On the Contemporary Art Trail in Languedoc-Roussillon, France
By Kent E St John
Picasso and Matisse loved the Languedoc-Roussillon area and after visiting it is easy to see why. Like a mosaic, the pieces of the area complete a work of art. In a country known for great food and wine Languedoc- Roussillon perhaps has the best. France has the largest collection of old masters and Impressionist collections in the world.
Today, especially in the Languedoc-Roussillon regions, new masters continue to make magic via art and there are wonderful places to display those works. The sunlight seems to seduce the senses and the internal clock slows but just a bit, with a University in the city of Montpellier bursts of energy, may be needed.
Art has long been a big part of the area and still is. Recently several contemporary art museums have opened in this land of contrasts. Some of the most unusual lodgings round out the offerings in this land of France with a sprinkle of Spanish Catalan thrown in. Pack up the food and art critic within and explore one very special region.
The city of Montpellier sits on a hilltop and winding narrow streets and alleys spread like a spider’s web down. On the bottom is a part of the city named Antigone, with a futuristic Jetsons look designed by Barcelona architect Ricardo Bofill.
Since Nostradamus was a student here a look to the future has always played a part in Montpellier’s present. The city’s fantastic Fabre Art Museum has been closed for renovations but is back up and better than ever.
An entirely new building built of textured glass now houses 20th-century art work, remarkable with the interior lighting up the sky with 3000 neon lights. It features work by Pierre Soulages, Simon Hantai, and other Support-Surface Group members. The investment in the project was a whopping 62.7 million euros! Well worth a visit.
Montpellier is a remarkable city and thankfully filled with lodgings for all tastes and budgets. A very special place to stay is the five-room Baudon de Mauny, a chateaux-like building smack in the old section of the city.
It was pure elegance. It dates from the 18th century but has all the modern conveniences. With a few steps sit an amazing assortment of restaurants and bistros awaiting your lordship. That is just how you will feel.
Not far, only about thirty miles from Montpellier is the seaside city of Sete, a fisherman’s place with all that that implies, seafood so fresh and tasty you will not believe it possible. The market is the place to get a feel for the bounty of edible treasure.
In fact, beds of mussels and oysters are farmed just after the breakwater, and colorful boats cruise down the cities canals on their way to harvest from the Mediterranean. Sete doesn’t dress for the visitor, it doesn’t have to. Her charm is authentic and real.
From Mont St-Clair, the one rise on the flat coast, that is very evident. The eight miles of surrounding beaches bring visitors by boatload in summer so plan accordingly. That is also when the famous water-borne jousting happens and has for centuries.
One modern addition to the city is the Centre Regional D’Art Contemporain (CRAC), a museum designed for the artwork it displays. During my visit the exhibition Open Frames was running, photos that will strike the soul.
The museum uses modern technology to guide visitors, a place to scan your smartphone is provided with information on the displays and building.
Sete is a marvelous city to stroll and my hotel the Hotel de Paris was equally welcoming and well-appointed after reopening in 2010. The artwork will have you feeling as if you’re still among masters. Its location on 2 Rue Mistral is perfect for exploring the surrounding streets and restaurants serving some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted.
A Rich Combination, Serignan and Beziers
CRAC has another museum located in the town of Serignan, its colorful glass walls make it very hard to miss that it also houses different displays and exhibitions, many local artists’ work is featured. In fact, works by well-known artist Dado can be found. Dado was very fond of the area. A visit to his studio can be arranged and offers a rare glimpse into his creative mind. In fact, Dado’s studio was my favorite find on the trip.
Nearby is the historical city of Beziers where you can visit the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Beziers. The museum houses paintings from all periods giving you a chance to visit some other styles, it also has a section of contemporary works.
Most interesting are the paintings collected by Jean Moulin, the famous resistance leader during WWII. His cover during the war was as an art dealer.
The city itself is a place to soak in the local lifestyle amongst history and a stroll along part of the Canal de Midi is highly recommended. The city’s cathedral was rebuilt after thousands of Cather were burned alive inside the old church. Today’s peaceful Beziers had a very turbulent past.
For a very peaceful repast, a stay at the Chateau Hermitage de Combas in Servian is highly recommended. The Chateau is located amidst vineyards and is stunning. The rooms are more like apartments with kitchens and full service. A great chance to hit a market and try the bounty, at the least great wine and cheeses. The grounds are meant for walking and make the perfect base for the whole area.
Nimes New Art Scene
The view from the restaurant at the Carre d’ Art a Nimes looks like a Roman Temple scrubbed blinding white, built almost 20 centuries ago in the center of the city. The modern building housing the Carre was designed by Sir Robert Foster and built in 1992.
The museum houses permanent collections of works by Hanati, Richard Frize, Gherrad Richter and Richard Long, a who’s who of contemporary art. The other half of the building is the library. The whole building is itself a work of art.
Nimes is one of the most beautiful cities in France, with roots that go back to Roman times. The coliseum is still the heart of the city and alleyways filled with shops and restaurants abound. City parks fill in many spaces and games of boule are played in every park.
Pleasant thoughts of my few days exploring the new art in Languedoc and Roussillon filled my last afternoon sunning in a café surrounded by a perfect French square. It all became clear to me, find a Medici-like family to back me.
Learn an art skill and move here. Until then I’ll have my memories. I continued that dream through the night in the fitting Royal Nimes Hotel, within view of the Carre.
If You Go
My flight to France was on Air France,
consistently great service and seating. Connecting flight to Montpellier was easy to make and all legs of the trip on time.
As always when heading to France I started my research with the French Tourism’s website. A great resource for all things a visitor might need to know.
Montpellier has more styles of lodgings than most cities I’ve visited, from one to five star. I found the same to be true throughout my journey. I felt the ones I stayed in were wonderful so I have included links.
Chateau Hermitage de Combas
Hotel de Paris, Sete