Bernard ChapmanArt in the landscape in Provence

I have quite a fondness for the south of France, even when the days are cold, crisp, and still. Perhaps in Provence the lavender in the heat can no longer tickle the nose, but the shimmering autumn colour can dazzle the eye as you drive through the rolling hills.

On our most recent trip my fiancé and I spent a few days visiting friends in a house we had rented about five years ago, positioned close to the edgy, colourful town of Roussillon.  I wrote about it previously,  a garden in provence.  Our hosts, Didier and Philippe, share our love of gardens and art, and were keen to revisit the impressive vineyard, Chateau La Coste, not far from where they live, and very close to Aix-en-Provence.


View from the Piano Building. Image, Edward Ohanessian


To ease us into our first Chateau La Coste experience, Didier led us, in convoy, not on a freeway, but through beautiful, rugged countryside, through very windy, bendy turns, and bountiful forests of orange and red-leaved trees. It was very cold, but the sky was clear and cornflour blue as we passed the jagged white cliffs that are so common in this area.

The entrance to Chateau La Coste is stylish and impressive, and a prelude to what was to come with clear signage in crisp, brushed aluminium. It is apparent that detail is important here, even down to the parking bays in the underground parking, defined with LED lights, not white stripes!


Landscape view from the Visitor Centre. Image, Edward Ohanessian


As we climbed the stairs, giving the elevator a miss, and passing the stunning double hippeastrum flower arrangement, we were greeted by a sleeping ginger cat, we would find out is called appropriately Caramel. We found ourselves in the Visitor Centre and our gaze was stolen by one of Louise Bourgeois famous spiders sitting in water in the forecourt of the centre. This sculpture is called Crouching Spider. The backdrop to this black sculpture is rolling, almost rhythmic, hills which glowed red, yellow, and orange.


Louise Bourgeois Crouching Spider. Image, Edward Ohanessian


The Visitor Centre was walled in glass, so when you looked out in the other more sheltered direction, again in a pool of water, a sparkling stainless steel spire soars skyward. It is the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto and is called Mathematical Model 012.


Visitor Centre with Mathematical Model. Image, Edward Ohanessian


Although we lunched at the estate, and the restaurant was housed in the same building as the Visitor Centre, we had come early so we could wander the grounds first. A link to a video about what can be seen at the estate is

Away from the main building we passed The Kitchen Garden, designed by landscape designer, Louis Benech. It is a sculptural artwork in itself, and is effectively a potager design, formal in form, but frothy with all the vegetables, flowers and aromatic herbs that are used to create it. The plants are protected from the vicious Mistral winds that batter the south of France in the Autumn, by a row of mature cypress trees in the distance. The produce of the garden services the nearby restaurant. Here, as is typical in France, produce is seasonal.


Kitchen Garden view. Image, Edward Ohanessian


Not far from the central buildings, but to the left there is a crazy, shaggy timber structure called The Music Pavilion. It is the work of Frank Gehry and is a place for concerts and musical events. I usually love Gehry’s work but found this one messy and ragged, almost broken.


Gehry’s The Music Pavilion. Image, Edward Ohanessian


Fortunately, not far away, there was a giant black bronze bowl by Guggi situated at the edge of one of the vineyards, which is called Calix Meus Inebrians (My Cup Runneth Over, or My Cup Makes Me Drunk), which does impress and seems appropriate in a vineyard. Surrounded by trees, it is positioned to lead the eye to what looks like a dead tree a little way away.


Calix Meus Inebrians. Image, Edward Ohanessian


The giant realistic looking dead tree is actually a sculpture made of bronze. It looks quite believable, except a massive rock is lodged in the highest fork. The bronze is an artwork by Giuseppe Penone, and is called Des Corps de Pierre (literally The Bodies of Stone).


Des Corps de Pierre. Image, Edward Ohanessian


The tree sculpture leads the eye toward a Renzo Piano structure, bunkered into the hillside by massive planes of clipped lawn and white marble. The artworks inside, done by an apparently famous young Italian artist were underwhelming examples of conceptual art.


Piano Gallery Entrance. Image, Edward Ohanessian


In a completely different direction, and above us on a small hill, the landscape drew the eye toward a stunning stainless steel egg-shaped sculpture made by an American artist, Tom Shannon. It is called Drop. It was an interactive piece. You turn it, and the world around, including yourself, is reflected in it. It continues to turn long after you have stopped aiding it. It was particularly impressive on the day we were there, as the brilliant sunshine made it shimmer more brightly.


Drop by Tom Shannon. Image, Edward Ohanessian


Higher up the hill, through a very naturalistic provincial landscape the luxury  hotel for the complex can be found. It is out of bounds to those who are just visiting the vineyard complex. Near it, however, nestled in woodland of oaks and groves of pine, is a sculpture/building by a Japanese artist, Tadao Ando.


Chapel. Image, Edward Ohanessian


It is a square building of rough timber, definitely reminiscent of a Japanese temple and called Chapel. It is full of narrow corridors, which encourage the visitor to see fascinating light and shadows, which are shed on the interior. There is a large space in the middle however, where sculptures extolling the error of humankind’s obsession with consumerism are displayed.

On our way back to the Visitor Centre, also designed by Tadao Ando, the woodland of local trees, complete with a stream (possibly natural), provided lovely shadows and sound as you descend.


Path through the woodland. Image, Edward Ohanessian


Closer to the Centre, there was a garden with a few standard roses (all different cultivars) and espaliered apple trees, which seemed poorly planned and executed. It was hard to know if this was an intentional artwork or a glitch in the vineyard’s overall design.


View of the Visitor Centre & Alexander Calder’s sculpture. Image, Edward Ohanessian


After a most delicious lunch served with an exquisitely coloured rosé from the vineyard, we explored the grounds further. The Visitor Centre has great angles and planes, almost like a crisply folded paper plane. There are columns that lead away from the Centre and the flow of this row is completed with trees. I neglected to make a note of which tree, but from photos believe they are a form of evergreen magnolia.


Octopus salad. Image, Edward Ohanessian


Chateau La Coste has much to offer a visitor, in art, landscape, food and wine. I believe it is a great destination, regardless of the time of year it is visited.


Caramel, the vineyard cat. Image, Edward Ohanessian


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14 thoughts on “Art in the landscape in Provence

  1. What an interesting article. A sculpture garden I had never heard of! I tend to agree with Bernard’s view on the Gehry structure and am puzzled as to where musicians and audience might be placed. Vineyards are good spaces for sculptures and this one seems to be exceptional. I would certainly visit if I were nearby.

  2. Thanks, Ines. This place is definitely worth a detour, especially to someone like youreself with an artistic bent. It not only has great art, but also scenery, food and wine – a great combination for all the senses!

  3. Yet another wonderful article with beautiful photos…I particularly loved “Drop”. Looking forward to your next one Bernard.

  4. Gardens and sculpture – what could be a better combination of the beautiful and artistic and natural. I absolutely loved your careful descriptions and felt I was there too. Adored ‘Drop’ and would love to have one in my garden. And how about that artistic octopus salad to finish off!
    Thank you for words and photos Bernard and Edward.

  5. Thanks, Kris, “Drop” is stunning, for as it twirls the world, including yourself, is reflected in a wonderfully Anish Kappor kind of way.

    Visit here if you ate ever near Aix!

    Hugs, Bernard

  6. Maeve, I am sure with your love of travel, food, art, and wine that you would enjoy this place. The food was wonderful. It is such a passion for the French. The desire for local, seasonal produce, tasty, presented with panache, and with such attention to the play of texture and colour! Wow!

    Love the new water series, too.

    Hugs, Bernard

  7. Wonderfully evocative piece. The descriptions and photos really conveyed the wonder of the sculptures. I particularly liked the Drop and the crouching Spider. The octopus salad also seemed like a work of art – I hope it tasted as good as it looked. What an amazing place.

  8. Bernard, Thank you for your article. Really enjoyed reading about Chateau La Coste and be inspired to visit it. The description and images of the building and sculptures are very enticing. Hope we get there one day. xx

  9. Dear Bernard
    I used to think you were a horticulturist – BUT – I was mistaken – you are a first class writer – so descriptive and interesting. As usual, Edward’s photos are brilliant and I like the tree with rock the best.
    Keep writing Bernard – your new vocation!

  10. Thanks for having a read, Philippa. As you live so close to France, I hope you do visit. The Octopus cappaccio is an entrée that Ed had. He loved it. Almost a sculpture in itself.

    The Drop sculpture is particularly wondeful, as you can make it turn. Your children would love it!

  11. I loved the Renzo Piano building. I am sure you would too. The way it nestles into the landscape. The photo from it, the first photo in the article above, shows how the landscape and the building blend to become almost another sculpture!

    The setting is great. There is certainly a lot to see.

    Hugs, Bernard

  12. You are very kind Bo. I was trying to write so you felt you were there. Ed’s photo, just taken on his I-phone, add so much, too.

    If you are in Provence, you should have a look.

    Hugs, Bernard

  13. Dear Lynne, You are too kind. I have written a lot of other articles. I thought you would have seen them. It is worth looking at the one about the house and garden near Roussillon.

    I certainly will keep writing. It is nice, too, to do these with Ed.

    Hugs, Bernard

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