I’ve been battling with admin all week. A necessary but tedious round of paperwork, bills and similar chores has left me feeling caged up. I’m missing travelling. Much as I like my home, all I want to do is escape to somewhere warm, sunny and new. Finally, one morning I woke early and decided to play hooky (where do I get these Americanisms from!). I packed a breakfast picnic and headed for the beach. Walking for miles I made it out to the sandbanks, only revealed when the tide is out. The fresh sea breezes brought me literally back to my senses. A couple of hours later, like a child I returned home with sandy feet, windswept hair and soggy trousers from splashing through the pools of clear, warm water. Bliss.
Going through last year’s diary looking for a contact number, I’m reminded just how much I crammed in. There seemed to be an exhibition opening, a social event or a trip every week. While every piece I write involves research, interviews, photographs and editing, I really love what I do and I miss not only the work but the social aspect. So I’m pleased to hear that more and more locations are carefully reopening, even while I’m hoping and praying that it’s not too soon.
From the archives
Last July I visited the Louvre Lens Museum in Northern France. It’s an ideal place for a cultural and gastronomy break under the new guidelines.* The contemporary museum is set within 49-acres so there’s plenty of room to self distance, including inside the spacious museum where there’s a staggering 300,000 sq ft of exhibition space to explore.
“A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can.” Maira Kalman, American illustrator, writer, artist, and designer.Tweet
In the light and airy Le Galerie du Temps there are approximately 200 items laid out informally regardless of style or country of origin, and chronologically from 3,500 BC to the mid-19th century. Each era blends into the next and it’s possible to walk around and between the items displayed. The Collection is breathtaking. The museum changes both the art works and the layout in the Le Galerie du Temps each December. In addition, feature exhibitions are staged in the Exhibitions Temporaires and Pavillon de Verre. Glass walls allow visitors to view restoration work safely in the underground area.
The elegant Louvre Lens Hotel is located a short walk away, close to the museum entrance. It was created from a row of former miners’ terraced houses, cleverly linked with glass walls. The hotel rooms are stylish and very comfortable, decorated in muted colours with natural materials.
At the hotel Le Galibot brasserie Chef Fabian Pascal offers classic French dishes with a contemporary twist, featuring local, seasonal produce. The menu might include Fried snail spring rolls and leeks dressed with Pyrenees pine vinegar or a sophisticated Gazpacho with mozzarella and tomatoes. Outside there is an attractive Japanese-style garden and a terrace for dining and drinks.
L’Atelier Marc Meurin is conveniently set within the Louvre Lens parc. Michelin 2-star chef, Meurin, was born in Lens. The menu when I visited included La Raviole Ouverte de Gambas, plump moist prawns nestling under a thin filo pastry. The main course was La Noix de Lotte, (monkfish) Petits Pois, Artichaut, and Croquette de Risotto. I can still remember how beautifully presented the dishes were, and how good they tasted. With a train to catch there wasn’t time to sample dessert, sigh. We did though have coffee (this is France after all) served with the most colourful melt-in-the-mouth fruit marshmallows. The colours were bright but the taste was sweet and fluffy.
The region’s mining industry was closed in the 1960s and, naturally, this had an impact on the community. The Louvre Lens parc was created to regenerate the economy.
The former mining area of Arras is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Around 3km from Lens, the 11/19 pit at Loos-en-Gohelle offers a further glimpse into the district’s history. The area is a vast open expanse where nature is slowly reclaiming Les Terrils, or shale heaps (also known as Northern France’s pyramids). The abundance of wildflowers and wildlife in the landscape make it ideal for walking and cycling.
I was a guest of the Pas-De Calais tourism last July.
Forget flying and take the Eurostar to Arras (3 hours 15 minutes) just 10 minutes from Lens. By car via the Eurotunnel takes 2 hours 50 minutes to Lens.
In my inbox
Every year many hundreds of thousands of archaeological objects are discovered by the British public. This week the number recorded to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) at the British Museum hit a milestone 1.5 million. That’s a lot of hours spent scouring the land by metal detectorists, although some items are found by people digging in their gardens! The item that marked the historic milestone was a medieval lead papal bulla of Pope Innocent IV (r.1243-54). The seal used for authorising papal documents was found in Shropshire.
All discoveries on the PAS database since its inception 23 years ago have been made by members of the public. Many of these finds have transformed knowledge about life in the British Isles over the centuries. In case you’re wondering, there’s a legal obligation to report Treasure finds and to stop in the case of undisturbed archaeology in situ. However, most unearthed objects are kept by the finders. Thankfully, a number of discoveries are so important that they’re acquired or displayed by museums for everyone to enjoy.
The top ten discoveries judged by experts to have impacted most on knowledge of the past include: a silver-gilt badge in the shape of a Boar found near the site of King Richard III’s death in battle; the discovery of thousands of worn-down Roman coins called ‘grots’ (43 to 410AD); and, one of my favouritepieces, a 14th–15th century pilgrim badge of Saint Thomas Becket found in the River Thames. All the information on the PAS database is freely available.
Spring 2021 at Tate Modern
The spring season at Tate Modern will begin with a retrospective of Philip Guston (1913 to 1980). A Canadian American painter and printmaker, Guston was one of America’s greatest modern painters. Apart from high school education and a one-year scholarship at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, Guston remained a largely self-taught artist. He began painting at age 14 and his early work was figurative and representational. Following a period of abstract painting Guston returned to the figurative genre. His new cartoon-like works, revealed to the public in 1970, were not well-received when first shown but have become highly regarded over time. Painting, Smoking, Eating is autobiographical. The plate of chips placed on his chest as he lies in bed is amusing but tragically at this point in his life, Guston’s ‘excessive eating habits and smoking three packs of cigarettes a day’ had begun to affect his health. The exhibition is one to look forward to next spring.
The Royal Collection Trust this week announced that Windsor Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, and The Queen’s Galleries in London and Edinburgh will reopen to the public on Thursday, 23 July.
The Queen’s Gallery programme recommences with George IV: Art & Spectacle (extended until 1 November) exploring the life and collecting of the most flamboyant of British monarchs. This will be followed by Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace (1 December to February 2022) and will showcase some of the most significant paintings from one of the most important art collections in the world. Timed tickets www.rct.uk/tickets.
Spain is one of the countries where UK travellers can go without having to quarantine on return.** The 5-star resort Zafiro Palace Alcudia on the island of Mallorca reopened this week. While their web site doesn’t do the hotel justice, the architecture is ultra contemporary, with an elegant interior. Set in the North East of the island, I recommend hiring a car to explore the nearby mountains and a visit to the ancient Lluc Monastery. Soller is a 50 minute drive away and from there the little wooden train meanders through the countryside to Palma, where you can enjoy a day of luxury shopping and lunch.
I have a soft spot for the Balearics and especially Mallorca, where I lived for a year. The island has so much to offer when you get off the beaten track away from the resorts, to discover the diverse landscape, hidden beaches, small villages, mountains and the lush countryside.
A summer romance
Previously I haven’t been a gin lover but the new flavoured gins are so seductive. I’ll leave you with images of a sophisticated new pink gin from the Cornish Salcombe Distilling Co. ‘Rosé Sainte Marie’ is a dry rosé gin inspired by the flavours, aromas and lifestyle of the South of France. The colour is so pretty, especially with a garnish of summer strawberries. It’s on my list to try so, in the meantime, these are the distiller’s tasting notes. ‘Rosé Sainte Marie is distilled with Macedonian juniper berries and flavours of angelica and strawberries attributing to a subtle sweetness… complemented by fresh lemon, orange peels and ten of the finest hand-sourced botanicals including orange blossom, lemon verbena and pink peppercorns.’ A bonus is that it has no added sugar, artificial colours or flavours.
Trivia: The Sainte Marie lighthouse in the Old Port of Marseille is where nineteenth century ‘Salcombe Fruit Schooners’ would load supplies of citrus fruits and herbs before returning to the UK.
That’s it for this week. I hope you have a peaceful Sunday and that the rest of the week brings you only good things. Stay safe.
*/** As a reminder the UK government advises British nationals against all but essential international travel. Read more here. Please check to each countries guidelines for travel advice.
As always unless otherwise stated, I have no affiliation with the brands mentioned but simply aim to share places and products that have caught my eye.