Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Hotel Jules Cesar redesigned by Christian Lacroix - Arles

I have a long-standing love of fine hotels. In my early 20's, I saw first hand how hoteliers such as Ian Schrager transformed properties like the Paramount or the Royalton into spaces that were not only complete aesthetic worlds for their guests but also hot-spots that attracted and served the local community. Conversely, in my travels, I also experienced the fact that even some of the most elegant resorts in the world miss out on that spark, leaving behind an after taste of champagne gone flat.

So it was with great anticipation when I first heard that the designer Christian Lacroix had agreed to redesign the Hotel Jules Cesar, one of Arles' most well-known luxury hotels that had sadly morphed into something of a sleeping dinosaur in recent years. Christian Lacroix is not only from Arles, he is one of its prodigal sons. He understands the tricky juxtapositions of this ancient town innately. In the introduction to the excellent guidebook, "Arles, ville d'art et d'histoire," he proclaims that, "Arles is at once working-class and imperial, rustic and aristocratic, Christian and pagan, modest and proud, classical and traditional, stark and baroque, austere and unbridled. Apollo and Dionysus. In colour and black and white."

How would all of that translate into a hotel design? Christian Lacroix had found an apt partner in architect Olivier Sabran but how much could they do?

I pushed open the old rotating doors, happily still in place, took one look around...

...and gasped with delight.

It was all here. From the proud toréador presiding over the bar, to the 18th century scenes depicting Arles as it was (including an insider's wink from when the Arena had been transformed into a village of its own), to the vibrant colors so present in the light, the air - those that inspired Van Gogh and Picasso - to the hum of the future that Arles is building towards with swift momentum. For as I have already said, "It is not sleeping."

And neither is the hotel. It is a lot to take in.

There are so many details to discover, such as the combination of Provençal calade and Roman mosaics woven into the carpet...

...a light-filled breakfast room perfect for charging up for the day...

...and so many corners for a tête à tête

I was delighted to see that the design was not a tabula rasa, for that would not be Arlésien du tout but rather a mixing of old and new. Some of the fauteils that I recognized from the hotels previous incarnation had been given a new zip of upholstery...

And the panelling in the restaurant was topped with a parade of L'Arlésiennes in their finest...

...as well as a few of the wild bulls from the Camargue that are no doubt being served up on plate too. As I visited in the afternoon, the restaurant, Lou Marquès, was closed but I have heard, as was always the case, nothing but good things regarding the chefs Pascal Renaud and Joseph Kriz who have upped the ante of their regional cooking by bringing in a new pastry chef, Anne Beyl.

For you see, the hotel's team was not shelved during its acquisition by the Maranatha Group, something of a rarity. As part of the contract, it was agreed upon that the former owner, Monsieur Albagnac, now in his nineties, would be permitted to continue living in his private quarters onsite.

And while I was poking around the delightfully Alice in Wonderland like hallways, some of which had been scrawled upon with quotes from another prodigal son of Provence, the Nobel Prize winning poet Frederic Mistral, I met one of the hotels top managers who had been with the company for 26 years. Anyone who has worked in the industry knows how demanding it is and I was really pleased to know that such dedication had been correctly rewarded.

The gentleman very kindly offered to show me a standard double room...

...where the interplay of materials and prints that Lacroix had already used to such acclaim in his designs for such Parisian hotels as the Hôtel Petit Moulin or Le Bellechasse is in evidence...

...as is the presence of a fine antique armoire for which the artisans of the area became well-known in the 19th century.

Brazilian tiles meet ones that are a funky sun-splashed mix in the bath...

...an echo of the light that pours in through the former cloister on the lower level of this historic building. 

In the 17th century, the building was created as a convent for the Carmelite nuns, who were expulsed during the French Revolution, when the building served as the Hôpital de la Charité until it was closed in 1903. Afterwards, a petition was put forward to convert the space into a luxury hotel, in which purpose it has served since 1928, save during World War II when it became the Kommandatur of the German Occupation. As Arles is protected as a World Heritage Site, all of the historic aspects of the property were renovated by the règles du métier under the strict supervision of the Bâtiments de France.

It is fun to imagine what the nuns would have thought of the extravagant Lacroix suite!

It is a modern cocoon and yes, the bright red is comforting...

...and a welcome change from the quiet Zen styles that have reigned over hotel design for far too long.

As someone who claims - a tad boastfully even! - to know Arles very, very well...

...it was wonderful to discover a charming garden courtyard that I had no idea existed...

...as well as to be surprised by the splashes of the pool where tanned twenty somethings lounged languidly in the sun.

Such is the spirit of the new Hotel Jules Cesar, now a five-star property, it is an invitation to have a seat...

...and open the door to the best of the essence of all that Arles is, has been and hopefully will become. I know that I will certainly look forward to going back as a guest or as a local. In 2001, Christian Lacroix also wrote from the result of his living here, "What I see, I keep; but I grow because I give in return. The key here is not so much the idea of an eloquent past as that of a present whose voice is always in the background." May that voice keep humming for a very long time.

Hotel Jules Cesar
9 Boulevard des Lices
13200 Arles
Tel.: +33 (0)4 52 52 52

Special re-opening rates can be booked on the website starting from 125€ for a Chambre Classique, the Suite Lacroix from 382€

Friday, August 29, 2014

"Lost in Arles" found on live Canadian television!

I am a shy person by nature. Acting was a boon for me as it gave me the opportunity to escape that inner shrinking by being able to play other people, often outrageous characters such as Cleopatra. But I could always hide behind the idea that it wasn't really me up there - even though of course it was - by giving myself something of a "Go Free" pass. 

So when I received an email from Paul Hughes, a producer for CTV's Canada AM asking if I would be interested in being interviewed live for their national morning news show, my first thought was "Uh-oh." He wasn't interested in seeing a character but me! But...at the same time...*big intake of breath*...in turning 45 I made a bit of a promise to myself to step up to the plate a bit more as well as to let go of some of the old habits or ways of thinking that aren't serving me well. Plus, as I mentioned previously, my horoscope says it is supposed be a good year for me but that can't happen if I say non or peut-être automatically (which I can have a tendency to do, as embarrassed as I am to admit it). So I accepted. 

Paul was very reassuring as they started filming other episodes in Provence. "It will be fun," he wrote. "Well, ok, then, just have fun," I told myself. As luck would have it, I arrived early on the day of the broadcast, so I was able to meet Paul (delightful and a fellow red-head!), the crew and the host, Jeff Hutcheson, while they filmed what are called "teasers" - think of them as lead-ins to a story - and two other segments, all while flipping back and forth with the show in Canada. I couldn't get over Jeff's incredible ease and his encyclopedic memory. I would mention off the cuff some little historical tidbit about where we were standing and he would seamlessly incorporate it into the next piece without the blink of an eye. It was inspiring to see someone so bien dans leur peau, so when it was our time to go live, I told myself, "Breathe. Smile. And just continue the conversation." 

Here is a link to a video of the segment:

Or take a look at this (hopefully) direct link on Google Plus:

Of course, the filming passed in the blink of an eye. Paul had liked the post that I did on our recent move and so we focused on that, which was fun. Afterwards, he introduced me to Chris Flak, a producer for CTV's Morning Live show in Vancouver. Their team were also doing direct coverage from the South of France and would I be interested in being on that show as well? Why not? The same wonderful crew prepped me and I met the host, Marke Dreisschen and we chatted about dogs. As they were filming from the arena, a small crowd gathered to watch, including my honey, Remi. After an even quicker blink, it was over. I said my grateful goodbyes while everyone was already moving on to the next story. 

I do want to thank Paul for contacting me. Everyone involved in the shoot couldn't have been nicer. It was a really interesting experience and I have to say that I enjoyed being in front of the camera again, even if - or especially - under such different circumstances. And while I don't think that I could hold up to Eleanor Roosevelt's famous quote: "Do one thing everyday that scares you," I have to say that it felt pretty great to face my fears on that one particular day and to be introduced to new readers to boot...Merci, CTV!

PS. This post is for my Sister, Robin, who asked that I share this with you. As she is so wonderful, I couldn't refuse, even though I certainly didn't plan on it originally...I told you I am shy...

Happy Labor Day weekend for those that are celebrating...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Le jardin du quai, Part two

Last night, I took a glass of wine and sat out under the trellis in the courtyard, listening to the neighborhood's pair of turtle-doves call. They stated their love for each other over and over. "Yes, the light has morphed," I thought. The vines tumbling over the wall were lit up from within, a golden x-ray that I could almost pull at like taffy between my fingers. I picked up my cell phone, then put it down. "Don't fiddle," I told myself. "There is plenty to see here. Plenty to keep me occupied." Habits...I gave me head a sharp shake as if to let them go.

As I reached towards my glass, I saw that two leaves had fallen, just so, as if I had placed them prettily under my sluice of red. "These autumn leaves..." I hummed a little Nat King Cole merrily to myself... "beneath my window..." even if it is a wistful song. For Summer is solid in France, a yearly right of passage or a coda, something earned the rest of the year. And yet Remi and I had given ours over entirely to working in this new house, then moving, an investment in our future. Neither of us saw the time passing but it has and I am relieved.

For now, so much has been shed, just like blooms that had once triumphed brightly and yet are no longer useful. The boxes have been unpacked and stacked and in the middle of the night when I had to find my way down to the kitchen in the dark, I knew the way.

As I looked up at the sunset's scrawling across the crowds, I sipped slowly and let my shoulders drop. "Goodbye Summer, you beautiful swanning girl. See you next year..." A light popped on in the kitchen behind me, Remi coming down to watch the evening news on a very important day when an entire government had faded into the past. Yes, change is in the air.

Open the door and come on in, you are welcome here...

Le jardin du quai
91 Avenue Julien Guigne
84800 L'Isle sur la Sorgue
Tel.: 04 90 20 14 98

Friday, August 22, 2014

Depuis Toujours - wonderful antiques and more in Uzes

It was my birthday. I am superstitious about them, childishly so. If they aren't slam-dunk amazing does that mean that I will be doomed to a year ahead of offness? So it was with a nearing whininess that I wandered through the crowded streets of high season Uzes, a town that I usually adore, after a late and frankly so-so lunch with my honey on the Place des Herbes. I held his hand tighter when I saw that the shop that we had come here to visit was closed for Monday. Things were not going according to plan.

But then Remi made a swift turn and entered into a boutique that I had never seen before. If I have learned anything after living nearly thirteen years with this handsome photographer, it is that the man has pif, he has instinct. Where he goes, I will follow or regret it later.

Those of you that have been reading for any length of time know that I am fascinated by patina. I don't just find it "pretty" or "fashionable" I also find it...quite meaningful. So perhaps you can imagine my inner leap of joy upon discovering that I was in the Ali Baba Cavern of Yee Olde Beautiful Things. And it is run by a wonderful curator.

Bénédicte Leuwers-Mohr was previously a fashion editor for various European magazines before turning towards l'art de la décoration and we were in immediate agreement on the importance of both respecting creative rights and that of taking time to do things well. I saw first hand how her shaped eye had lead her to make such pieces as a giant suspension lamp built around a vintage industrial flour shifter or folding chairs recovered in fabric that bread had been baked in. Inventive, textural, grounded and quietly stunning. My heart went pit a pat.

She also showcases some of the bright lights of the region - literally in the case of the work of Vox Populi, a personal favorite - and beyond, including the most sumptuous cashmere and yak (yak!) blankets that I have ever seen, which were handmade by a pair of brothers in Nepal.

I believe that I have found a new favorite antiques store in Provence. That Bénédicte is such an interesting host only makes the visit all the more worthwhile. It was a birthday gift for the eyes, one to delight a certain aesthetic and longing for the past, all while opening the door to confidently looking towards the year ahead.

I will take everything, please.

I love the name of this boutique. Sans doute, when you take one of these lovely pieces home, you will feel as if you have had it "since always."

Depuis Toujours
13 rue Pélisserie
30700 Uzes

Tel. +33 (0)7 87 14 41 21

I know for many of you in the Northern Hemisphere this might feel like the last weekend of summer. Courage! Autumn is wonderful too. Please know that I am sending my best wishes that you enjoy it thoroughly wherever you are. And to my newest readers/friends, bienvenue! I am truly delighted to have you here at Lost in Arles...