Monday, November 28, 2016

If Van Gogh Had a Camera...

If you have a chance before December 23, pop into the two-floored Arles Gallery, where the owners Anne Eliayan and Françoise Galeron--both of them photographers--have organized an interesting show called “Les Photos de Van Gogh.”  The exhibit is on the gallery's lower level, in a vaulted cave that dates to the 17th century.

The idea, Anne says, was to imagine what might have happened if Vincent Van Gogh had a camera. To realize it, she turned to 25 photographers and other artists, asking them for images that either reference the Dutch painter directly or were inspired by his life and work.

One photographer placed himself in the exact spot in Arles where Van Gogh painted a particular landscape; it looks remarkably the same today. A series of three black-and-whites pays homage, in part, to Vincent’s older brother (who was stillborn and also named Vincent) and to Vincent’s father, who--like his own father--was a pastor.

Two embroidered pieces (a pillow and a textile wall hanging) were done by Casablanca-born Christine Millerin, who has her own studio/boutique just across the street (#7 rue de la Liberte).

Anne has three of her own photos in the show; I particularly liked her dreamy take on Van Gogh’s famous “Starry Night.”

Also part of the show are two large paintings by the Arles-based painter Ise Cheddadi, who used a technique she calls pixelisme to create two large portraits of Van Gogh, each composed of 600 or so tiny paintings. Your eye sees the artist’s face clearly only when the piece is viewed from a distance or through a camera lens. One of her Van Gogh portraits hangs in the gallery window and you can see others on her website.

If you’re lucky and Anne has time, she’ll take you through the show herself; she did that for me and it added to my appreciation immensely. The work is varied, moving and quite wonderful but it’s easy to miss some of the references if you’re not so familiar with Van Gogh’s work. Some pieces are just pretty photos until you hear the story behind them.

When I saw the show in mid November, about half of the images were already sold. Most are priced under 200, as Anne and her partner want their gallery and its artwork to be accessible to all.

The “Photos de Van Gogh” show comes down December 23. The gallery's next group show, called “Arles and Mythology,” opens March 24, 2017. And on the main floor, there’s a whole gallery full of interesting photos and posters to explore as well. The Arles Gallery is just off the Place du Forum, at 8 rue de la Liberté, +33 (0)6 59 35 57 51, The hours are Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm.

Where to eat before or after? If you’re looking for a nice, simple lunch nearby, try the interesting open-faced tartine sandwiches (on Poilâne bread) at Cuisine du Comptoir, open all day just next door, at #10. The best-sellers are currently the poularde (chicken, capers, homemade mayonnaise) and marius (tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil, basil). For just 15€, you can have the tartine of your choice,  plus soup or salad, a glass of wine or 1/2 bottle of mineral water and a coffee. For more about the restaurant, read my 2011 review here. Cuisine du Comptoir is open for lunch every day except Sunday; open for dinner every night except Sunday from April to December; and open for dinner on Friday and Saturday only from January through March.

Another extremely popular nearby restaurant is Le Galoubet (18 Rue du Dr Fanton, 04 90 93 18 11), with its friendly staff, pretty shaded terrace nice cooking and good prices.  And a bit further from the gallery (but still a five-minute walk max) is Le Gibolin (13 Rue Des Porcelet, 04 88 65 43 14), considered one of the top three spots in Arles...and great for wine lovers as well. 

Photos: Click on any photo to enlarge. (1) The gallery, with one of Ise Cheddadi's Van Gogh portraits in the window. (2) Gallery co-owner Anne Eliayan curated the show and is pictured with her take on Van Gogh, called "Starry Night." (3) "Les Sabots" by Celine Geneys. (4) "Tourment Creatif,"  a digital lithograph by Christophe Kay. (5) Another"Nuit étoilée," this one by gallery co-owner Francoise Galeron. (6) A "pixelisme" portrait of Van Gogh by Ise Cheddadi. This one is composed of 1008 little paintings, about 3.5 cm each. (7) "Arlésiennes" by Jurgen Grade. (8) Photo by Claude Sportis. The title translates as "Pine Needles as a Van Gogh Painting." (9) An embroidered wall hanging by Christine Millerin. (10)  Photo of a sculpture by Arles-based artist Thibault Franc. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Q&A: Provence Expert Georgeanne Brennan

Author Georgeanne Brennan, who splits her time between Provence and California, is happiest when she's at the either place. Read on for her best Provence insider tips. (Photo by Jessica Theroux.)

Georgeanne recommends the Monday brocante market on the Cours Saleya in Nice (top), where she has bought vintage linens, ceramic asparagus dishes, an antique holder for leg of lamb...and much more. (Photo courtesy of She also loves the Saturday market in Riez (and the sausages!).

Georgeanne's favorite gift for friends back home is colorful soap from the market; her favorite is the lavender.

I asked Georgeanne to recommend some great wines under 10€. She loves the crisp rosé and aromatic Rolle--also known as Vermentino--from Domaine de Saint Ferreol, between Barjols and Ponteves...and often takes guests to visit the vineyard. 

Favorite beach? Frejus Plage; she takes the train to avoid traffic and parking hassles.

When she wants to splurge, Georgeanne heads for Alain Ducasse's country inn Hostellerie de l'Abbaye de la Celle, for the cooking of chef Nicolas Pierantoni, the service and the elegant surroundings. (Chef photo courtesy of

Georgeanne looks forward to exploring more of "the back country of Nice," including villages such as Saorge (above) and La Brigue. 

In her newest book, My Culinary Journey (just out this month), Georgeanne continues to chronicle her love affair with Provence: its food, festivals and colorful characters. You can buy the book on Amazon here...but if you buy it here instead, Georgeanne will sign it and pop a jar of Herbes de Provence into your package. Read our Q&A just below.


Over the years, I’ve turned to well-known Provence insiders—people like Peter Mayle and Patricia Wells--to find out where they like to eat, to shop, to take houseguests, etc. And these Q&As have been super popular with my readers. So this week I posed some quick questions to another well-known foodie/author, Georgeanne Brennan, and asked her to share some of her favorite “addresses” and best tips.

Georgeanne is an award-winning, American cookbook author, journalist and entrepreneur who keeps a long-time home in Provence (in the Upper Var region, not far from Aups), where she once lived year-round, keeping goats and making and selling cheese. Her cookbook, The Food and Flavors of Haute Provence (1998) won a James Beard Award, and her memoir, A Pig in Provence (2008) was rated as one of the “Top 50 Best Food Memoirs” by AbeBooks. Georgeanne’s newest book, out this month, is called My Culinary Journey: Food and Fêtes of Provence (Yellow Pear Press) and it continues her memoir with 40 recipes, gorgeous photos…and stories of her favorite local fêtes and festivals including the Feast of the Fishermen in Le Brusc in June, the Lavender Festival in Sault on August 15 and the Gypsy Fête in Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer in May. These days, Georgeanne lives primarily in northern California, where she runs her on-line company, La Vie Rustic, Sustainable Living in the French Style, and is working on a cookbook of the same name. She travels several times a year to Provence and knows the region exceedingly well.  Here’s our Q&A…

Q: Current favorite casual restaurant and why? 

A: Auberge de la Tour in Aups. It has a large outdoor space, with deep shade, superb wood fired pizzas, and main courses such as duck with fig and honey sauce and steak frites. It’s family owned and equally good for an intimate dinner for two or a large party with children. 

Q: Current favorite splurge restaurant?

A: Alain Ducasse’s Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle, in the quiet village of La Celle, adjacent to a 12th-century abbey. The food is fresh and brilliantly prepared by the young chef Nicolas Pierantoni , a native of La Celle. The service is impeccable but never fussy, and eating on the terrace of the large walled garden is so civilized yet so simple. Rustic yet elegant Provence at its very best!

Q: Favorite beach? Any tips on parking, beach clubs, best beach restaurant, etc?

A: Frejus Plage. My friends and I take the train from Les Arcs to Frejus, about a 25-minute ride, walk a few blocks from the station and arrive directly on the promenade along a long stretch of beach. We sometimes lunch at one of the restaurants bordering the sea, or, get a table at one of the restaurants directly on the beach. Great for mussels and rose wine at the end of the day before taking the return train. Taking the train means no parking or driving problems. Do bring your own umbrella and chairs, if you want them, and towels. 

Q: One decor shop you love and why?

A: My favorite is not a shop but rather the all-day Nice brocante market, held every Monday in the Old City. I always find more to buy than I can possibly carry, from a vintage manche a gigot (leg-of-lamb holder) to vintage linens and ceramic asparagus dishes. Wonderful shopping! And be sure to take a break for socca and a glass of rose at one of the cafes.

Q: Tell us about one of your favorite outdoor markets. 

A: I like the Saturday market in Riez, in the Alpes of Haute Provence. It has lots of food of every kind, kitchen hardware, and interesting clothing – I always find lots of things I like – and, if I get there early enough, I can buy rolls of ready-to-cut-and-fry panisse (chick pea flour fritters). The cafes are numerous. It’s a bit like an old-fashioned regional market. And, part of the allure for me is that Riez has a Roman history and was a bishop see from the 5th century to the French Revolution.  

Q: One great gift you always buy in the market for friends back home? 

A: How can I resist the lavender soap?

Q: Favorite local wine under 10€ per bottle?

A: Domaine de Saint Ferreol, between Barjols and Ponteves, has excellent Coteaux Varois wines for under 8  per bottle. I especially like their clean, crisp rosé and aromatic Rolle, also known as Vermentino. And, the property has some charming B&B accommodations too. 

Q: Favorite winery to take out of town friends and why?

A: See answer just above.

Q: Next place in France you're dying to check out?

A: I want to explore more deeply the back country of Nice, in the Alpes Maritimes, along the Italian border. I just spent some time in Saorge and La Brigue there. The area is mysterious and traditional foods, like ravioli stuffed with borage – delicious! – appear on the menus of the small, family hotel/restaurants.

Q: What’s one site that no traveler to Provence should miss?

A: The Papal Palace and its gardens in Avignon--and the Pont Saint Bénézet Bridge on the Rhone River there--are truly not to be missed.

Q: Favorite book or cookbook about Provence?

A: La Cuisiniere Provencale by J.B. Reboul. It was first published in 1897, has everything you need to know about Provencal cooking, as handed down through the generations from mother to daughter. This is the kind of traditional cooking I learned from my neighbors in Provence. 

Q: Finally, what’s your best tip for first-time travelers to Provence?

A: Don't try to do too much! Settle in somewhere, do day trips, and enjoy being a part of the daily life of markets, cafes...and a slower pace.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Provence Prestige is Nov 24 to 28

The 23rd annual Provence Prestige show opens Thursday November 24 at the Palais des Congrès in Arles and runs through Monday November 28. This festive holiday-theme "salon" fills a number of vast indoor expo halls with 30,000 square feet of holiday goodies, gifts, home decor, food and wine, clothes, accessories, books and much more. And it's all made in Provence by exhibitors who agree to the terms of a special ''locally made'' charter. Some 30,000 visitors and roughly 150 exhibitors are expected.

As in years past there will be Christmas workshops for kids on Saturday and Sunday, from 2 pm to 6 pm (details here). You can see a full schedule of events, background on the exhibitors and much more in the press kit.

Tickets are 6 € (adults), 3 € (ages 12 to 18 and groups of 20 or more), and free for kids under 12. 

Your ticket for Provence Prestige also entitles you to free and discounted admissions at four well-known museums--the Musée Départemental de l’Arles Antique (MDAA), the beautiful art-filled Musée Réattu, the Van Gogh Fondation and the Musee de la Camargue--as well as to all the monuments in the village.

Provence Prestige hours are from 10 am to 7 pm, with special late hours (until 11 pm) on Friday November 25, when it’s open until 11 pm. All the info is on the main website here.  

If you're heading for Arles, you might also want to visit the weekend Christmas Market (Marché de Noël des Commerçants), featuring local businesses. It's at the Chapelle Ste Anne on the Place de la Republique, in Centre Ville, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Nov 25 to 27), from 10 am to 7 pm.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

You're Invited: Thanksgiving in France

Because I live to please you, once again I've rounded up a great selection of Thanksgiving celebrations--on the Côte d'Azur, in inland Provence and in Paris--where you are wanted and welcome! Who attends? The local expat community of course, but also French friends and other Europeans, travelers, house guests and, in one case, invited members of the American military stationed in the area. Many French friends have told me they love the idea of celebrating this very-American tradition; at a friend's Thanksgiving a few years back, the Frenchman to my left said he loved how the various dishes were served all at once, all on one plate, rather than in courses. Another said he was looking forward to his first taste of cranberry sauce, which he called red fruits jam.

While the literal translation is Action de Grâce, most French just call it Thanksgiving...except for my friend Philippe who refers to it as Merci Donnant, which he says "means absolutely nothing at all." 

You'll see I've also included a couple Thanksgivings in Paris, including one where you'll cook some of the dishes yourself...and a link for finding others. For those of you cooking at home, I've provided two great sources for all your Thanksgiving supplies, including fresh cranberries, fresh yams, stuffing mix, pumpkin pies, pecan pies and of course, the big juicy bird.

If you're hosting a Thanksgiving in the South of France that's not listed here--or know of one--feel free to email me the info and I'll add it:

And while we're on the subject, let me take this chance to say thank you to all of you: for reading and supporting my blog...for sharing the info with your friends...and for supporting my advertisers when you can! I'm very thankful! And I wish you a joyous Merci Donnant, wherever you plan to spend it...


* The cooking school and foodie gathering place called La Serviette Blanche in Cannes will be offering an elegant Thanksgiving feast--with a French twist--on November 24th at 7:30 pm. The price of €69 pp includes a welcome Kir Royale with nibbles and a four-course menu ending with coffee or tea; wines are extra. All ingredients are seasonal and market fresh. Le Menu: sweet corn velouté with crispy bacon and crème fraiche, slow-roasted turkey breast basted with butter and white wine, gravy, stuffing, cranberry compote, sweet potato gnocchi with maple and sage, Chardonnay-glazed carrots, sage corn bread and French green beans. For dessert, there will be a gooey pumpkin cake with homemade vanilla cinnamon ice cream. Reservations and advance payment are required.  To book: visit the website linked above or email: 

* The American Club of the Riviera's Thanksgiving in Monaco is a gala, annual affair...large, elegant and extremely popular.  It's Thursday, November 24, starting at 12:30, in the 

the splendid Salon Bellevue at the Café de Paris. As in year's past, members of the US Army will be the special guests. All the info is here. Be sure to reserve early as the event is always fully booked. For those who'd like to join the ACR, they're offering a special 14-month membership for new members so you can be sure of getting in to Thanksgiving. 

MonacoUSA will host an all-you-can-eat buffet Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, November 24 on the Star Deck at Stars'n'Bars, in a family-style setting with all the fixings. All are welcome and singles will sit side by side with couples and family groups so that everyone is included in the celebration "just like the original Thanksgiving more than 300 years ago!" The Menu: Turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, creamed onions, sweet potato, peas, corn on the cob, corn bread and a selection of pies (apple, pumpkin, pecan) and brownies. The price includes a glass of wine, beer or soft drink and coffee. Space is limited and places can only be reserved for those paid in advance. Members of MonacoUSA pay €45; non-members €50; kids under 12, €20. To reserve: 


* The Anglo-American Group of Provence is once again welcoming the community to celebrate Thanksgiving "with a spirit of appreciation for all that we share." The party is Sunday, November 27 at 4 pm (aperitif) and 5 pm (dinner) at Restaurant Le Verguetier, 7 chemin d'Eguilles in Celony (Aix)  across from the Maison de Ste-Victorie (restaurant phone 04 42 23 11 56). They'll have all the traditional foods:  turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Cost: 29€ members, 10€ for their kids under 12; 36€ for non-member guests and 18€ for their kids under 12. This includes aperitif, the meal with desert, wine and coffee. To book: Please specify the number of adults and kids in your party, write a check payable to AAGP and send it to Mari-Luz Saboui25 Chemin de Masse, 13710 Fuveau. Checks must be received by Nov 21. Questions? Email to:

* The Avignon Chapter of Democrats Abroad will gather for a festive Thanksgiving lunch on Saturday November 19, at  L'Epicerie de Cecile on the Place de la Republique in Beaucaire (TripAdvisor ranks it the #2 restaurant in Beaucaire). Timing is 12:30 to 3 pm. Cecile herself will cook up the traditional Thanksgiving feast, as she has in years past. Menu: Pumpkin soup, turkey with stuffing and gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans, baked potatoes and cranberry sauce. Dessert is Georgia-style pecan pie. One glass of wine is offered, coffee is extra. Before lunch the group will gather for an apero at the Taurin Cafe (on the same square as the restaurant) between 11-12:30. Lunch is 20€ adults, 10€ kids. Seating is limited and you must reserve before noon Saturday, Nov. 12. To book: (Cecile will also be serving Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday Nov 24, starting at 8 pm, but she tells me she is already fully booked.)

* The Marseille Chapter of Democrats Abroad is hosting Thanksgiving in Aix at Biocoop - La Coumpagnie. The party is Thursday, November 24 starting at 7:30 pm. The meal will be 100% organic, 0% GMOs and 100% homemade from American family recipes! The evening starts with spiced wine and appetizers (stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs), then moves on to the main event of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green bean casserole (yes, with cream of mushroom soup!), pumpkin pie, pecan pie and classic cheesecake. The price is 27 € adults and 19 € for children under 12; wine and beer will available at additional cost.  To book: +33 (0)6 81 34 85 74,

* Near Forcalquier, the restaurant Le Bistrot de Pierrerue in Pierrerue celebrates Thanksgiving on Friday November 25 at 8 pm. On the menu: an amuse bouche, brined and roasted turkey with dressing (made from bio sausage and chestnuts), homemade gravy and cranberry chutney, mashed potatoes, roasted local Brussels sprouts,  pumpkin pie, apple crumble and vanilla ice cream. Price is 25€ per person, without drinks. To book: +33 (0)4 92 75 33, 00,

* The owners of the lovely four-star hotel Mas Valentine in St. Remy tell me they'll be hosting Thanksgiving again...and are working out the final details. I'll post the info here when I get it...or you can email them:


* There seem to be a lot of Thanksgiving celebrations in Paris restaurants this year, ranging from the very-casual one at the Hard Rock Cafe to the very-posh one at Ralph's, the restaurant in Ralph Lauren's elaborately appointed store on the Boulevard St.-Germain. One that seems to be getting lots of buzz this year will be at Dunewhere American chef Evan Leichtling (from Seattle, originally) is hosting Thanksgiving on Thursday November 24, with seatings at 5 pm, 7:30 and 9:30 pm. The three-course menu is 38€ and all the details are on the site.  

* If you want to join a group rather than do your own thing in a Parisian restaurant, sign up for Thanksgiving dinner on November 22 with the American University Clubs of France. This year they’ve partnered with the famous Ladurée, known for elegant sweets since 1862, and will be dining in one of Maison Ladurée’s private salons with views on the Champs Elysées. The evening starts at 7 pm with a welcome drink at the Lincoln Bar, privatized for the occasion. During the apero, a Ladurée manager will talk a bit about the history of the brand. Then the group will move on to dinner and mingling. Prices range from €52 to €58 per person and all the info is here. Questions?

* If you can't decide whether to cook at home or go out, the cooking school La Cuisine Paris has the perfect solution for you: a Thanksgiving cooking class (in English)...followed by everyone eating lunch together overlooking the Seine. Timing is 10 am to 1:30 on November 24 and the price is 120€ per person.

* To find other Thanksgivings in Paris, you'll find a good list here


The Paris shop called Thanksgiving sells a wide range of American foods year round so of course they're the Parisian go-to for holiday meal supplies. (They also stock Canadian, British and Mexican products, too.)  They're taking orders now for their fresh turkeys, homemade pecan and pumpkin pies and all the other ingredients you need to make your favorite dishes (including Libby's canned 100% pure pumpkin). They also offer a selection of hard-to-find kitchen accessories (cheesecloth, roasting bags, measuring cups and spoons, pie plates, etc.). Note: Please be sure your online holiday orders are in by November 18. The store website is here and the online ordering site is here. Thanksgiving is located at 20 rue St. Paul, 75004 Paris, +33 (0)1 42 77 68 29, sells pretty much everything you need to prepare your Thanksgiving feast, except the turkey: cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin, cornbread mix, stuffing, gravy, corn syrup, and more! They have lots of ingredients and treats for other holidays, too, including eggnog and candy canes. They are 100% online and will deliver anywhere in Europe. You can order right up until noon on November 23rd and get your goodies shipped to you in France on Thanksgiving Day! "But then you'd need to be a very efficient chef!" as Therese at the company tells me.  Specific Thanksgiving foods are on a special page here

Above: The much-loved, often-parodied painting is Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want" from 1942. Everyone in it was a Rockwell family member or friend; they were photographed individually and painted into the scene. Learn more about the painting and artist here.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Book Giveaway: From One Expert to Another

Wine writer Jancis Robinson is known for big books, such as the 912-page Oxford Companion to Wine (currently in its fourth, much-revised edition) and the 1280-page Wine Grapes (which won every major wine book award in the year of its publication). Perhaps that’s one reason her newest title, which just came out in the US, is so compelling: how much of her 40 years of wine experience could she possibly cram into just 111 pages, between two tiny 5” x 7” covers?

As you might have expected...quite a lot.

To celebrate the publication of this new hardcover version (the first was a paperback published in the UK in February), Jancis’ New York publisher Abrams, has given me five copies of The 24-Hour Wine Expert to give away. With corkscrews! Yep, to enter simply leave a comment below. Five lucky readers will get a copy of the book and a corkscrew to match.

Jancis is one of the most-respected, most-prolific wine writers working today. And boy, does she work. Based in London, she travels roughly one third of the year:  tasting, rating and writing for a multitude of publications including her website, which is updated daily and has subscribers in more than 100 countries. Jancis writes a weekly column for the Financial Times while Decanter called her “the most respected wine critic and journalist in the world.” She even provides advice to the wine cellar of Queen Elizabeth II. (I love the idea of the Queen ringing up...Jan? Sorry to be a bother, but the King of Spain is on his way and I have no idea what to pour!)

When I caught up with her last week, Jancis was up in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where she told me she had just finished tasting some 175 vintages.

“This week?” I asked.

“Today,” she replied.

To learn more about her background and accomplishments, read her shortish Wikipedia bio here or the full, amazing one here...but be forewarned: whatever you’ve done with your life, you’ll feel like a total slacker if you do!

This new book, Jancis says, is for people who like wine but don’t feel quite sure of themselves in a wine shop buying for a dinner party...or in a restaurant, wine list in hand. “It’s for people who want a shortcut to the essentials,” she says. 

And so, after taking us quickly but comprehensively through the wine regions of the world and their grapes, she sets out to painlessly help us make the most of what she calls “the most delicious, stimulating, varied and infuriatingly complicated drink in the world.”

Topics include how to select the right bottle at retail; understanding the properties of color and aroma; what the different shapes of bottles and their labels tell you; what terms like “full body,” “supple,” “round” and “nose” really mean; what wines pair well with foods such as pizza, sushi or Thai; what the terms organic, biodynamic and natural mean in the wine world; how to chill and warm wines; and much more.

And what about that perennial question about how price correlates to quality? As in, how much do we really need to spend to get a good bottle?

“There is no direct correlation between price and quality in wine,” she writes, before giving us a handy list of underpriced, overpriced and splurge-worthy labels. “Many wines are overpriced because of inflated market demand, ambition, greed, or just because a marketing person sees the need for an ‘icon wine’ in the range. The difference in quality between wines at the top and bottom ends of the price scale is narrower than it has ever been, while the difference in price has never been greater.

“Packaging, shopping, marketing, and, in many countries, local taxes and duties tend to account for by far the majority of the price of very cheap wines,” Jancis continues, “with the cost of the liquid itself representing a tiny fraction of what you are paying. Ambition is responsible for much of the selling price of more expensive wines. For this reason, the best value is generally in the range of $10 to $30 a bottle. Here, you more or less get what you pay for.”

Sound good? Then leave a comment below (click where it says comments) for your chance to win a copy...and a corkscrew! If you have a wine anecdote to share, even better! And please be sure to include your email address or we can’t reach you if you is to put it right in the body of your comment text. 

If you want to buy the book, it’s in all the major retailers or order it on Amazon here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Provence for Special-Need Kids and Adults

I recently came across a company called Go Provence, offering "supported holidays" for kids and adults with learning disabilities, autism and other challenges. The goal is to provide stimulating, fun and safe vacations for all ages in the South of France...and I think what they're doing is fantastic.

Go Provence was founded in 2010 by British expats Ian Callen, Anna Callen and Neil Manser. While they cater primarily to clients from the UK, they've had guests come from elsewhere in Europe and from the US as well.

Based near the Gorges du Verdon, in a spectacularly beautiful part of Provence, Go Provence offers all-inclusive themed holidays that mix outdoor adventure, excursions and relaxation. 

For those who need it, they can even accompany clients to and from the UK.  There are also off-season trips, such as a learn-to-ski trip in Andorra in January, 2017 (more on that below) and a trip to Italy in October, 2017.

Dates for all 2017 trips have just been posted on the company’s website here.  Themes include Wildlife Photography, Trekking, Wolf Tracking, World Cuisine, Great Adventure, Music Week,  Art Holiday, Discover Provence, Water Holiday, Great Adventure and School of Rock.

There will be also be a special week in Provence designed for people who use wheelchairs. How great is that?

Go Provence also creates customized, private holidays for four people or more. 

For family members and full-time carers who choose to stay in Provence at the same time, Go Provence will happily arrange accommodation nearby, in the village of Esparron de Verdon. 

Ian and Anna Callen have lived in Provence, near the Gorges du Verdon, since 2007; they have three children. Ian worked previously at The Olive Tree International School in nearby Quinson, teaching photography, horticulture, conservation, biology and astronomy to children with challenging behaviour. There’s a very nice story about him here.

Anna also has a background in teaching children, particularly those with dyslexia and challenging behavior. She formerly worked for the local Tourist Office and knows the area exceedingly well.

Neil has lived in France for 20 years after having worked with special-need kids in the UK and with special-need adults in Malaysia. His training is in social care, epilepsy and Midazolam, safeguarding vulnerable adults and the Mental Capacity Act. Neil is the Go Provence chef and lives near St. Tropez.

All the Go Provence staff are fully bi-lingual (French and English) and experienced and first-aid trained to a Red Cross standard. The facility is registered with a local doctor and nurse and has access to nearby hospitals.

For those interested in an active winter getaway, Go Provence is offering a five-night learn-to-ski holiday in Catalan-speaking Andorra in January. Guests will fly from Gatwick to Toulouse, France on January 8, then travel by mini bus to the beautiful Pyrenean village of Arinsal, set 1467m above sea level. They’ll stay (full board) at the Hotel Solana for five nights, enjoying five days at ski school with fully qualified instructors, ski gear and boarding passes included. Support will be on hand 24/7; the trip is €2090 per person.  The registration deadline for the ski trip is October 24 and it only happens if there are five guests or more. More on the ski trip is here.

Heading into their seventh year with Go Provence, Ian says the team feels enormous pride in what they’ve helped their clients accomplish.

“We love seeing them achieve their goals,” he tells me. “We had a client Ed, a great photographer who had won awards for his work but couldn't find anyone to give him an exhibition. We were able to arrange a show for him in a local restaurant. We had an opening evening, the local press turned up and Ed sold five photos.  As you can imagine, he was a very happy man." 

Just around the time I was writing this, Ian emailed to tell me about his newest offering, a program called Travel Buddies, providing travel planning support and travel companions for a wide range of destinations. And in the months to come, Go Provence plans to add supported backpacking holidays around Europe, a Northern Lights holiday in Sweden and volunteer holidays in developing countries.

“We want to change the way that people with special needs travel...and increase their opportunities to do the point where access to travel becomes standard,” Ian says. “Travel is so important to ones sense of happiness! A friend of mine, who worked in a hospice sitting with terminally ill people during their last days, once told me that when people looked back at their lives and talked about their regrets, they didn’t mention money or careers. He said that they wished they had spent more time with their family and friends...and that they had traveled more.” 

For more info, photos, mailing list sign-up and other details, visit the website here. Ian also writes a blog about the Gorges du Verdon, which you can see here.

Photos: (1-8) Among the many activities offered to Go Provence clients are kayaking, market shopping, painting, adventure sports, farm visits and photography. (9) In January 2017, the company will host a ski trip to Andorra.  (10-12) Go Provence summer holidays are based in a large country house one kilometer from the village of Moustiers Sainte-Marie, considered among the most beautiful in Provence.  The house was restored in the winter of 2013/14. It has a lovely garden with views over to Moustiers and the breathtaking Gorges du Verdon.


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