Wednesday, September 20, 2023

10+ Artsy & Cool Highlights in Provence, France

By Jacquelin Carnegie 
Sanary-sur-Mer (photo: Tobi 87)
Provence is truly a lovely region of France, but it's gotten a little too popular. To get an authentic experience of the area, it's best to visit off-season--early spring and/or late fall. The only exception would be to attend Avignon's famous festival, which takes place every year in July. But, instead of driving from place to place--on very busy French roads--and booking a different hotel every night, consider using Marseille as a base for visiting such towns as Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, and Arles--all easy day trips by train from Marseille's station, Gare St. Charles. Here are some town-by-town highlights:
Cezanne, Still Life with Basket
Founded in 123 BC by Romans, Aix was the capital of Provence during the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, it became a center for arts and education. Famous Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne was born here in 1839 and left his own compelling impression on the town. (Download "In Cézanne's Steps" brochure/map to visit related sites around town.)
Aix Walking Tours
The beautiful 17th & 18th century architecture in the Historic Center is stunning to look at, but it's even better when you know the history behind it. The Aix-en-Provence tourism office offers several daily, walking tours for a nominal fee, mostly in French but some in English.
Cézanne Atelier
Aix, historic center

9 Ave Paul Cézanne; Tel: +33 4 42 21 06 53;
(Open: Daily; Tour in English: 3:30pm or audio guide; Entrance fee, must book in advance.)

For any art lover, it's a special thrill to be in Paul Cézanne's studio space where he worked on several masterpieces between 1902-6. The studio was built from Cézanne's own plans. Today, there are changing exhibits and occasional special events.
Musée Granet
Place Saint Jean de Malte; Tel: +33 4 42 52 88 32; (Open: Tues-Sun; Entrance fee.)
This lovely museum, named for 18th-century, Provençal painter François-Marius Granet, has several Cézannes as well as French, Dutch, Flemish, and Italian paintings from the 16th to the 20th century. Discover Aix's origins in the archaeology exhibits.
Palais des Papes, Les Luminessences
(photo: JM Charles)
In the 14th century, Avignon was the seat of the papacy. The stunning Gothic Popes' Palace (Palais des Papes) still dominates the city. Almost everyone has sung about Le Pont d'Avignon, the famous bridge that only goes halfway across the river, but you've got to come here to get a glimpse of it!
Festival d'Avignon
Palais des Papes & other venues; - (July) 
This annual international, performing arts festival has been going strong since 1947. The mission is to present new and exciting work. Hence, many of the 50+ shows are created especially for the Festival or are being shown in France for the first time. The Honor Courtyard of the Palace of the Popes (Cour d'Honneur, Palais des Papes) is the Festival's main stage, along with several other historical, open-air venues. (While there are some free events, ticketed-shows & lodgings sell out early, so make your plans well in advance.) There's also an alternative festival, Avignon OFF, which takes place at the same time.
While the Les Luminessences d'Avignon light show is no longer on, a visit to the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and its stunning Honor Courtyard, full of centuries of fascinating history, is a must.

Van Gogh, The Yellow House
Founded in the 7th century BC, Arles was an important city during ancient, Roman, and Medieval times. Then, Vincent Van Gogh showed up in 1888 and turned it into a mecca for art lovers.
Van Gogh Walk
(Download "Arles & Van Gogh" brochure/map to visit 10 sites around town.)
Vincent Van Gogh came to Provence, attracted by the effect of the light on the landscape. He stayed in Arles from February 1888 to May 1889, producing hundreds of now-iconic drawings and paintings. Ten places where Van Gogh hung out and painted are marked by picture-plaques. While the yellow house he lived in no longer exists, almost every other spot--from the Place du Forum (Cafe at Night) to the Trinquetaille Bridge (Staircase of the Trinquetaille Bridge)---is remarkably unchanged.
Van Gogh, Irises

This lovely place is one of the oldest towns in France where Nostradamus was born, Vincent Van Gogh came to recover in 1889, and Princess Caroline of Monaco has a house.
Saint-Paul de Mausole Asylum
Chemin Saint-Paul; Tel: +33 4 90 92 77 00;
(Open: Daily; Entrance fee.)
In the spring of 1889, after his tumultuous time in Arles, Van Gogh voluntarily checked himself into this peaceful asylum with a beautiful, cloistered garden. In these serene surroundings, he was able to focus on his artwork and did 143 oil paintings and about 100 drawings over the course of the year. Some of his most iconic works such as Starry Night and Irises were painted here. For true fans, this is an incredible moving visit as everything is as it was--including the views painted--when Van Gogh was here.
Stay: Le Château des Alpilles ( Saint Remy, nestled in the foothills of Les Alpilles, a small mountain range in Provence, is so delightful, it's worth spending the night here at the family-owned Château des Alpilles. Enjoy the hospitality, the grounds that once belonged to a 13th-century knight, and the pool. Dine on wonderful local specialties, including the most delicious honey (nectar des alpilles) you've ever tasted and marvelous wine from Château d'Estoublon.
Vaison la Romaine has a fascinating history resulting in two distinctly different sections of town. The lower area, on the banks of the Ouvèze river, is a modern-day town with incredible Roman ruins, covering 35 acres, open to the public (Puymin & Villasse). By crossing an ancient bridge from the 1st-century AD, you reach the upper Haute Ville, the medieval part of town, high on a rocky cliff. Stroll by ancient stone houses on narrow, winding paths to reach the ruins of a feudal castle of the Count of Toulouse.
Stay: Le Beffroi ( In the Haute Ville, two conjoined houses--one built for a marquis in the 17th century, the other for a count in the 16th--are now a cozy, 4th-generation run, family-owned hotel.
You'll find Sanary-sur-Mer to be a joyous surprise. This popular coastal resort on the Cote d'Azur is just an absolutely lovely, relaxing spot. The pretty town surrounds a palm-tree lined harbor anchored with colorful "pointus"--traditional Provençal fishing boats--and vintage, 19th-century vessels. Enjoy a drink at a harbor-front cafe or head to one of the popular bars or restaurants in Sanary's Old Town, a medieval area with winding streets leading to a 16th-century section. Throughout the year, there are a host of local festivities such as: La Fête de la Saint Pierre (Saint Peter's Day) - On the last Sunday in June, the town's maritime history is celebrated with a festival dedicated to the patron saint of fishermen. Sanary sous les Etoiles (July-Aug) - This is a summertime festival featuring music of all genres. A little known fact: Les Exilés - Between 1933 and 1944, Sanary-sur-Mer was a refuge for many German and Austrian Jewish writers, artists, and intellectuals fleeing Hitler, such as Thomas and Heinrich Mann, and Bertolt Brecht. There's a commemorative plaque of this period. Sanary-sur-Mer has the French honorarium of "ville fleurie"--a village in bloom! 
Château des Alpilles, St Remy
Stay: Hotel Soleil et Jardin ( - A clean, centrally-located hotel with a very helpful, friendly staff. Or, rent a holiday home and live like a local; you won't want to leave! 
Getting there: Most flights to Marseille from the US are connecting flights. Another option: Paris is just 3 hours away on the TGV fast train. A French rail pass from Rail Europe is very useful, including for day trips to other towns in Provence.
Making Your Trip Easier: If your schedule allows, I strongly recommend visiting the Provence region off-season; it gets really crowded during the summer months. There are Provence apps for Android or iPhones.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Beyond Broadway: 5 Great Cultural & Culinary Day Trips from NYC

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Catching a Broadway show should be at the top of your New York City “To Do” list. But, the surrounding, tri-state area--Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts--also offers great theater. At these venues, easily accessible by public transportation, you get wonderful entertainment at reasonable prices. Plus, the theaters are near nice restaurants and other interesting cultural activities for a perfect day trip. You might even be inspired to stay for the weekend or longer!

Westport Country Playhouse
25 Powers Ct., Westport, CT; Tel: 203/227-4177;
Westport Country Playhouse, Stockard Channing & Jane Alexander,
 David Hare’s The Breath of Life (photo: Carol Rosegg)
Paul Neumann and Joanne Woodward were key to the revitalization of this historic theater. The red barn was originally built in 1835. Transformed into a theater in 1931, the Playhouse initially featured try-outs bound for Broadway, then became a stop on the “straw-hat,” summer stock circuit throughout the 20th century. Today, the not-for-profit Westport Country Playhouse presents a selection of terrific plays with top-notch actors.
Westport Country Playhouse
 (photo: Robert Benson)
Nearby Eats: The theater recommends several nearby restaurants.
Other Cultural Activities: MoCA Westport - Formerly the 
Westport Arts Center, offers art exhibits, gallery talks, concerts, and films.
Stay the Night: The Inn at Longshore
Getting There: From New York (Grand Central Station), take Metro North train (New Haven line) to Westport. Then, a 10-minute taxi ride. (Westport Star Taxi: 203/227-5157) Travel time: About an hour and a half.

McCarter, Daphne Rubin-Vega & Jimmy Smits,
Anna in the Tropics (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

McCarter Theatre Center
91 University Place, Princeton, NJ; Tel: 609/258-2787;
Begun in the 1930s as a venue for the Princeton University Triangle Club (who still perform here), the McCarter stage has been graced by some of the most illustrious actors of our time. (Joshua Logan and Jimmy Stewart were in the first production.) McCarter was a popular pre-Broadway and summer-stock stop, then developed into a place where noteworthy playwrights premiere new work (Thornton Wilder's Our Town, William Inge's Bus Stop). Today, the theater continues presenting premieres and nurturing new talent as well as showcasing re-imagined classics.
Nearby Eats: There’s a café at the theater and a wide selection of great restaurants nearby in downtown Princeton: Alchemist & Barrister, Triumph Brewing Company, Winberie’s Restaurant & Bar, Yankee Doodle Tap Room.
Other Cultural Activities: Princeton Tour Company - Great walking tours; Princeton University Art Museum - 72,000 works of art including Degas, Monet & Picasso and an extensive collection of Chinese artifacts; free.
McCarter Theater 
(photo: Peter C. Cook)
Stay the Night: Princeton Marriott & a few other nice choices.
Getting There: From New York (Penn Station), take NJ Transit train (Northeast Corridor line) to Princeton; get off at Princeton Junction, then take the "Dinky" train to Princeton, a 5-minute ride, stops across the street from the theatre. Travel time: About an hour.

Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Dr., Millburn, NJ; Tel: 973/376-4343;
Paper Mill Playhouse, Oklahoma 
(photo: Gerry Goodstein)
In 1938, the Paper Mill Playhouse opened in a defunct paper mill. Begun as a repertory theater, operettas and musicals were soon added to its’ repertoire. Over the years, the Playhouse gained a reputation for offering a selection of great plays and fabulous productions of Broadway musicals. Today, in addition to reviving iconic shows, the Paper Mill Playhouse presents brand-new musicals.
Nearby Eats: There’s the Carriage House restaurant & café at the theater, but Millburn’s Main Street, just a few blocks away, is worth exploring--several ice cream parlors, coffee shops, and restaurants. (The Millburn Deli is famous for its’ Sloppy Joes.)
Other Cultural Activities: In nearby Short Hills, NJ: Greenwood Gardens, a 28-acre public garden on the National Register of Historic Places; Cora Hartshorn Arboretum & Bird Sanctuary, 16-acres of woodlands with nature trails.
Paper Mill Playhouse
Stay the Night: Short Hills Hilton
Getting There: From New York (Penn Station), take NJ Transit train (Midtown direct Dover) to Millburn. Short walk or taxi ride to the theater. Travel time: About an hour and a quarter.

State Theater
State Theater, musician Michael McDonald
(photo: Danny Clinch)

15 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, NJ; Tel: 732/246-7469;
The State Theater is housed in an historic vaudeville and silent movie palace from the 1920s. Best known for its’ concert series featuring headliners at affordable prices--from Yo-Yo Ma to Bruce Springsteen, the theater also presents Broadway musicals, opera, jazz & blues festivals, comedy, and children’s theater.
Nearby Eats: Lots of nice restaurants near the theater. 
Other Cultural Activities: Zimmerli Art Museum - An excellent university museum with an impressive collection from ancient artifacts to contemporary art.

State Theater
Stay the Night: Book a Getaway Package at one of the nice local hotels.
Getting There: From New York (Penn Station), take NJ Transit train (Northeast Corridor line) to New Brunswick, just a few blocks walk to the theater. Travel time: About an hour and a quarter.

Barrington Stage Company
30 Union St., Pittsfield, MA, Tel:
Barrington Stage, Debra Jo Rupp, Dr. Ruth
(photo: ©Barrington Stage)
Founded in 1995, the not-for-profit company, housed in a 1912 vaudeville theatre, produces award-winning plays and musicals, and finds innovative ways to attract new audiences and introduce young people to theatre. The new productions at Barrington Stage are so terrific they often transfer to Broadway (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, On the Town, American Son)–but you can see them first, right here!
Barrington Stage
Nearby Eats: There’s a huge selection of all kinds of restaurants, cafés and wine bars on North Street in the Upstreet Cultural District. 
Other Cultural Activities: Pittsfield is abuzz with artsy activities from 3rd Thursdays street fair to 1st Fridays ArtsWalk. Berkshire Museum - Art & artifacts from every continent.  
Stay the Night: Holiday Inn & Suites
Getting There: From New York (Port Authority Bus Terminal) take a Peter Pan bus to Pittsfield. About four hours (but worth it!)

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

5 Free Fabulous Summertime Things To Do in New York City

By Jacquelin Carnegie
In August, many cities around the world empty out and all cultural activities come to a halt. But, during the dog days of summer, New York lives up to its reputation as "The City That Never Sleeps." Cool cultural and fun events never stop! Here's a sampling of not-to-be-missed happenings: 

Battery Dance Festival
Battery Park City (Aug) 
Battery Dance Fest, Trainor Dance (photo: Steven Pisano)
Every August, this festival gives dance lovers a reason to rejoice. Wonderful international dance companies are showcased in the most beautiful setting in New York City! But, even if you know nothing about dance, it's worth checking out this festival as each night a selection of five dance troupes performs giving you the chance to discover that you're really a dance fan after all. Plus, the Statue of Liberty is in the background!

Summer Concert 
(photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera)
All throughout the summer there are wonderful, free outdoor concerts featuring all kinds of music, but these last until Fall: 
(; June thru Oct) This music fest has expanded beyond Rumsey Playfield in Central Park to 18 parks in all five boroughs. You'll hear cutting-edge music--everything from Indie to Afrobeat, Latin to Soul, Reggae to Fado, etc.--plus you'll see contemporary dance. All performances are free, except for benefit concerts. For jazz fans, there's the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival (Aug). 
(photo: Courtesy Bryant Park)
Bryant Park – Picnic Performances (; June-Sept) – In this beautiful setting—the lawn behind the stunning main NY Public Library—you can enjoy fab, free performances of jazz, classical music, opera, pop as well as dance & theater. Bring your own picnic or garb some tasty goodies at the food tents. Bryant Park will even provide the picnic blanket!

Hudson Classical’s Shakespeare in Riverside Park
In the summertime in New York City, Shakespeare is king! The best-known offering is The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park (July thru Aug) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, but there are also some lesser-known productions such as Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, Shakespeare in Riverside Park & Shakespeare Downtown.

Have a drive-in experience without a car! Check out all the lovely outdoor locations to watch movies under the stars in the middle of the city from Coney Island Flicks to Rooftop Films

Governors Island
New York Harbor,
Open: Daily, year-round; Ferry fee, but free on the weekends before noon.

Governors Island (photo: JCarnegie)
This glorious getaway, just 5 minutes from Manhattan Island by ferry, was for many years a base for the US Army and Coast Guard. But, the Island has been transformed into an artsy recreational area with lots of interesting events. A wonderful way to get away while staying right in the city. (Here are some other great ways to stay cool while sightseeing:

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Discover France’s Magnificent Basque Region: 7 Great Ways To Explore La Côte Basque

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Vascos (Basques) by M. Flores Kaperotxipi
When one thinks of the “Basque Region,” Spain usually comes to mind. But, Basque Country (Pays Basque) has seven provinces: four in Spain and three in southwestern France.
French Basque provinces: Labourd, along the coast and vicinity; Basse-Navarre and Soule, in the Pyrénées mountains. A good starting point is to explore Labourd’s gorgeous coastal area, la Côte Basque, especially the towns of Biarritz, Bayonne, and Saint Jean de Luz. Each town has interesting cultural aspects and unique things to discover. The Basques are an ancient people who have inhabited this region for thousands of years. Pays Basque has a culture and traditions all its own that make the region a fascinating place to vacation.

BIARRITZ - Glamor & Surfing

Biarritz (photo: Hôtel du Palais)
This chic, resort beach town developed in 1854 when Empress Eugénie persuaded her husband, Napoleon III, to build a palace by the Grande Plage beach. Today, it’s the majestic Hôtel du Palais. And, glamorous Biarritz is now a surfing capital. In fact, the French Federation of Surfing named it the “City of Surfing.” The Plage de la Côte des Basques beach is the most popular with surfers of all levels and there are several surf schools. Biarritz also hosts the surf competitions: Biarritz Maïder Arosteguy (April) & French Surf Championship (Oct).
In addition to the surf, admire: the many villas; the lighthouse; the 1933 deco Biarritz Aquarium; the Chapelle Impériale, Eugénie & Napoleon’s private chapel built in 1864 with Spanish-design influences & the French royal bee motif; the 1929 art deco Casino; and the neo-byzantine Église Russe de Biarritz built in 1892. Or just do some shopping and dining in all the fashionable spots. 

BAYONNE - Food & Festivals
Bayonne (photo: J. Carnegie)

Bayonne is such an enchanting spot; situated at the confluence of the Nive and Adour rivers, so….lots of bridges! It’s the capital of the French Basque Country and, over centuries, it’s been a strategic place in French history. It’s also known for its’ fabulous festivals, tasty ham, and legendary chocolate!
Bayonne has three, historic districts: Grand Bayonne and Petit Bayonne on the south bank of the Adour, divided by the Nive river. Saint-Ésprit, the original Jewish quarter, on the Adour’s north bank near the Citadel. Wander through the streets of these beautiful neighborhoods, explore all the local shops and restaurants. Along the way, admire the magnificent architecture and the remnants of Roman walls and Medieval fortifications. Highlights include:
Grand Bayonne: The ancient center, but also a very lively section of town. The Sainte-Marie Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Camino de Santiago route; Château-Vieux (Old Castle), built in the 12th century, now part of the military; Jardin Botanique, a Japanese-style botanic garden; Les Halles, a popular, covered market by the Nive River.
Petit Bayonne: Marvel at the neighborhood architecture of typical Basque buildings. Musée Basque, a museum about the fascinating Basque culture and history, housed in a 16th-century palace; Château-Neuf (New Castle), built in the 15th century by Charles IV, now part of the university.
Nive river (photo: M. Prat/Visit Bayonne)

Saint-Ésprit: This area was primarily settled by Jews escaping the Inquisition and there’s still a Synagogue. Another contribution was their knowledge of chocolate-making. Visit L'Atelier du Chocolat (Chocolate Workshop) to learn all about it. La Citadelle, this citadel was designed by the famous Marquis de Vauban, French military engineer under Louis XIV.
Because Bayonne has such a long, diverse history—and was named “Ville d'Art & d'Histoire” (City of Art & History)--a great way to get the most out of your visit is on an informative, walking tour.

SAINT JEAN DE LUZ - Royal History & Seaside Charm
This is another lovely place with an important connection to French history.
Here, in 1660, King Louis XIV married Marie-Theresa, Infanta of Spain, sealing the peace between France and Spain. The wedding took place in the Saint Jean-Baptiste church. (Today, you can still visit, worship & attend concerts here.)
Place Louis XIV, the town’s central square, is the ideal place to relax over coffee, drinks, or a meal at one of the bar-restaurants’ terraces under the shade of Plane trees. The Maison Louis XIV (where the king stayed before the wedding) is here; a few rooms are open to the public.
Place Louis XIV (photo: Maison Louis XIV)
Then, wander down: Rue de la République, lined with seafood restaurants, that leads directly to the Grande Plage, a beautiful crescent-shaped beach, and the charming, seaside promenade. And, Rue Gambetta, a pedestrian shopping street for Basque linens & crafts, leather goods, and patisseries. It leads to the port with colorful, fishing boats, the famous lighthouse, and the stunning, Venetian-style Maison Joanoenia (House of the Infanta; where she stayed before the wedding to the king).
In the 17th century, St. Jean de Luz was one of the most important fishing ports in France. The stunning houses along the port, and in the historic, town center, were built by the wealthy, 17th century ship-owners whose fortunes came from cod fishing, whale hunting, and royal-sanctioned piracy. Today, tuna, sardine, anchovy, and hake are the preferred catch; available every morning at the marketplace fish stands. 
St. Jean de Luz

Les Halles is St Jean de Luz’s famous market; open daily, all year round, with stands selling fish, meat, vegetables & fruits, baked goods, etc. On Tuesday & Fridays, there’s a very-popular, outdoor market where local farmers sell their produce. To explore more, take a “Coeur de Ville" walking tour. Or, hop on the Little Train.

Basque Region in Nouvelle-Aquitaine: With the spectacular Pyrénées mountain range in the background, there are several other towns worth visiting along the coast of the Bay of Biscay from modest Ciboure to lovely Bidart and Hendaye, right on the border with Spain. 
Biarritz, Bay of Biscay (photo: J. Carnegie)

Getting There: Take a TGV fast train from Paris to Biarritz &/or St. Jean de Luz (about 4hrs) or fly into Biarritz Pays Basque Airport or San Sebastian Airport in Spain (about ½ hour away). 

BASQUE TRADITIONS - Pays Basque has a history that dates back to pre-Roman times, a distinct architectural style, unique fashions, foods, and sports, plus lots of folks in berets!
Basque Fashion: Béret Basque - It’s thought that the "Basque beret” originated with shepherds living on both sides of the Pyrénées mountains in southern France and northern Spain. This beret was also worn by local Basque fishermen, then by farmers and other laborers. It has since become an iconic French symbol. (Laulhère is the most prestigious beret maker in France.) 
Linge Basque (Basque Fabric) – The cloth always has seven stripes of various widths, one stripe for each of the seven Basque provinces, the four in Spain and the three in France. The fabric is used for everything from tablecloths to tea towels, throw-pillow covers, and espadrille shoes. (
Basque fabric (photo: GoBasque)

Espadrilles (Mauleon)
Espadrilles – These traditional Basque shoes are made from canvas or cotton fabric with jute rope soles that are rubberized to last. One can buy hand-sewn or machine-finished shoes. (
Basque Foods - Taste-test what makes the Basque gastronomy so famous:
Seafood Specialties: Ttoro (fish soup), tuna fish luzienne-style, koskera hake & grilled sardines. Jambon de Bayonne (Bayonne Ham): A specially-cured ham with an Indication Géographique Protégée, to prove what you’re eating is authentic. Sweets: Gâteau Basque (Basque Cake) & Macarons, originated here in 1160. Chocolate: First served in France at the 17th-century wedding of Louis XIII in Bayonne; introduced by Sephardic Jews fleeing Spain & Portugal.
Basque Sport - The Basque game of Pelote evolved from the jeu de paume (the ancestor of modern-day tennis); it’s like jai alai or squash. The Championnats du Monde de Pelote Basque (International Basque Pelota Championship) – Takes place every 4 years (next 2026). 
Fetes de Bayonne (photo: Visit Bayonne)
Basque Festival - Fêtes de Bayonne (July) - Parades, Basque sport competitions, traditional Basque dance & music, nightly concerts & fireworks! Garb to be worn by festival-goers: all white with a red scarf & a red belt. Start planning your trip to France's Pays Basque!