Famed for its natural beauty, its wealth of Augustan and second-century monuments, and the quality and ambition of its medieval heritage, Provence can seem the very essence of Mediterranean France. The Roman and medieval settlements were sparsely distributed, and the major historic centres are clustered within the valleys of the Durance and Rhône.
The range and quantity of Roman work, surviving particularly at Orange and St-Rémy, is impressive – and impressed their medieval successors. The pre-eminent Romanesque churches of Provence are notable both for a predilection for sheer wall surfaces and an indebtedness to earlier architectural norms.
But it is above all the sculpture which was susceptible to this sort of historicising impulse. The Romanesque sculpture of Provence is more skilfully and self-consciously antique than any outside central Italy, and is often organised in a manner designed to evoke ancient sarcophagi or theatres and triumphal arches.
The Italian connection was strengthened when, for much of the fourteenth century, the papacy came to reside in Avignon, one of the loveliest cities in France. The complete circuit of walls is an impressive survival from this time, as is the Palais des Papes, the finest Palace to have survived from the Middle Ages.
Time is spent also in Aix, the attractive old capital of Provence and birthplace of Cézanne, where the intensity of the light, the brightness of the colours and the raw beauty of the Midi purified palettes, dissolved form and changed the course of western art.
Avignon. Fly at c. 2.30pm (British Airways) from Heathrow to Marseille. Drive to Avignon, where all seven nights are spent.
Avignon, Pernes-les-Fontaines, Venasque. An introductory walk through the old town of Avignon, including the Gothic church of St Didier. Drive to Pernes, a delightful fortified river town with an important Romanesque church and 13th-century frescoed tower. Continue in the late afternoon to the stunning early medieval baptistery at Venasque.
Avignon. The collections of late Gothic sculpture and painting in the Petit Palais act as a splendid foil to the work at the papal palace, while the cathedral houses the magnificent tomb of Pope John XXII. A little free time before an afternoon concert at the Carmelite church of St Symphorien (subject to confirmation).
Villeneuve, Orange, Pont-du-Gard. A day spent mostly within sight of the Rhône, beginning with Pope Innocent VI’s now ruined Charterhouse at Villeneuve-lez-Avignon. The day’s real star is Orange, site of the greatest of all Roman theatres to survive in the West. In the afternoon visit that astonishing feat of engineering that brought water over the River Gardon at the Pont-du-Gard.
Aix-en-Provence. At Aix, the cathedral displays an extraordinary juxtaposition of Merovingian baptistery, Romanesque cloister, 13th-century chancel and late medieval west front. Cézanne’s studio remains as he left it on his death in 1906, and a short drive away is a fine view of the Mont Sainte-Victoire, the most recognisable motif in modern art.
Christmas Day: Avignon. The Palais des Papes is the principal monument of the Avignon papacy, one-time site of the papal curia and by far the most significant 14th-century building to survive in southern France. Some free time in Avignon before a lecture and Christmas dinner.
St-Rémy-de-Provence. Drive along the northern flank of the Alpilles to St-Rémy-de-Provence, Glanum of old, and proud possessor of one of the truly great funerary memorials of the Roman world, the cenotaph erected by three Julii brothers in honour of their forebears. See also the former monastery where Van Gogh was hospitalised, including the Romanesque cloister and scenes that he painted.
Avignon. Drive to Marseille and fly to London Heathrow, arriving at c. 12.30pm.
Dr Alexandra Gajewski
Specialist in mediaeval architecture. She read Art History at Münster University, Germany, followed by a PhD in Gothic architecture in northern Burgundy from the Courtauld Institute of Art. She has lectured at the Courtauld, at Birkbeck College and at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She has just completed a European project at the Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales in Madrid, where she was part of a research team investigating ‘The Roles of Women as Makers of Medieval Art and Architecture’. She is Reviews Editor of the Burlington Magazine. Twitter: @AKMGajewski | Instagram: @akmgajewski
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,980 or £2,740 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,400 or £3,160 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (aircraft: Airbus A319); travel by private coach throughout; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts and five dinners with wine, water and coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager; hire of radio guides for better audibility of the lecturer.
A ticket to a concert is included, costing c. £20. Tickets are confirmed in autumn 2019.
Hôtel d’Europe, Avignon: central 5-star hotel in a former 16th-cent. residence.
Quite a lot of walking is involved, particularly in the town centres. The tour is not suitable for anyone who has difficulties with everyday walking and stairclimbing. Average distance by coach per day: 44 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.