An artful off season trip to the South of France

by Primaella

If you are looking for a short break out of season, why not follow in the footsteps of so many famous European painters, and head for Languedoc Roussillon in the South of France

 As temperatures fall in the South of France, lying on the beach may no longer appeal, but why not come along anyway. You should certainly be able to catch some blue skies and sunshine, whatever the month, and experience that crystal clear light so valued by artists such as Matisse, Van Gogh or Monet. While you are there why not visit an art exhibition or two, to see the results of their artistic inspiration.

Montpellier: a suggested starting point

There are year round flights between the UK and the beautiful city of Montpellier in Languedoc Roussillon. Here, you will find yourself within striking distance of some wonderful museums, art galleries, and artist trails. What’s more you will discover a region of lagoons and little fishing ports, of wine domains and mountain villages, which remains largely unspoiled by tourism.

Stay near the Place de la Comedie , in the heart of this wonderful vibrant city, where people sit at pavement cafés all the year round , and there is always some special community event to enjoy, like a wine fair, photographic exhibition or Christmas market. From here a short stroll up the boulevard, past fountains and band stands, will lead to the Musée Fabre, one of France’s finest provincial museums. Visit the permanent art collections which range from 17th Century to ultra modern art, whilst appreciating this magnificent building. If you are visiting in the autumn, you may catch the tail end of the annual summer exhibition, always an impressive event. Recent exhibitions have featured the art nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha, and in 2013 the impressionist Signac who painted many mediterranean scenes. There is also a yearly winter exhibition. The current one(2013/14) is entitled “Le Gout de Diderot”, featuring French eighteenth century artists of the enlightenment.

You can buy tickets on their website. Located Espalanade Charles de Gaulle.

Where to eat and stay in Montpellier.

“Insensé” A stylish restaurant atttached to the museum .Tel: 0467589778
“Brasserie du Corum “ at the nearby concert hall. Good value plat du jour at lunch time. Tel.0467020304
Crowne Plaza Hotel ( an easy walk through the park) This is a new stylish hotel with good views over the city and spacious rooms.Rue d'Argencourt Tel: 0800 911 617
For a slightly cheaper alternative hotel,close to the attractive old quarter, try:
Kyriad, Antigone Av Jean Marmoz, tel.04 67 64 88 50
Ibis , place de la Comedie. tel.04 99 13 29 99

Lodeve: A change of pace.

The town of Lodeveis less than an hour’s drive from its neighbouring city. There is also a regular bus which affords fantastic views over the wine plain, that stretches from the craggy mountains to the north towards the shores of the Mediterranean. You may well catch the deepening colours of the vineyards after the harvest. Later in the year solitary figures carry out the painstaking work of tying and pruning endless rows of vines that march over the coastal plain like files of weary soldiers heading for the sea.

At first sight the town of Lodeve may seem a little shabby: a little match girl alongside the bedecked princess of Montpellier. But persevere. Peep behind the heavy peeling doors and shabby facades of the eighteenth century town houses and you will see signs of former wealth. Stroll a little, and you will discover a fortified cathedral, the brightly coloured tiles of the Bishop’s Palace, and the focus of your visit, a fine museum.
The Musée Fleury is an elegant three storey building, with tall windows framed by pale green shutters overlooking a pretty courtyard in front. Here, in summer you can sit in deck chairs alongside flower beds of cistus, acanthus, lavender and oleander, but even in winter you may wish to rest awhile and turn your face towards the winter sun . But don’t linger too long, for there are more interesting temptations inside. For many years Lodeve has hosted fine summer art exhibitions running from June until early November. Canaletto, Klimt, Derain, Bonnard , and Gaugin , are only a few of the famous artists whose work has been featured.

This winter (19th Dec2013-30th March 2014) a significant art collection from Turkey will be on display, including works by Toulouse Lautrec, Bonnard and Braque.

You may also wish to explore a wealth of local artefacts from prehistoric to more recent times on the third floor of this elegant museum: Square George Auric Tel 04 67 88 86 10  www.

Sculpture too!

Lodeve is very proud of its local sculptor Paul Dardé, a pupil of Rodin. The ground floor of the museum is dedicated to some of his intriguing and original work. However, if you wish to see more, you will have to go out and about , for much is too large or unwieldy to be contained in a museum. Of particular interest are the war memorials at Soubes(5km)and Lodeve(0km) and the altar table at the little church of Parlatges (12km)

Where to stay and eat in Lodeve:

Hotel de la Paix. A logis hotel with a decent restaurant and stylish rooms: 11 Boulevard Montalangue, 34700 Lodève, France Tel .04 67 44 07 46

Ceret and the Museum of Modern Art.

If you have time to include a third town in your tour, then head south towards the Pyrenees for a completely different style of art gallery, the Musee d’Art Moderne at Céret. The drive will take you past many more acres of Languedoc vines,with names that may well be familiar to imbibers of wine, like Fitou, La Clape, and Rivesaltes. Soon the magnificent snow capped peak of Mont Canigou will come into view, as you near your destination.

Céret, is a gentle cultured town of fountains and squares, ancient stone walls, and streets lined with magnificent plane trees. Picasso and Matisse both lived here and donated works to the museum, which hosts regular exhibitions and houses a significant collection of modern art. I love the little bowls or “coupoles” that Picasso donated, each one bearing a vivid bull fighting scene, rapidly but brilliantly executed. Perfect for a steaming cup of thick Spanish hot chocolate perhaps; or on second thoughts better not.

Collioure and the Art Trail

Before returning to Montpellier for your flight home, a short extension towards the coast will bring you to the famous port of Collioure. This should be a perfect time to visit, after the summer crowds have diminished. Enjoy the views pretty much as they were seen by Matisse, Dufy and Derain, as they set up their easels by the shore, and follow the “Art Trail”, with its art reproductions posted alongside each viewpoint.

Where to stay and eat in Céret and Collioure:

Hotel le Mas Trilles Le Pont de Reynes, 66400 Reynes Céret
Hotel des Templiers, 12 Quai de l'Amirauté, 66190 Collioure

For delicious sea food follow the locals’ advice and explore Port Vendres nearby, where the harbour wall is lined with restaurants. Take your choice.

Au revoir

Alas, it’s time to leave, taking with you memories and visions of Southern France that were captured so impressively by artists over a century ago. But don't forget to return, for with every fluctuation of light, and with every new season, scenes change. No view will ever be the same twice, as the artists well knew.