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“A light and sound show?”, I asked, with a hint of disdain. Gayle turned her gaze to me and began to describe the Carrières de Lumières show. “It’s like projections of art, in a quarry, combined with music. Look, I don’t want to give away too much but you have to go. You won’t regret it!”, she added. I was on the Avalon Rhône River cruise from Lyon to Port St. Louis and I hadn’t signed up for any excursions that day. Gayle, the cruise director, had assured me that there were spots left on various excursions, but she was confident I’d love the Carrières de Lumières excursion. “You’ll also enjoy the hike which precedes the show”, she added for good measure. I was very impressed by the excursions on this eight-day Active & Discovery cruise so I figured this excursion wouldn’t be any different. “Ok, sign me up!”.

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View from the hike in the Alpilles.

The hike in the Alpilles

The drive from Arles to Les Baux-de-Provence (map), the location of Carrières de Lumières, was certainly scenic. We passed rice fields (this is the ‘rice bowl’ of France, the guide explained) and picturesque villages, and as we neared the hills of Les Baux or Alpilles, the landscape changed to thick pine forests interspersed with towering limestone outcrops.

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View of the Alpilles. Can you spot the square opening in the hills in the middle of the photo? That’s the Carrières de Lumières!

We stopped at the entrance of Carrières de Lumières and I wondered where the stone quarry was. Our guide led us up a path into the forest and up the hill. At a certain point, she stopped, pointed to the ground and said, “The Carrières de Lumières show takes place right below us, inside the mountain”. My interest was certainly piqued now!

View towards the valley and the Alpilles.

Views of Les Baux-de-Provence

We continued up the hill and the stunning views of the forested hills slowly unfolded. Along the way, I continuously caught the scents of rosemary, thyme, oregano and lavender. This sure was a fragrant hike! We reached a lookout point with spectacular views of Les Baux-de-Provence, one of the most beautiful villages in France. This medieval village is perched rather precariously on a hillside and is topped by the formidable ruins of a castle.

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The spectacular view of Les Baux.
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Hiking in the hills of Les Baux de Provence or Alpilles.

From this point, we continued on the 1.5 hour hike around the hills before slowly making our way back to the entrance of the Carrières de Lumières.

The Carrières de Lumières multimedia show

My excitement grew as we stood in line to enter the quarry. I really didn’t know what to expect but the idea of seeing a light and sound show inside a mountain sure sounded extraordinary. I just hoped I wouldn’t feel claustrophobic in there!

The door opened and we entered the quarry. I gasped! Before me was a cavernous space with vast walls and gigantic stone columns.

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Inside the Les Grands Fonds quarry

I later learned that this quarry, called Les Grands Fonds, opened in 1800. Its stone was used for the development of villages and towns in the region before it closed in 1935. Abandoned, the site quickly became popular among artists.

In 1959, Jean Cocteau filmed “The Testament of Orpheus” inside the quarry. In 2012, under the creative direction and management of CultureSpaces, the Carrières de Lumières opened with an exhibition of the works of Van Gogh and Gauguin.

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The impressive quarry

A wander through the works of Kandinsky

The lights soon dimmed and the show started. Images appeared on the huge walls, accompanied by the swirling rhythms of Vivaldi. I stood transfixed, in total awe of this simply magical experience.

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The quarry was transformed into an enchanting place filled with the works of Kandinsky.
I stood transfixed as the works graced the walls of the quarry.

In the first part of the show, the vivid works of Wassily Kandinsky filled the space. Everyone was clearly mesmerised as the colourful art filled every inch of the walls, then transitioned into other artworks. The highlight was his famous ‘Squares with Concentric Circles’!

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The famous concentric circles of Kandinsky.

The projections seemed to dance on the walls, sometimes with an uncanny 3D effect. The music, a fantastic combination of classic and contemporary, partnered perfectly with the images; at times, uplifting, then dramatic and melancholic, and occasionally humourous and spirited.

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The vivid colours of Kandinsky. These works were accompanied by the tunes of ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie!

Some people picked a spot while others chose to stroll around slowly to fully immerse themselves in the wonder and awe of this bewildering show.

Cezanne, larger than life

The second part of the show featured the works of post-Impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne, known as the ‘Master of Provence’ for his portrayal of the landscapes and people of Provence.

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The start of the Cezanne show.
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Cezanne portraits

The Provence landscapes, portraits and nudes felt larger than life as they graced the walls in sweeping succession.

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The landscapes of Provence.
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Cezanne’s portraits were larger than life!
The Cezanne nudes

The complete show lasted about an hour. The production work is nothing short of amazing and the result is truly awe-inspiring! The first thing I knew I had to do as soon as I returned to the Avalon ship: THANK GAYLE! 🙂

This was one of the many fantastic excursions during my eight-day Active & Discovery Rhône River cruise with Avalon Waterways. However, you can also visit the Carrières de Lumières multimedia show on your own or as part of a tour from nearby Arles or Avignon.

Note: this post is a result of the #AvalonAD project, a collaboration between iambassador and Avalon Waterways. However, all views expressed above are mine, and mine only.

 

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