A tour of France's new must-see places

Thirsty for culture? All over France, new museums, art centres and other hybrid venues are now preparing to receive their first visitors. Travel through the epic history of books and images at the Dominican Convent of Colmar, plunge into the cauldron of contemporary creativity at Luma Arles deep in Provence, explore ancient Gaul at NarboVia in Narbonne or take an impressionist stroll through Les Franciscaines de Deauville and the Abbaye de Fontevraud... We reveal the most iconic new cultural venues of today, which you should definitely experience just as soon as health crisis restrictions allow!

Luma Arles: a 21st century factory for the visual arts

Even before it opened on 26 June, Luma Arles was already an icon. But that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise! In the heart of ancient Arles, this 11-hectare creative campus conceived by the Luma Foundation as an eco-responsible environment is structured around a bold centrepiece: a 56-metre tower studded with 11,000 m2 of metal panels! Lines, brilliance and materials that evoke local identity as strongly as the paintings of Van Gogh, the rocks of the Alpilles and the Roman amphitheatres. Designed by the legendary architect Frank Gehry, the Luma tower contains exhibition spaces for major events, archives and seminar rooms, a library, a café-restaurant and a terrace with breathtaking views of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Camargue and the Alpilles. Six former industrial buildings have been transformed into spaces for artists’ residences, installations and exhibitions. Some had previously opened to the public for the Rencontres de la Photographie, the next of which is scheduled from 4 July to 26 September.

Luma Arles (External link)

The Franciscaines de Deauville: a eulogy to knowledge

In its lifetime, it’s been an orphanage, a hospital, and even a school of home economics... But after three years of renovation and conversion works, the Franciscan convent in Deauville has been reinvented as a hybrid cultural venue that’s part museum, part media library and part performance space. A complete change of vocation then? Well, not quite! Open to all the arts and every audience, the building remains faithful to its mission as a place of welcome and education. Project architect Alain Moatti describes its 6,000 m2 as a ‘space for living’, which he has redesigned to ‘share knowledge’ on pathways we build for ourselves. Beneath its glass roof, the cloister becomes a reading room, a meeting space and a theatre foyer, the chapel an auditorium, and the galleries unfurl “ribbons of knowledge” in the form of books, digital resources and art pieces structured around key aspects of Deauville’s past, present and future. Exhibitions are shared across four spaces: the André Hambourg Museum with its collection of 4,000 works, the Masters' Gallery with its exceptional works of art, the photographic gallery and the exhibition courtyard (for travelling exhibitions), which has been designed as a replica of the cloister.
The Franciscaines Deauville (External link)

NarboVia in Narbonne: the origins of ancient Gaul

Fancy visiting the first Roman colony in Gaul? The new Narbo Via museum in Narbonne brings the past of this ancient capital back to life; founded in 118 BC, almost no visible traces remain today. On the banks of the Robine canal, the 3,200 m2 exhibition space of this building designed by Foster + Partners brings together more than 7,000 objects discovered in archaeological excavations. The highlight is a wall of 760 blocks of stone from Roman necropolises... Which will actually talk to you! An automatic storage system allows visitors to handle the stones and hear their histories. Behind the wall, a series of exhibition spaces around a central atrium showcase what life would have been like in the Roman city, with three-dimensional reconstructions of its monuments and port. You’ll also be able to see an exceptional collection of mosaics and frescoes recovered from the remains of houses in Le Clos de la Lombarde, a high-status residential area of ancient Narbonne.

NarboVia (External link)

The Museum of Modern Art at Fontevraud Abbey: beauty through the eyes of a collector

Have you yet to discover Fontevraud Abbey, the largest monastic centre of the Middle Ages and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site? If so, the opening of its Museum of Modern Art is one more excellent reason to plan a visit to this unique destination at the gateway to Saumur. Over three floors of an 18th century building that was once the stables, 1,700 m2 of floor space have been converted to display the exceptional collection derived from the Léon & Martine Clingman donation. More than 900 art pieces are on display here, including around a hundred 19th and 20th century paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec, Chaïm Soutine and Bernard Buffet, sculptures, including a remarkable group of 14 works by Germaine Richier, nearly 300 original drawings and objects from antiquity of Mesopotamian, African and Egyptian origin. The result is an entire universe of art forms from which the sophisticated museum design draws out and reveals correspondences, links and dialogues, as if this were an imaginary museum seen through the eyes of a collector.
The Museum of Modern Art at Fontevraud Abbey (External link)

The Villa du Temps Retrouvé in Cabourg: a journey back to the Belle Epoque

How would you like to stroll through Swan's house from Marcel Proust's epic novel? Here in Cabourg (Balbec in the novels), where the author spent his summers between 1907 and 1914, the brand-new Villa du Temps Retrouvé (the House of Time regained) breathes new life into the writer, his characters and the very essence of the Belle Epoque 150 years after his birth. The moment you enter the villa - now completely restored to its original appearance - you find yourself in a time machine take you straight back to the unique atmosphere of the golden age on the Côte Fleurie. Visitors are invited to explore this suspension of time across two centuries through the magic of an immersive tour that includes visual, audio and even olfactory effects and around 350 objects, ranging from furniture, masterpieces of painting, costumes, films and photographs. Remember that this was the exceptional period that gave us Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin, Auguste Rodin and Claude Debussy. Alongside this immersive taste of Proustian society, the temporary exhibition space sheds new light on popular culture of that time. Its first exhibition Fantômas et le miroir de la Belle Epoque is open now and runs until 11 November this year.

La Villa du Temps retrouvé (External link)

MOBE in Orléans: biodiversity in all its forms

It’s no longer ‘the Museum’; it's now MOBE, the Orleans Museum for Biodiversity and the Environment! The new name says much about its ambitions following the total transformation of the building to highlight the major issues around protecting biodiversity and the environment. Behind the mesh frontage of a bioclimatic glasshouse containing plants, species and vegetation from the Loire valley, the 3000 m² of exhibition spaces will display just part of its collections: in fact, its reserves contain no fewer than 435,000 specimens! Among the rare pieces on display in this innovative museum design, you’ll find a fossilised ichthyosaur - 180 million year-old marine reptile, the ‘Lady of Monteloup’, a Neolithic double burial of a woman and her child and the skeleton of a dodo, a mysterious bird native to Mauritius, which became extinct just a century after the first settlers arrived on the island.

MOBE (External link)

The Dominican Convent of Colmar Heritage Library: the epic story of books since the Middle Ages

Handle leather and parchment that were once used to make books, compose your own page of illuminated manuscript, read in pictures the extracts from La Description de l'Egypte, a monumental work written after Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt... Both conservation centre and library, the Dominican Convent of Colmar is transforming itself into a new-generation museum: sheltered by its 14th century cloister, and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture its own right, this repository of memories contains no fewer than 380,000 documents, including 1,800 manuscripts and 2,300 incunabulae, the very first books printed between 1455 and 1500! It takes us on a journey through the epic story of handmade books from the Middle Ages to the 18th century by following three main themes, the ‘triumphant book’ of the Enlightenment, the ‘conquering book’ of the Renaissance and the ‘Church monopoly of the manuscript book’. One of the highlights of this journey is an exhibition of the most precious liturgical manuscripts in the former sacristy of the convent, where some of these priceless documents were copied and illuminated by the monks who lived and worshipped here. The library is due to open in the second half of this year.

The Dominican Convent of Colmar Heritage Library (External link)

Paris: metamorphic change in a City of Light inspired by the arts

This year, the city of Paris will once again become the City of Light: at the end of a cycle of metamorphic change, the capital is preparing for the official opening of a series of new major cultural venues. In Les Halles, the Bourse de Commerce is beginning its new life as a museum of contemporary art with 6,800 m2 of public exhibition space in which to present more than 10,000 paintings, sculptures, videos, photographs and installations from the François Pinault collection through a series of 15 exhibitions per year. On the Place de la Concorde, the Hôtel de la Marine - the former French Royal furniture repository - is preparing to unveil its new palatial livery inspired by the Age of Enlightenment: this will be the place to experience the ceaseless creativity of French decorative arts in the 18th century through the building’s ceremonial rooms, the gilded cabinet and intendant's apartments. And in the Marais, the Carnavalet Museum - a rare example of Renaissance architecture in Paris - is reopening after four years of renovations, with a completely new exhibition design showcasing its richly diverse collections totalling more than 600,000 works. The reopened museum offers a number of discovery trails, including one at children's height that provides a dazzling journey through Paris from prehistory to the 21st century.