For this weekend tour inspired by contemporary art, start with a visit to the MAC, Marseille's museum of contemporary art. Next, go and soak up the unique atmosphere at the Friche Belle de Mai cultural complex. For lunch, fresh and creative cuisine awaits you at the Grandes Tables de la Friche. Then it's onwards to the FRAC before a visit to the library archives. On day two, make your way to Aix-en-Provence where exploring the Fondation Vasarely will take up most of your morning. At midday, your appetite will be pleasingly sated at La Pioline before you venture off to Arles to visit the Fondation Van Gogh, a gem of an arts institution.
Day 1 – Marseille: see 800 artworks at the MAC
69 avenue D'Haïfa 13008 Marseille
Begin your tour in the 8th arrondissement, specifically at the MAC whose exhibits feature the quintessence of contemporary art since the 1950s. There are a number of artistic movements to discover, from Land Art to New Realism and Fluxus. Even the garden at the MAC is devoted to the arts with works by César, Fabrice Gygi and Julien Blaine dotted around the grounds. A visit bursting with colour!
Day 1 – Marseille, the Friche Belle de Mai
41 rue Jobin 13003 Marseille
Next on your itinerary is the Friche Belle de Mai. Set in an old tobacco factory, this cultural complex today hosts over 500 artists. The centre is made up of the Tour Panorama where exhibitions are held, a skate park, a theatre, a concert hall and gardens. An extraordinary town within a town spread over 45,000 square metres! When the sun is out, head straight to the top to have a drink on the roof terrace.
Day 1 – Marseille: (very) modern art at the FRAC
20 boulevard De Dunkerque 13002 Marseille
Your art tour carries on at the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur FRAC (regional contemporary art collection) recognisable from its pixelated façade. Imagined by Kengo Kuma, the quirky arts building sits in the Joliette quarter. Wandering around the 'streets' in this centre, you'll get to see so many diverse media and materials representing the multitude of trends that have come and gone or stayed in the field of contemporary art. Make sure you look up: the design of the glass and concrete building influenced by Japanese aesthetics is sensational.
Day 1 – Marseille: Bouches-du-Rhône's departmental library archives
18 rue Mirès 13003 Marseille
The region's departmental archives or ABD occupy an ultra-modern building between the Joliette Docks and the Docks du Sud. The huge open square and sweeping garden at this city district in the throes of redevelopment are ideal to find some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle. There's always some concert, exhibition or other to enjoy in this space spread over 28,000 square metres! Be sure to check out the programme.
Day 2 – Aix-en-Provence, Op art at the Fondation Vasarely
CS 50490 1 avenue Marcel Pagnol 13096 Aix en Provence
After a lazy morning, day two begins with a tour of the Fondation Vasarely where there is just as much to see outside as inside. This architectonic museum erected in 1976 is one of a kind and houses exhibits of monumental-in-scale artworks integrating kinetic art and optical art. Don't leave without visiting the gift shop where you can find numbered silk-screen prints, stylish homeware and artist prints.
Day 2 – A cultural lunch at Château de la Pioline
Château de la Pioline La Pioline 260 rue Guillaume du Vair 13290 Aix en Provence
For your lunch in Aix, we recommend Pierre Reboul inside Château de la Pioline set in four hectares of grounds. You'll be in good hands with the Michelin-starred chef Pierre Reboul, known for his traditional yet inventive Provençal cuisine. There are four fixed-price menus to choose from or you can order à la carte. Whichever option you go for, you're promised a pleasantly surprising culinary experience. Plus the Louis 16th dining room brings a nice regal touch to your lunch.
Day 2 – Arles: Fondation Van Gogh, where heritage meets modern art
35 rue Dr Fanton 13200 Arles
After a delicious lunch, it's time to head to Arles. You can start the afternoon with a wander around the Fondation Van Gogh, a 16th century town house that was converted into a bank and later a museum. This is a wonderful opportunity to see many of the iconic painter's works and appreciate the influence he has had on other artists. This centre for artistic exchange, inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, features an eye-catching gate designed by the visual artist Bertrand Lavier and a roof installation imagined by Raphael Hefti.
- Meeting artists face to face in the studios at the Friche Belle de Mai
- Taking home a signed and numbered silk-screen print by Vasarely
- Packing such a rich and concentrated tour of the arts into a weekend
- Getting to explore Marseille's diverse and dynamic culture
The best time to visit
- In May for the Sm'art – the Mediterranean Contemporary and Abstract Art Fair
- Late August-early September for Art-o-Rama, the international contemporary art fair at the Friche
- Late November-early December to attend the short film festival 'Tous Courts' in Aix
By public transport, Personal vehicle
Aix en Provence, Arles, Marseille
All year round
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The "Porte d’Arles" gives us direct access to the historical centre, which is well worth a visit. I suggest starting by the Tourist Office. This decidedly contemporary building reflects the spirit of the town at the crossroads of tradition and modernity. We will do a little shopping and then take a cultural and gourmet break. We will take a quiet stroll in the Etang de l’olivier gardens before going the other side to the Etang de Berre for a bite to eat.
Essential Aubagne – a city built from clay
Aubagne is your destination for this tour. During the course of the day, you'll get to meet the crafts men and women who transform the local clay into iconic objects. Indeed, Aubagne is renowned for its santons (figurines) and pottery. After a lunch at Le 3 Farfalle, take a tour of the potters and 'santonniers', makers of the region's famous figurines. Aubagne's charming old town is awash with heritage (the clock tower) and Art Deco features. If you're in the museum mood, you have a couple to choose from: Cité de l’Art Santonnier dedicated to figurines and the Foreign Legion Museum. Just 30 minutes from the cruise terminal.
The left and right banks of the Durance make the perfect complement to a weekend of luxury and art de vivre. Two well-known wine estates have created a universe in celebration of wine. At one you can expect land art and contemporary art; at the other, gardens inspired by Tuscany. In Puy-Ste-Réparade, Château La Coste is a winning combination of art and nature. In Pertuis, Château Val Joanis invites you to stroll around its vast grounds lush with fruit trees, olive groves and vines. A journey for all five senses!
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The forerunner of modern art, Cézanne is fittingly celebrated today in his home town of Aix-en-Provence, magnificently portrayed in his work. For the last 40 years, this illustrious painter has been setting the pace for the region's artistic life.
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