publisher here. But if you'd like to enter to win a copy, just leave a comment by clicking "comments" at the end of this story. To enter, tell us about something you inherited from your own grandparents' and why it's so meaningful to you. Or simply tell us why you'd love to have this book in your library or give it as a gift. Please make sure to leave us your email so we can reach you if you win; signing in with your Google account isn't enough. Winners will be chosen in a few weeks. Bonne Chance!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ready, Set, Van Gogh!


Three years in the works, the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles will open to the public on Monday April 7th with an inaugural exhibit called Van Gogh Live! 

The Fondation will underscore and celebrate the inseparable link between the paintings of the Dutch artist and the city of Arles, by showing his work alongside the work of contemporary artists. The museum says its goal is to "showcase and promote van Gogh’s artistic heritage while also asking questions about the resonance of his oeuvre in art today." 

The museum is located at the Hôtel Léautaud de Donines,  a 15th-century building elegantly restored by Guilaume Avenard and Hervé Scheider of the architectural firm Fluor, who say that the light of Arles was their “guiding thread.” It's located in the heart of Arles' historic center, a setting classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Fondation comprises more than 1000 square meters of exhibit space spread over two floors.

For the city of Arles this is huge and everyone is all abuzz. It does seem like the perfect way to honor the beleaguered artist, who, it is said, never sold a painting in his lifetime and yet, "elevated this town and its surrounding countryside to icons." 

The first show, which runs until August 31st, juxtaposes two separate exhibits. Colours of the North, Colours of the South was curated by Sjraar van Heugten, former director of collections at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It retraces the evolution of Van Gogh's palette from darkness towards "southern brightness" and presents a dozen van Gogh pieces alongside those of his contemporaries who influenced him: Courbet, Pissarro, Monet, Monticelli and others. 

The second part of Van Gogh Live! is an exhibit of nine contemporary artists paying homage to Van Gogh. The artists and the works were selected  by the museum's artistic director Bice Curiger. 

Also to be unveiled on April 7th are permanent installations specially commissioned for the museum's entrance.

Friends who've already been in to see the museum report that it's fabulous...and that the views of Arles from the upper terrace are magnificent.

                                                           ***    
After living for two years in Paris, van Gogh arrived in Arles on February 20, 1888. During the 14-plus months he spent there, he created a multitude of paintings and drawings, many of which are now considered masterpieces of late 19th-century art.

Tired of the busy city life and the cold northern climate, Van Gogh had headed south in search of the warmth, bright light and colors of Provence. According to his brother Theo, he went "first to Arles to get his bearings and then probably on to Marseille." Van Gogh found in the beautiful countryside of Arles what he had been looking for and never moved on to Marseille.

Around Arles he found the light, color and harmony that he knew and loved from Japanese prints...and he started to paint Japanese-inspired blossoming trees and the Pont de Langlois. In summer he drew and painted harvest scenes.

Painting the human figure had always been one of Van Gogh’s most important artistic goals and he had a special love for peasant paintings. In Arles, he decided that he wanted to modernize this genre by choosing the subject of the sower. He painted portraits and still-lifes as well, confessing to Theo : "I am painting with the gusto of a Marseillais eating a bouillabaisse."

In May, Van Gogh rented the famous Yellow House (Maison Jaune), where he lived and worked.  He had hopes of establishing a collective studio in the South, were other painters would join him and in October, 1888, Paul Gauguin came to Arles. The two artists lived and painted together for two months. It was a time of great mutual inspiration but eventually their artistic temperaments clashed. On December 23, 1888, Van Gogh suffered a breakdown and cut off part of his left ear. (Actually a recent theory by two German art historians has it that it was actually Gauguin who cut off the famous ear.) Gauguin left and Van Gogh’s dream of a studio with other painters was shattered.  
He was hospitalized twice in Arles, in the 16th and 17th-century Hôtel-Dieu; he painted and drew its beautiful courtyard, which you can just wander easily into today.  (It's now called the Espace Van Gogh.) Finally he had himself voluntarily committed to the Clinique St. Paul in St. Rémy on May 8, 1889.

During his time in St. Remy, Van Gogh painted another roughly 150 canvasses.  But, writes Van Gogh expert Sjraar Van Heugten, "his style grew less contrasted. His oeuvre would never again reflect the bedazzlement he had experienced in Arles, faced with light and the colours of the South." 

In St. Remy, the Clinique St. Paul is a lovely and very-popular tourist site.  The sections where patients are treated remains closed to the public but you can visit Van Gogh's rooms, read his letters, buy art made by the current patients, enjoy the flowers in a beautiful cloister and see the van Gogh paintings reproduced on panels on the grounds, as part of a larger Van Gogh trail. 

In May 1890, Van Gogh left St. Remy to be closer to his physician Dr. Paul Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise and also closer to Theo. He died in July of that same year, 1890, at age 37. He is believed to have shot himself with a revolver although no gun was ever found.
  
Writing in his 1984 book Van Gogh in Arles,  Ronald Pickvance said: “Vincent Willem van Gogh...lived in Arles...almost 15 months, over 63 weeks, precisely 444 days. During his stay, he produced some 200 paintings, made over 100 drawings and watercolours, and wrote some 200 letters. The vast majority survive – a prodigal and quite astonishing outpouring, sustai­ning a pace that no other artist of the 19th century could match. This period in Arles is frequently called the zenith, the climax, the greatest flowering of Van Gogh’s decade of artistic activity.”

                                                          ***
The connection between the famous Dutch artist and contemporary art was inscribed in the principles of the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh right from its conception, when, in 1983, Yolande Clergue  (wife of photographer Lucien Clergue) , founded the "Association pour la Création de la Fondation Vincent Van Gogh en Arles" and set out to create a collection of contemporary art in Arles which would "pay homage to Van Gogh’s universality." 

In 1988, the collection was presented publicly for the first time, during celebrations for the centenary of the arrival of Van Gogh in Arles. Its development then intensified quickly, both in the quality of its exhibitions (Picasso, Bacon) and in its publications. Today the collection contains major pieces from the worlds of literature, poetry, music, photography, theatrical costuming (Christian Lacroix) and much more. 

In 2008,  the mayor of Arles offered to lodge the collection in a museum at the Hôtel Léautaud de Donines;  the organization finally received state approval in 2010. Work started in 2011 and Bice Curiger,  a world-renowned art critic and exhibition curator, was brought aboard as artistic director the following year. 

Finally, next week it's all opening, ''under the high patronage'' of President Francois Hollande. 

Highly instrumental in bringing the museum to life was board president Luc Hoffmann, the grandson of the founder of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche, who bought a large estate in the Camargue near Arles in 1947.  A world-renowned environmentalist and philanthropist,  Luc's lifetime's worth of achievements includes co-founding the World Wildlife Fund,  establishing the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue (which he ran for many years) and authoring some 60 books. 

Luc's daughter Maja Hoffmann--Fondation board member and president of the artistic committee-- grew up between Switzerland and the Camargue. She has devoted her life to continuing the family's philanthropic and environmental legacy but is known above all for her passion for contemporary art.  She's currently president of the International Council of the Tate (London)--and one of the Tate's trustees--and sits on the boards of scores of other top art museums worldwide. She's also a developer and co-owner of a number of popular Arles area hotels and restaurants. 
                                                        
The new museum is at #35, rue du Docteur Fanton in Arles. For all the info, click here or go to: fondation-vincentvangogh-arles.org. 

If you'd like to see the Fondation press kit in English, click here.

For info on the self-guided Van Gogh walking tour in Arles, click here.

If you'd like a guided walking tour in Arles, with or without a visit to the Fondation, contact me

For general Arles info, the Tourist Office site is here.

Finally, if you want to read a fascinating article, Van Gogh's Ear: The Christmas Eve That Changed Modern Art, by Adam Gopnik from the New Yorker, click here.

Photos: (1) This is an architect's rendering as the facade is still getting its finishing touches in advance of the opening this week. (2) Museum interiors. (3) The logo and other elements of the museum's visual identity (signage, website, etc.) were designed by Studio Marie Lusa in Zurich.  (4, 5) Van Gogh's Autoportrait avec Pipe et Chapeau de Paille, 1887 and Guillaume Bruere's Untitled are both in the opening exhibit. (6, 7) Van Gogh's La Maison Jaune ('La rue'), 1888, and his April, 1889 painting of the courtyard at the 17th century Hôtel-Dieu (Espace Van Gogh), where he was hospitalized twice. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

You're Invited: Châteauneuf Wine Festival


The Printemps de Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine festival, now in its fifth year, has become a festive rite of spring for wine lovers from all over Provence. This year's event, the fifth annual, will be Saturday and Sunday, April 5th and 6th, with a special day April 7th reserved for wine professionals. More than 80 wine producers will be on hand schmoozing, pouring and selling...this is a wonderful opportunity to meet local winemakers while tasting their latest releases and a few smashing older vintages. Also, an easy way to buy the wines you love, all in one place, some of them normally quite hard to get. This year, there will also be winemakers from the Northern Côtes du Rhône on hand. 

Three extra-charge tasting seminars ("ateliers degustations") are scheduled but as of today, two were already full; see info on the remaining one here. The topic is pairing Northern Rhône and Châteauneuf wines with cheese, the cost is 30€ and seminar co-organizer Kelly McAuliffe, an American sommelier and wine guide, will be on hand to translate for those who need it.


Les Printemps takes place at the Salle Dufays on the Place de la Renaissance in Châteauneuf, from 10 am to 7 pm both days. Your 7€ entry fee (no charge for seminar-goers) gets you in all weekend and includes a tasting glass. There will be free parking...indoor and outdoor play areas for the kids...and food available on site. For all the info, click here for the event website; you can also call the Tourist Office at 04 90 83 71 08.  For general info about the the wines of Châteauneuf, the village and the region, click here and here


Friday, March 14, 2014

Get a Job, Will Ya?

One of the many pleasures of blogging for me has been getting to know my readers, both virtually and in person.  And over the years I've gotten something of a sense of who you are. I've come to realize that, while many of you are retired and in the ''let's travel!'' chapter of your lives, just as many of you are still toiling away in the working world, be it in France, the US, the UK, Australia or another country. 

And many of you have told me that you'd like to live and work in France one day, whether that means getting a job or starting your own business or moving your business to France or whatever. I hear from people who want to come next month...and next year...and ''one day soon." 

So if that's you...or someone you know...check out this free English-language Paris Startup Job Fair on April 5th. (I meant to share the last one with you but didn't get to it in time.) I know it's short notice for those of you who aren't in France but then again what a great excuse to grab a cheap flight, eh? Startup in this case means young companies such as Bla Bla Car, Deezer, My Little Paris, AppGratis, tinyclues, Invoxia, Bunkr, KelDoc, WeekendDesk.frCarnet de Mode and Mailjet all of whom participated last year. Fifty companies and 750 job seekers were there.

"Rude Baguette is happy to host the second edition of our Paris Startup Job Fair, which saw 100-plus jobs filled in its first edition," says the company's co-founder and editor Liam Boogar. "With unemployment at its highest in France, there are great opportunities for talent to find work in France, where tomorrow's top startups are being born!"

Anyone interested in the ''Paris Tech Ecosystem'' is also welcome at another cool networking event that Rude Baguette is hosting. This one is April 8 and all the details are here. If you subscribe to the Rude Baguette email newsletter, which covers the tech, digital and start-up world in France and elsewhere, you'll get notified about all future industry events, in Paris and other cities.

And while we're at it, here's another European job fair that might interest you. This one is the same day--April 5th--but in Amsterdam. It's sponsored by Expatica.com...it's more international in scope...and all the info is here.

Photo: The last Paris Startup Job Fair, in September, brought together 50 companies and 750 job seekers. More than 100 jobs were filled.

Monday, March 10, 2014

American Club of the Riviera Invites You...


The American Club of the Riviera hosts luncheons and dinners throughout the year, featuring speakers on timely subjects. If you don't know the group you might think about attending one of their events or even joining up. The ACR welcomes anyone and I hear their events are terrific. The Club has roughly 100 members, about half of whom are American. The rest come from France, the U.K. Monaco, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Canada and more. 

The next event is March 22nd, starting at noon. This one will be at an elegant 19th-century manor in Mougins, a few hundred meters from Picasso's last house (which is currently for sale for 150€ million.*) Le Manoir de l'Etang is a hotel set on four hectares, overlooking a small lake. Guests will enjoy a three-course lunch with wine, bottled water and coffee. Afterward, a panel of experts will discuss "Africa Today" and the challenges and exploding potential of what many consider one of the most exciting emerging markets of our time. For more info on this event including profiles of the speakers, your menu choices and more, click here.

Pre-lunch drinks on the terrace are at noon and are included in the event price of 45€ members; 55€ guests. The suggested dress is smart-casual. 

The ACR was founded in 1962 as a successor to the US Propeller Club, an American association formed in 1927 in Washington to support and promote the American Merchant Marines. The club was first based in Marseille, before moving to the Martinez Hotel in Cannes and then to Nice, where it has its HQ today. One of the Club's most popular events is its traditional Thanksgiving luncheon at the Hotel de Paris in Monte-Carlo, which has been attended by H.S.H. Princess Grace of Monaco, H.S.H Prince Rainier and all their children. Several American ambassadors and high-ranking military officials have also attended Club events. Today the ACR is one of the most-active associations on the Cote d'Azur promoting the historic Franco-American friendship. The current President is Burton Gintell. The group's next event will be a guided visit at Villa Regina Margherita in Bordighera on April 12, with lunch to follow in a beach-side restaurant.

To RSVP to the Africa Today event on March 22, call Cy Todd at +33 (0)6 17 71 71 70 or click here and register with PayPal, wire transfer or check. 

For general info about the ACR, click here: americanclubriviera.com

Photos: Le Manoir de l'Etang in Mougins will host the ACR's March 22nd event. Chef Mathieu Soler runs the kitchen and his cuisine gets high marks.

*Have a look at the Picasso house, being sold by the Belgian art dealer who reportedly paid between 10€ and €16 million for it in 2007.   Formerly known as Mas de Notre-Dame du Vie, the 35-room villa was Picasso's home from 1961 until his death in 1973. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Contest: Selfies in Provence!


Have you been poking around Provence, cavorting on the Côte d'Azur, luxuriating in the Languedoc? Then send us your very best selfie* and you could win a great prize. We want to see glorious scenery in the background...a gorgeous beach or medieval village...a vast vineyard, bustling bistro, crowded market, remote mountaintop....you get the idea. Be creative and have fun...climb a tree, leap from a plane, fight a bull, go where no man has gone before. Just be sure that the photographer--and something recognizably South of France--is visible in the frame. This contest will go on for a while to allow for your upcoming travels...or you can send a selfie from a previous trip. I'll publish my favorites, readers will vote and the winner will receive two nights at Le Mas de Lilou, a beautiful new B&B in Provence. So give it your best shot and send high-quality images (jpg, png or gif only) to me at: provenceblog@aol.com. Please put Provence Selfie in the subject line, tell me who's in the photo and tell me where it was taken. Can't wait to see you! 

*Note: A few months ago, the Oxford Dictionary was celebrating the selfie as the International Word of the Year for 2013. More recently, selfies were blamed for an uptick (sorry!) in the spread of head lice among teenagers. And this just in: scientists have been investigating the selfie phenomenon using "theoretic, artistic and quantitative" methods. They call it ''the vernacular of the 21st century'' and you can read their findings here.* 


Photos: Me with my friends Olivier and Denis, one hot summer day in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. (I'm much prettier in real life, BTW.) Next,  a very nice selfie in Nice from Robert Schrader of the blog Leave Your Daily Hell, who thinks he very well may be the King of the Travel Selfie (agreed). My Irish friends Niamh and Ellen Burns have selfied themselves all over France. Next, some selfies I found online: I love the"Polar Bear Reading a Book Partial-Duck Face Selfie" which I found here, as well as this French Waiter SelfieEiffel Tower Selfie, Selfie in Les Baux and sweet Honeymoon Selfie Over Provence. Up in Paris, Rihanna and her fingernails got photobombed while posing ever-so-nonchalantly for a selfie. And finally, we have a new version of the selfie artform: video. This one, Selfies in France, is by Tristan Cooke


Monday, February 24, 2014

For People Who Love Antiques...and Ham

Billing itself as the largest and perhaps oldest antique and collectibles fairs in France (it dates to the Middle Ages), the twice-yearly Foire de Chatou is coming up in Paris March 7 to 16th. 

Organizers say the event--like a little pop up village--has just had a makeover and will be more colorful than ever this time around, with a Pop Culture theme, a recreated 1960s/'70s apartment on display, experts on hand to help, new amenities such as valet service, a Facebook contest and, as in years past, a wide range of high-quality French regional foods for sale...which explains why it used to known as the the Foire a la Brocante et aux Jambons (yep, the Collectibles and Ham Fair!). On the fair's Boulevard Voltaire, you'll find oysters from Brittany and Normandy, foie gras and confit from the Gers, Corsican charcuterie and saucisson from Lyon, andouilles from Guéménée or Vire, cheeses from the Savoie, traditional oils and mustards, wines from Mâcon, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Alsace...and much more.

As always, the fair is organized by the 1,500-member SNCAO-GA (Syndicat National du Commerce de l’Antiquité, de l’Occasion, des Galeries d’Art moderne et contemporain), the country's largest antiques trade group.

The 88th Foire de Chatou will have 700 vendors from all over Europe and roughly 25,000 visitors. It's ten minutes from Paris on the RER line A and there's a shuttle from the station exit. Hours are 10 am to 7 pm and admission is 6€.  All the info is on the fair's website (foiredechatou.com)...and you might enjoy all the pretty pix and fun vendor profiles in the English press kit, which I've uploaded here

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Insiders' Guide to the 2014 Festival d'Aix


Opera lover Anne-Marie Simons left her native Holland early for the United States. She worked as a translator, language teacher, journalist, sports writer covering Formula One races, and director of corporate communications. She retired in Europe and has been living in Aix-en-Provence since 1998 with her Argentine husband Oscar Rodriguez-Rozic, who left a career in international development banking to become an expert on Provençal cooking. As Oscar took over the kitchen, Anne-Marie began to record her experiences and impressions of France its attractions, its quirks, its quality of life resulting in her delightful 2011 book Taking Root in ProvenceIn her blog Provence Today she reports on political and current events in and around France. Having attended the Festival d'Aix for many years, Anne-Marie knows all the ins and outs. So I asked her to give us the scoop and this is what she sent. 

True opera lovers seem to have one thing in common: they won't let money or distance keep them from seeing their favorite singers or conductors. This may mean planning their summer vacations around some of the opera festivals in Europe, such as Bayreuth, Verona, Salzburg, Glyndebourne or Aix-en-Provence.

Wagnerians put up with a waiting list of five to ten years for the chance to get a seat in Wagner's very own Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, where they'll happily sit through five-hour afternoon performances, in formal dress, and have beer and sausages during intermission. Glyndebourne, an English country house in Sussex, is more relaxed and allows for picnic dinners on the lawns. And then there is Aix, perhaps most accessible of all, with four different venues in town and one lovely country setting some 10 km away.

Founded in 1948 as an all-Mozart event, the Festival d'Aix still opens with a Mozart opera every year but has long since widened its scope and today covers opera from its earliest beginnings (Monteverdi) to the present. It also has established an Académie Européenne de Musique, where young musicians get a chance to work with great teachers in Master Classes for Voice, String Instruments, Piano, Composition, etc. and perform before a live audience in evening concerts. The participation of these Academy students, winners of an international competition, adds an element of youthful enthusiasm to this opera festival. 

One of the most attractive aspects of the Aix festival is the rich menu of daily musical offerings throughout the city, with opera, concerts, Master Classes, conferences, interviews, and, at the end of the day, performances by the Academy singers or instrumentalists in the intimate setting of city squares and courtyards. A mere €15 buys you a Passport that gives access to all this for the duration of the festival.

This year the Aix opera season runs from July 2-24, with the following program:

- The Magic Flute by Mozart
- Ariodante by Haendel
- Il Turco in Italia by Rossini
- Winterreise from the song cycle by Schubert
- Trauernacht, Bach cantatas

Tickets went on sale February 3rd, online, by phone and at the box office. Priced from €30 to €240, tickets sell briskly, especially the less-expensive ones. They're sold in three batches on three different dates. Should you miss these dates, keep checking online and if all else fails, try your luck on the day of the performance when the box office (at the building known as the Archevêché) sells same-day tickets at half price (usually the more expensive ones). Or go directly to the performance venue in hopes of finding people selling their tickets.

The €15 Passport can be purchased at any time, even just before the Master Classes or the Academy concerts, which you can attend on a space-available basis (expect long lines). Ever since the creation of the Académie Européenne in 1998, its Master Classes have been extremely popular since they provide a unique opportunity for a wide public to see established musicians teach the finer points of their art to music school graduates who are just beginning their professional careers as singers, instrumentalists and composers. It's the up close and personal observation of a master at work as he/she fine-tunes the technique and interpretation of a young artist. 

Past master-teachers have included Teresa Berganza for Voice, Isaac Stern for Violin and Pierre Boulez for Conducting and Percussion, to name just a few. Master Classes take place several times a week, usually from noon to 1 pm at the Hôtel Maynier d'Oppède near the Cathedral. All classes are conducted in English.

The 2014 Master Class program has just been announced and is longer than ever before. Where the June Master Classes used to end with the start of the July operas, this year they begin on June 2nd and will run throughout the opera season until July 27th.

In addition to the operas and Academy-related events, a dozen concerts and recitals will take place during the Aix festival, performed by international orchestras including the World Orchestra for Peace, which was founded by Sir Georg Solti in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. Today under the baton of Valery Gergiev, the World Orchestra, with its musicians drawn from more than 60 orchestras in 35 countries, will perform the 2014 UNESCO Concert for Peace to commemorate the start of World War I. 

To paraphrase Shakespeare, in July "All Aix is a stage..." and you just might meet some of the players. Famous singers, conductors, stage directors and of course musicians...you'll see them all over town...hurrying to appointments or taking a break on a shady terrace...this too is part of our Opera Festival. Lucky us!

For all the info, click here (festival-aix.com). 

Photos: (1) The Archevêché, where the opera season opens and closes. (2) Verdi's Rigoletto, staged by Robert Carsen in 2013. (3) Stravinski's Le Rossignol, staged by Robert Lepage in 2013. 

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