October 16, 2017

Pablo Picasso at Rest near Aix-en-Provence

Pablo Picasso at Rest near Aix-en-Provence

Château de Vauvenargues is located in the village by the same name, a few kilometers from Aix-en-Provence. This castle has a lengthy history.  The present structure was built on the site of a former Roman settlement. Over the centuries, Provencal counts and then the Archbishops of Aix occupied the castle. Clearly, it pays to be the doctor of a king; in 1474 Roi René gifted the Château to his physician Pierre Robin d’Angers. (more…)

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October 2, 2017

Learn about Casanova and the Jardins d’Albertas of Bouc-Bel-Air in Provence

Learn about Casanova and the Jardins d’Albertas of Bouc-Bel-Air in Provence

Whether fiction or not, Nutmeg thinks it is appropriate that Casanova the infamous Venetian writer, gambler and reputed womanizer is weaved into the history of les Jardins d’Albertas. This garden, owned by the Albertas family, is located just a few minutes outside of Aix-en-Provence in the town of Bouc-Bel-Air, where the ancient village was built on a bouc (small hill). The roots of the Albertas family stretch from Alba, Italy to Aix-en-Provence, where their influence on the Provençal city is notable. Henri and his son Jean-Baptiste d’Albertas, both held the high-ranking title of Président de la Cour des Comptes (Court of Auditors). One of the most recognizable and photogenic squares in Aix is Place d’Albertas.  This sunny plaza carved out of the narrow winding streets of the old town resembles a small Italian piazza. Henri felt that the exterior of his home and his “view” were not distinguished enough. He commissioned a local architect to renew the façade of his house and establish a vision for the future square. The work done in 1745 included the demolition of buildings across from his house in order to create the plaza. The fountain was only installed in 1912. It was Henri’s father Marc Antoine, who through marriage had acquired a plot of land outside of Aix-en-Provence in 1673, now known as the Jardins d’Albertas. The land had previously been envisioned as a garden although it was Jean-Baptiste who developed plans for the classical Franco-Italian garden. The drawings from 1751 include a chateau that was never built. Jean-Baptiste was assassinated in 1790, on the eve of the French Revolution, and never witnessed his vision completed. The garden was neglected for many years; it was not until 1949 that Jean d’Albertas began restoration work. Towering plane trees provide a leafy parasol for the driveway and garden’s entrance. Visual dimension is created within the rectangular plot by multiple terraces. Symmetrical water basins and statues form a highly appealing result. It is almost surreal on a blistering Provencal day to believe that there are natural spring sources feeding the water features. In reality, it is clever engineering creating the supply of water to decorative ponds and fountains, as well as liquid nutrition for the plants. The official entry to the Jardins d’Albertas is through an imposing metal gate, which is adorned with the Albertas’ family crest. On the right, just after the gateway is la salle de fraicheur designed as an imitation grotto. You need to allow your eyes adjust to the dim light and let shoddy first impressions go, the spider webs certainly do not help. Spend a few moments and you begin to recognize remnants of seashells that would have at one time decorated the entire ceiling. Empty alcoves remain, begging their statues of the seven planets to return. The Grand Canal is a large rectangular basin establishing the horizontal width of the garden. A statue of Neptune contemplates his fluid mirror, which reflects his botanical surroundings. This pond with its concrete border physically defines the boundary of the garden and symbolically represents a private river. A grass lawn leads to the next water feature, le Bassin des 17 jets, or so it was named on the 1751 plans. Here, eight tritons blow water jets from their horns, and the back wall of this fountain creates the physical edge of the first level. The fountain appears to be almost announcing the heavyweight of testosterone emotion just behind it. Four male statues stand ready for military action at the edge of this second level. Hercules, David, Mars and the gladiator Borghèse are a powerful stone representation of mythical heroes.   It is only in the final section where the garden has a slight feminine touch with two sphinx statuettes bearing the Albertas’ family crest.   The garden is easily covered in an hour although you may want to linger in some of the shady sections and contemplate what it may have looked like had the original vision been achieved. The unfinished garden might be a little like the Casanova love story. The famous man is said to have stayed in Bouc-Bel-Air in 1769, but did not realize that Marie-Anne d’Albertas was his previous lover. They never met again. Download and Travel with us This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

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September 18, 2017

Sunny Sunflowers Why We Love The French Tournesols

Sunny Sunflowers Why We Love The French Tournesols

Provençal postcards, Pinterest boards and Instagram are filled with photos of sunny sunflowers. Long before the Internet these beautiful flowers inspired Vincent Van Gogh to paint a still life series called Tournesols (Sunflowers). He painted the first of the group in 1887, in Paris, and then later (1888-89) in Arles. (more…)

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September 4, 2017

Retail Nightmares Big-Box Shopping in France

Retail Nightmares Big-Box Shopping in France

Nutmeg is here to tell you that Big-Box shopping is the same nightmare in France, as it is in Palm Springs, Chicago, Airdrie and Scarborough. Big-box retail (think Target and Walmart) has evolved as a cost effective development strategy, under the guise of offering consumer convenience.  Without boring you all with the details, this concept works well for the landlord and tenant as no party is too “invested” in the location.  The big-box retail model has evolved from “destination” single stores, into power-centres where the customer can spend an entire day cruising hundreds of outlet stores.  (more…)

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June 26, 2017

Visit Beaucaire for Visions of a Different Time in Provence

Visit Beaucaire for Visions of a Different Time in Provence

Beaucaire is a small Provencal town located on the banks of the Rhone river and the Rhone-Sète canal, the name means beautiful stone. There is evidence of a Gallo-Roman settlement in this hilly area as early as 11 B.C.. The ancient community gave way to a medieval town in 1067 and the establishment of a castle in 1180. (more…)

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April 17, 2017

Why you Need Patience at the Sous Préfecture in Provence

Why you Need Patience at the Sous Préfecture in Provence

Nutmeg is self-admittedly not a patient person. She develops a plan, does not appreciate too much external input, and certainly is not thrilled when there is a proposed change. Living in France, with life at a slower pace, has helped with her natural inclination somewhat. Although, Ginger is certain that she may never be fully cured of her affliction. Here, are some verbal “pictures” of life in slow motion: Walks with a 12 year old yellow lab Sunday morning coffee service at the village café Opening hours/days for the local boulangerie and boucherie Watching a dog sleep in the sun WiFi access in a thunderstorm A swimming pool warmed only by the sun Waiting for your tax refund This post is about the ultimate lesson in patience, a heavy dose of bureaucracy, mountains of paperwork and long queues. Welcome to the world of the sous-préfectures (home of French Administration)! Nutmeg has had the pleasure of visiting a couple of these offices while in Provence, the location in Aix-en-Provence and equally attractive Arles office. (more…)

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February 20, 2017

Dipping A Toe in France’s Ardeche

Dipping A Toe in France’s Ardeche

This post will most likely make Nutmeg’s Corsican friends angry. Why bother with the hassle of an overnight ferry, crowded beaches and small twisty roads? If you want to feel like you, have experienced a bit of Corsica without leaving the French mainland, plan a trip to the Ardèche region. The similarities between, the beautiful island of Corsica and the Ardèche are significant, see below:   Corsica Ardeche Surface Area 8,680 sq km 5,550 sq km Widest Point 82 km 75 km Highest Peak 2,706 metres Mont Cinto 1,754 metres Mont Mézenc Population 302,000 309,000 Annual Visitors Roughly 2 million Roughly 3 million Agriculture Chestnuts Chestnuts Olives Olives Grapes Grapes Goats, Sheep Goat, Sheep, Cows Figs Figs Beaches 1000 km of coastline Countless River banks Geographic Formation Volcanic Volcanic   (more…)

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January 9, 2017

Sunday Lunch in France

Sunday Lunch in France

Nutmeg is writing this post on a rainy Sunday afternoon while Ginger is napping off the effects of a long Sunday lunch. It is a long tradition in France that stores are closed Sunday afternoon, allowing everyone the opportunity to have a leisurely lunch en famille. (more…)

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September 26, 2016

Juicy Gold the Cavaillon Melons of Provence

Juicy Gold the Cavaillon Melons of Provence

Nutmeg barely tolerates melons, in her opinion, the green honeydew version found in airport “fruit salads” should be outlawed. Watermelon and its variations without seeds or in ghastly yellow only belong on a picnic table with many children around. (more…)

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August 1, 2016

Exclusive Interview Bliss Travels Wendy Jaeger

Exclusive Interview Bliss Travels Wendy Jaeger

American-born Wendy Jaeger admits that France is in her soul. The founder of Bliss Travels met with Nutmeg for coffee, in the Luberon, to chat about the company’s culinary and wine vacations. (more…)

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