We had eight great days in Beaune and thereabouts, checking out the vineyards, enjoying the walled city itself, and spending some considerable time turning Ramblin’ Romy into a comfortable home. We then headed south to Aix en Provence, that marvelous city at the heart of Provence and enjoyed a delightful morning with three generations of friends from San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
Aix itself has magic about it, from its often tiny street side cafes
to its quirky garden restaurants on the grounds of grand 17th century mansions, sometimes complete with food trucks, in this case one with soup
to the wide pedestrian boulevard, Cours Mirabeau, complete with an Apple store at one end,
to the small squares and treelined streets that make up its labyrinth.
We had a delightful day there, spent mostly following the life of Cezanne through the streets following small bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalks. He was born here and spent most of his life painting Aix and its surroundings. We loved Aix enough to seriously consider coming back to live here for a couple of months in the next few years.
The next day we moved over to St. Remy, where Vincent Van Gogh spent his thirteen months in its then asylum for the insane, Saint Paul de Mausole, and where he was most productive, completing 150 paintings during that period. We walked out of town to where the former monastery still stands and in fact still houses the ill, and its entry way
and even Van Gogh’s room
have a wonderful stillness and peace about them.
We were able to follow a path back into St. Remy which is the location of many of his countryside paintings, and at each spot is a reproduction of the painting done there, though of course the locations have long been obscured by development, chiefly residential.
We then moved on to the larger city of Avignon, distinctive of all European cities in being the center of the Catholic world from 1309 to 1377. It, rather than Rome, was the seat of seven Popes, and their palace is the single largest Gothic structure in all of Europe. It is so large a structure, and the landscape of central Avignon so dense and packed within its surrounding walls, it is impossible to give you a photograph that truly captures its magnitude. But here is one of perhaps five or six grand halls within the Palais des Papes that can give you some sense of the structure’s size.
The city itself is filled with lovely plazas filled with cafes and is delightful to spend an afternoon wandering its narrow and convoluted streets.
Atop the bell tower of the Basilique de Notre Dame and the city itself is a gold statue of Mary weighing hundreds of pounds.
Finally, we have to take you to the Chateau la Coste, not far north of Aix en Provence, and what was since Roman times a vineyard with a beautiful villa in its center built in 1682. Beginning in 2004, it has been enhanced into a wonderful setting for art and sculpture. Following a path which winds up and then down the hillside, one encounters sculpture after sculpture by artists invited to the grounds to pick a spot that spoke to them and then create something to be placed there.
We spent the better part of a day there and were absolutely enthralled. From the Alexander Calder
And the giant spider by Louise Bourgeois
at the cafe and center, one is led from one piece to another. Here is Liam Glllick’s Multiplied Resistance Screened with its sliding and multicolored ‘doors’
and Andy Goldsworthy’s Oak Room, impossible to capture because it is an underground domed chamber lined with oak logs and only the highest area is visible here.
Paul Matisse, grandson of the artist, has done a marvelous chime which is struck simultaneously from two sides and rings for perhaps five minutes, pulsing in meditative mode.
And Sean Scully has built a rather huge structure of massive stone blocks entitled Wall of Cubed Light.
Finally there is Drop by Tom Shannon that absolutely captured us. It is a flattened sphere of perhaps six feet in diameter, shining mirror-like and one foot off the ground. The visual distortions of its surroundings are marvelous, sometimes even comical, always bending one’s sense of perspective and dimension no matter where one stands in relation to it.
What you see in the background here is an outdoor musical amphitheater by Frank Gehry and certainly my least favorite structure by my most favorite architect. Having read three articles about his magnificent new museum in Paris the day before, it was almost painful to walk around and through this. Still, it was a very special afternoon and we can not recommend it enough to anyone going to Provence.
A special thanks to our dear friend Les Daly for steering us to this wondrous spot.