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Rosemary Cullum

Each year, the Friends are presented with an enticing range of events and trips, organised especially for them both in the UK and abroad. Last autumn, architects Rolfe Kentish and Jane Sanders led a hugely successful Friends’ visit to Marseille. Many starry modern buildings were seen and the chance to experience the architecture, landscape, food and wine of southern France in the company of like-minded people was an integral part of the trip. Rosemary Cullum takes up the story…

No airport queues for us. Travelling by train on the Eurostar and TGV was a key attraction of the trip.  On arrival in Marseille, Rolfe led us to a sun-filled terrace with a stunning panoramic view of the city bathed in golden light. In the distance perched on a pinnacle, an exquisite church– Notre Dame de la Garde which we couldn’t wait to explore.

The first evening’s walk down to the Old Port revealed a vibrant city with fascinating street sculptures, controversial architecture, harbour-side restaurants, the buzz of traffic, people of all nationalities, a working city plus much more.

Day two began with the delights of hotel breakfast. Intriguing was the fruit arranged as an installation so one was hesitant to disturb the image.

Our first visit was to MuCEM– the first Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. The main building was clad in an outer ‘skin’ – a concrete tracery of symbolic foliage shapes. The museum houses a permanent exhibition of historical everyday objects relating to Mediterranean civilisations – all this and then the delights of the Fort St-Jean reached by a suspended walkway, overlooking the magical ‘Vieux Port’. The inspiring and innovative architecture of the development included a breath-taking cantilevered building, the Villa Méditerrannée, resembling a diving board. In the afternoon some took a boat trip round the beautiful Calanques (‘fjords’) and others visited the Palais Longchamp for the De Van Gogh à Bonnard exhibition.

Next day saw a visit to the Chateau la Coste Sculpture Park and vineyard an oasis of peace and serenity near Aix. Large stretches of water reflected the sky, while swifts dipped and wheeled over works by Alexander Calder and Louise Bourgeois. A two hour walk in the warmth and silence of the French countryside, took us round the fascinating site specific sculptures by artists including Tracey Emin, Richard Serra, Sean Scully, and Andy Goldsworthy. They had all responded to, and interpreted, the magnificent site in different ways.

Wine tasting was followed by another wonderful group meal – typically French –outside at a long snow white cloth covered table. After lunch there were more beautiful paintings in Aix at the Musée Granet for the ‘De Cezanne à Matisse’ exhibition.

Other highlights of the trip included an inside view of Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation. Having a guided tour by a ‘real life’ resident enabled the full impact of Corbusier’s design to be appreciated.  And then a drive along the Corniche with wonderful romantic sea views, towards our next destination, Aubagne.

Here we saw a very enjoyable Picasso ceramic exhibition. The French fruit and vegetable market in the town was irresistible – aromas of sun-warmed peaches and nectarines, vivid colours of peppers and aubergines, strings of purple flushed garlic…lunch was wine drenched and unforgettable.

On then to Hyeres for a visit to the Villa Noailles – an early modernist villa of beautiful proportions.

The star of our trip was Marseille itself, European Capital of Culture 2013  – full of golden light – an outstanding  destination. Quite simply – a glorious time was had by all. How lucky we are to be Friends of Kettle’s Yard.