Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mane and Marseilles

We just re-visited the beautiful site of SALAGON in the village of Mane which started as a Gallo-Roman farm before it became a Benedictine priory in the 12th century. Today it is a museum with guided tours, conferences and special events. Other than the well-preserved archeological remains and beautiful architecture of the Romanesque church, Salagon is surrounded by ethno-botanical gardens including a mediaeval garden that features traditional medicinal plants for ailments such as ”female humors, vapors and nervous states.” Wonder if they still work today?  


Another reason to visit Mane is the luxurious hotel-restaurant-spa "COUVENT DES MINIMES" which opened last year in a beautifully restored 17th-century convent of the order of the Minimes Sisters. A major investor in this luxury project was the Occitane company, maker of nature-based beauty products, that is located nearby. The sober decor and the vaulted ceilings of the arcaded cloister surrounding the old courtyard still hint at the original convent, but the discreetly hidden spa with its indoor/outdoor swimming pools, saunas and all manner of massages is more likely to heal the body than the soul. No need to be an overnight guest here to enjoy a lovely lunch on the poolside terrace, or dinner in the indoor restaurant.

Couvent des Minimes

Some months ago, Marseilles was elected European Capital of Culture for 2013. Beating a number of other contestants, Marseilles won because “it reflected an especially nice balance of cultural qualities, political engagement and economic support”, according to the president of the international jury, Bob Scott. No mention, of course, of the city’s reputation for frequent strikes and its tough unions. Perhaps promises of good behavior were extracted in exchange for the expected economic rewards. But rumblings are being heard these days about discord between city officials and builders, promoters and other parties that threaten to slow down the various projects yet to be built. (Shades of the Olympic Games in Athens that weren’t ready until about 10 minutes before opening time – in a manner of speaking). 

Difficult to govern, defiant and with a character all its own, Marseilles with its big commercial port and its trading routes to North Africa and beyond has so many unique assets that its tantrums are invariably forgiven. Click here for a special chapter on this blessed city in Taking Root in Provence.