Tour board's itineraries feature arts of Provence

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NEW YORK -- It's a familiar corner of France to many, yet the regional tourism board of Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur offers a new perspective: journeys through the heartland that highlight the Domestic Arts of Provence tour package.

This special-interest focus, outlined in a free guidebook for agents and their clients, points to seven itineraries exploring Provence's traditional arts. Those routes feature centers of pottery and ceramics; woodwork; ironwork; textiles, and antiques and dwellings, from castles and country houses to farms and cottages.

 springtime landscape, Provence There also is a Meet the Craftsmen list of artists, who open their workshops and studios to visitors as well as regional craft fairs.

What travelers will find along these routes are jewel-bright fabrics, delicately traced faience earthenware, hand-painted santons (clay Nativity figurines), wrought iron, stone sculpture and handcrafted furniture -- all produced using traditional techniques. Along the textile route, for instance, clients may visit the Souleaido factory where the famous Provence printed fabrics are made, in Tarascon.

The two big centers of earthenware production, both with excellent craft museums, are Marseille and Moustiers-Ste.-Marie, and the biggest pottery festival in the region is held in June in Cadenet. And for travelers interested in antiques, a favorite stop will be l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, long the hallowed ground for dealers in secondhand goods and antiques in the South of France. Avignon is another town well known for its antiquities, and there is a good secondhand market in Aix-en-Provence.

At the end of the tourist board's 50-page guide to domestic arts and antiques routes, agents will find a comprehensive and descriptive list of hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments "with character." This guide is the fourth in a series of full-color presentations of special-interest touring for travelers to Provence.

The series includes In the Footsteps of the Painters of Light, a tour through the eyes of the 19th and 20th century masters; Wine Routes of Provence, an introduction to the region's vineyards, and the Lavender Routes, a guided tour of the lavender-growing areas that are among the region's most breathtaking sights.

The latest guide is available free by calling the French Government Tourist Office agent hot line: (202) 293-6175.

Local firms trace region's crafts

ARLES, France -- Local travel companies offer various itineraries to follow along the Traditional Crafts trail in Provence, from two nights in Arles to a three-night Pottery Trail itinerary in Marseille and a five-night Art & Crafts trip to Avignon. Two examples follow.

  • Weekend From Arles, a three-day, two-night package with accommodations in a two-star hotel (27 air-conditioned rooms decorated in Provencal style and overlooking the Roman amphitheater). Tour stops on day one in Arles include a furniture workshop and the Arlatin Museum of folk arts. On the second day, the trip takes in Les Baux-de-Provence to tour the Santon Museum and the workshop of a sculptor, followed by a visit to the metalworks in Fontvielle and the Charles Demery Souleiado Museum in Tarascon. The price per person, double, is $111. Contact Loisirs Accueil, Bouches-du-Rhone Provence Reservation Service in Mallemort, at (011) 33-4 9059-4936; fax (011) 33-4 9059-1675.
  • Decorative Arts Road Through Provence, a three-day, two-night package, includes accommodations in a three-star hotel with breakfast. Starting Saturday in Avignon, the tour visits the Popes' Palace and the Museum of Vouland. Sunday includes antiques dealers in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and a visit to a weaver's studio in Gordes. On Monday, visits range from an ironworker's studio in Vaison-la-Romaine to the Sobirats Museum in Carpentras. The price per person, double, is $155, with an optional car rental for two days at $150. Provence Voyages in Avignon, Phone: (011) 33-4 9082-0846, Fax: (011) 33-4 9027-0072
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