THE ARTS SOCIETY GORING ON THAMES
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DateTour
23 July 2017WRITE UP OF PROVENCE TRIP - MAY 2017 BY RICHARD WINGFIELD
07 May 2017BOUCHE DU RHONE TRIP - MAY 2017
10 October 2016Tour of North Yorkshire with David Bostwick, October 2016. Write-up by David Over
03 August 2016Croatia Tour - May 2016. Write-up by Hilary Box
12 October 2015Lincolnshire Tour - October 2015 Led by David Bostwick, MA, PhD
04 May 2015Spain Tour 24-29 April 2015 - Write up
15 October 2014Hereford & the Welsh Marches
01 April 2014Padova & Palladio

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WRITE UP OF PROVENCE TRIP - MAY 2017 BY RICHARD WINGFIELD
23/07/2017

TOUR OF PROVENCE - MAY 2017

Landing in sunny Marseilles we looked around for Nirvana, our guide from last year's tour in Croatia, who had arrived early to make sure everything was ready.  Once in the Avignon-bound and oddly wind-buffeted coach, she explained that she had been delayed on the way to the airport  by an airborne mattress that had collided with her car.  The Mistral was to enliven much of our visit, bringing strong winds from the north but welcome sunshine and blue skies.

The Hotel Mercure in Avignon is conveniently right next to the huge Papal Palace, 14th century headquarters for the Catholic church.  But first our group of 24 visited La Chartreuse, a Carthusian monastery (no talking by monks) with frescoes by a papal painter.  Then we paid our respects to the remarkable and ancient Pont du Gard aqueduct, towering above a river valley, long retired from its role of carrying water to Nimes in the 1st and 2nd centuries.  The excellent museum here does full justice to its World Heritage site.

The first of our encounters with van Gogh was at our visit to the asylum at St Remy-de-Provence, where he spent a year following the 'ear' incident in Arles and painted over 150 of his colourful works.  A delightful spot, where patients still live, kept apart from tourists.

The next day we toured the impressive Palais des Papes, assisted by compulsory local guide Caroline - enthusiastic though sometimes incomprehensible. We also visited the Musee Angladon, a modern art collection which gave Nirvana a chance to tell us about the great changes van Gogh and Cezanne introduced to art.  Later, some of us walked half way across the famous Rhone bridge of "Sur le pont ..." fame, which is as far as it has been possible to go since the bridge was flood-damaged in the 1660s.

The delightful town of Arles came next.  Accompanied by local guide Nina in a harmonious double act with Nirvana, we visited the Amphitheatre and Theatre, both from antiquity but still in use, the church of St Trophime and the Hotel de Ville with its remarkable ceiling span.  We even posed for a group photo at van Gogh's yellow 'Cafe la Nuit'.  Later we walked along the tranquil Roman necropolic of Alyscamps. In the evening we were driven up to Les-Baux-de-Provence, a medieval mountainside village that found new life in 1821 when an unusual mineral was discovered nearby, subsequently named Bauxite.  Here a nightingale sang for us fleetingly before we dined alongside a majestic view.

Our third cultural 'A' spot was Aix-en-Provence, where we spent our fourth and fifth nights in a converted Augustinian convent in the heart of town.  Here Paul Cezanne rules and we visited his country studio as well as the Musee Granet in the town. Nirvana delivered art history insights at every opportunity.  In the cathedral these were interspersed between official comments from tall, handsome Arthur and unforgettably, from a tiny but exceptionally animated lady whose delivery upstaged the superb medieval capitals of the cathedral cloister.  Afterwards no one could recall her name.

We enjoyed a farewell lunch at a countryside restaurant not far from the famous Mont Sainte-Victoire, painted by Cezanne many times, and close to Picasso's family home.

So much to see in Provence, so much more to return for, and I haven't even mentioned the lively town squares, elegant shops, colourful markets or famous cuisine!

The tour was superbly organised by Honor Juniper, who like the rest of us is delighted that our treasured Nirvana will be guiding us again next year, when the trail of The Arts Society, Goring, takes us to Friuli.