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10 Reasons to Visit Provence This Year

Provence is a magical place at any moment but there are some particularly good reasons to visit le Midi this year. Here is a short list of 2009 special attractions à ne pas manquer (not to be missed):

1) Art in Aix-en-Provence: Following the blockbuster exhibition "Cézanne in Provence" in 2006, the Musée Granet is hosting this year's show "Picasso-Cézanne" from May 25 to September 27. The exhibition explores the extraordinary influence of Cézanne on the 20th century master Picasso through paintings, sculptures, drawings and engravings.

2) Picasso's Château de Vauvenargues: Picasso's desire to own a piece of 'Cézanne country' resulted in his purchase of the Château de Vauvenargues on the back side of the Montagne Sainte Victoire outside Aix-en-Provence. Still in the family, Picasso's property will be open to the public for the first time as part of the "Picasso-Cézanne" exhibition activities and events. Reservations are required and tour participants must take shuttles from Aix to reach the château (included in the tour price). Tickets may be purchased at the Musée Granet or the Aix Tourist Office.

3) La Cathédrale d'Images: Since discovering this exceptional arts venue a few years ago, I haven't missed a show yet. Housed in a former limestone quarry near Les Baux-de-Provence, La Cathédrale d'images puts on a different 30-minute photo and music show each year. The quarry provides an ideal medium for an ever-changing kaleidoscope of images projected on its white stone walls. This year, the multi-dimensional screen will take a tour of Picasso's masterworks. The show runs continuously every day from 10 to 5pm (until 6pm from April until September) through January 3, 2010. Be sure to take a sweater as the quarries are chilly even in mid-summer!

4) Treasures from the Rhône river at the Musée de l'Arles Antique: Arles was once a major stop on the old 'Roman Road.' Recent archeological excavations in the Rhône river running through the heart of the city have revealed extraordinary discoveries of the ancient Roman kind. With only three like it in the world, this bust of an older and realistic Julius Caesar is just one of the many treasures on view at the Musée de l'Arles Antique beginning October 24, 2009.

5) Perfumes in Provence: After a four-year, multi-million euro renovation, the Musée International de le Perfumerie in Grasse has reopened its doors. Encompassing several buildings including an 18th century townhouse and part of a convent, the museum traces four millennia of perfume history through its collection of 50,000 objects. A highlight of the collection is a travel case with crystal perfume flasks once owned by Marie-Antoinette.

6) Provence's Liquid Gold: Many people are not aware that southern France produces some of the best olive oils in the world. Olive orchards cover hectare upon hecture (France's land measuring system) of rolling hills all over Provence. Every time I go, I buy oils from the best moulins (mills) in the region such as Castelas and Mas des Barres. Olive oils are a seasonal product so this year, it's best to purchase them from the most recent harvest of November-December 2008. (See the current French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter™ recommendation below.)

7) Music in Aix-en-Provence: The world renowned Festival d'Aix-en-Provence hosts operas, music concerts and other events during the month of July. This year's program features another stellar line-up of programs and artists-as well as venues, including the modern Grand Théâtre de Provence. And when you have bought a ticket and attended the festival even one time, you get on the Festival mailing list which includes advance notice of the next year's programme as well as complimentary CDs highlighting excerpts from previous performances.

8) Low Airfares and the Lower Euro: While the current economic downturn is no picnic, it has resulted in great airfares to Europe making an adventure in France more affordable this year. And the euro continues to fluctuate but it's hovering around 1.25 euros to the dollar-hopefully we can say adieu forever to those $7 or $8 cups of coffee! For Americans in France, traveling, wining and dining has suddenly become much more reasonable. As an added travel bonus, the French government has just reduced the VAT tax on restaurant meals so diners will see lower additions (bills) at the end of their French repasts.

9) 10) French Affaires fall trip to Provence: Well, of course, we're biased but we think the French Affaires fall trip to Provence is worth two reasons to go to Provence this year! We'll be hosted by southern France residents and locals and enjoy the best Provençal sights, cuisine, wine, and l'art de vivre. Also included are guided visits to the best open air markets in the region, a cooking class using the finest of local ingredients, and an insider tour of the famous wine region of Châteauneuf du Pape. For detailed information, please contact Elizabeth New at .

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter™

My favorite olive oil mills in southern France include Moulin de Castelas and Moulin du Mas des Barres near Les Baux de Provence. They are open year round and sell wonderful tapenades, olive oil soaps and gifts in addition to their stunning olive oils.

In the U.S., you can order a variety of French olive oils at Piche . Based in Austin, Piche imports olive oils, ceramics and table linens from the south of France. Piche's owner, MaryBeth Murphy, is a good friend of mine and a fount of knowledge when it comes to excellent olive oils from France, Italy and California.

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