Paris has three remarkable and unusual pagodas. Curiously, only one of them was built as a shrine. Of the other two, one is bold and conspicuous, while the other is discreet and hidden within a dense bamboo and ginko garden. What the three have in common is that their histories are fascinating, with just a hint of mystery.
The Champs Élysées is surely the iconic avenue in Paris. It conjures up images of a wide, tree-lined boulevard lined with magnificent Beaux-Art style buildings occupied by elegant designer boutiques, discreet luxury hotels, the famous Lido cabaret, and like a giant exclamation mark, the Arc de Triomphe marking the summit. The reality though is that over the last few years the street was in danger of becoming just another retail strip full of banal chain stores and more than a few fast food outlets. Two recent spectacular renovations have heralded a rejuvenation of the world’s most beautiful avenue.
The very name ‘Provence’ conjures up images of brilliant blue skies, ancient golden stone villages with terracotta tiled roofs, and dazzling colours thrown into sharp relief as depicted in a Van Gogh painting. It’s a land of languid, hot sunny days, leisurely outdoor dining on wonderful food that tastes of sunshine, with the air fragrant from fields of lavender. It’s also a region whose architectural riches of its ancient past are evident at every turn.
There would be few travellers nowadays who, when they hear or read ‘Luberon’, don’t immediately conjure up the delightful memoirs by the late Peter Mayle. His first book, ‘A Year in Provence’ published in 1989 became the model for a new travel genre and spawned any number of imitators on the theme of an outsider taking up residence in a town or region somewhere picturesque such as Provence or Tuscany. Until then, the Luberon region of Provence was barely known outside France, and then mostly for its typical Provencal produce.
Trying to distil the huge number of exhibitions and concerts happening in any year in Paris into a list of highlights is an almost impossible task. This year is no exception, but any year will have so many visual feasts and surprises, it’s one of the great pleasures, and dilemmas, in planning a visit.