“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 cruise so I figured this excursion wouldn’t be any different. “Ok, sign me up!”.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’!
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. 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.
The Provence landscapes, portraits and nudes felt larger than life as they graced the walls in sweeping succession.
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 turned out to be one of the highlights of this France river cruise.
This visit was one of the 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. Read more about my Avalon Rhône River cruise and about things to do in 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.