It’s peak summer season, and what better place to spend a July vacation than the South of France? One of the most charming regions of Europe, the South of France is a haven for contemporary art lovers, with its many boutiques, foundations, and museums catering to every taste.
Last year, I visited Marseille, and I absolutely loved it. With its raw and laid-back atmosphere, the city offers endless possibilities for every tourist, from art and museums to marvelous beaches, natural parks, and islands with deep blue waters. The South of France is particularly rich, with many small towns and villages scattered around the coast, each offering something amazing to discover. This region has a storied history as the home of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masters, but it also drew in many other great artists of the past century, reflected in the vibrant atmosphere and artsy vibes that permeate the area.
As someone who prefers smaller, quaint villages, early morning beach trips, and the serenity of natural parks, my advice is to ditch the big cities, like Nice, Saint-Tropez, or Cannes, and head to less popular destinations to fully embrace the Cote d’Azur lifestyle.
That being said, if you’re a fan of combining beach and boat trips with contemporary art, the South of France is undoubtedly one of the best places on Earth to visit. To prove that, I have gathered six must-visit contemporary art destinations that should be included in your South of France itinerary.
Carré d’Art-Musée d’art contemporain, Nîmes
Located in the ancient city of Nîmes, the Musée Carré d’Art stands as a symbol of modernity amidst its historic surroundings. Designed by renowned architect Norman Foster and opened in 1993, the museum houses a remarkable collection of contemporary art, counting over 600 pieces that emphasize works from the 1960s to the present day, as well as a multimedia library. The museum’s carefully curated exhibitions aim to serve as a link within a network enriched over the years to promote and disseminate contemporary art across the Mediterranean region.
Carré d’Art-Musée d’art contemporain
6 Pl. de la Maison Carrée, Nîmes
Info, tickets, and opening hours: www.carreartmusee.com
Fondation Carmignac, Porquerolle
Perched on the idyllic island of Porquerolle, the Fondation Carmignac offers an enchanting setting for the appreciation of contemporary art. Established by Edouard Carmignac, this private foundation is a haven for artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts alike. The foundation not only houses a diverse collection of contemporary art but also actively commissions new works, fostering innovation and experimentation. Its commitment to engaging with environmental issues and sociopolitical themes through art has made it a thought-provoking destination for cultural exchange, and it also promotes a photojournalism prize on the same themes. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes to visit the Villa and its gardens, and don’t forget to check out the rich program of concerts, screenings, and activities they organize throughout the summer season. This is the perfect place for a day trip, to pair with a visit to the island and some beach time.
Piste de la Courtade Île de Porquerolles, Hyères
Info, tickets, and opening hours: www.fondationcarmignac.com
Fondation Vasarley, Aix-en-Provence
Tucked away in the charming town of Aix-en-Provence, the Fondation Vasarley is a hidden gem in the world of contemporary art. Dedicated to the work of Victor Vasarely, the famous creator of Op Art and its optical games and abstraction, the foundation is a must-visit destination for all contemporary art lovers in the South of France. In this architectonic Center imagined by Vasarely himself, you will discover 44 monumental works distributed in seven cells 11 meters high. Through exhibitions, workshops, and activities for all visitors, the Fondation Vasarley actively fosters a thriving artistic community within the region.
1 Av. Marcel Pagnol, Aix-en-Provence
Info, tickets, and opening hours: www.fondationvasarely.org
Fondation Maeght, St-Paul-de-Vence
A true icon in the South of France’s art scene, the Fondation Maeght in St-Paul-de-Vence has been a pillar of contemporary art for over half a century. Established by art dealers Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, this institution boasts an outstanding collection of modern and contemporary art, including works by Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, and Alberto Giacometti. The Fondation Maeght’s stunning architectural design, surrounded by lush gardens, enhances the overall experience, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty and wonder of art. As stated on their website, “La Fondation Maeght is not a museum. It was born from the desire for a place in which Aimé and Marguerite Maeght could present modern and contemporary art in all its forms; and where their artist friends could visit to create and exchange ideas as much as to exhibit work.” The foundation boasts an impressive summer program, featuring several events, exhibitions, workshops, and many other activities, so if you happen to be around the area in the hotter months, make sure to pay them a visit.
623 Chemin des Gardettes, Saint-Paul de Vence
Info, tickets, and opening hours: www.fondation-maeght.com
Hartung-Bergman Foundation, Antibes
Another coastal town, another art foundation; this is the essence of the South of France for contemporary art lovers. Dedicated to the legacy of renowned artists Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman, the Hartung-Bergman Foundation in Antibes provides a unique glimpse into the lives and artistic practices of these influential figures. This intimate museum and research center not only displays their works but also serves as a hub for scholarly exploration and intellectual exchange. The villa and olive grove that the two artists bought back in the 1960s and where they lived and worked until the end of their days, is only open to the public from May to September, three days a week (Wednesday to Friday), but its unique location and history deserve planning your vacation around this destination.
173 Chem. du Valbosquet, Antibes
Info, tickets, and opening hours: fondationhartungbergman.fr
LUMA Foundation, Arles
If you’re looking for more shiny, new, and hip places, then LUMA in Arles is the place for you. Opened in 2021, this is one of the latest additions to the South of France contemporary art panorama, and it went straight into the top ten. The foundation was originally established in 2004 to support the activities of independent contemporary artists and other pioneers working in the fields of art, photography, publishing, documentary, and multimedia, especially targeting environmental issues, human rights, education, and culture in the broadest sense. The LUMA tower, nestled in the historic town of Arles, is hosted in a building designed by Frank Gehry and inspired by Van Gogh. The tower hosts exhibition spaces, workshops, offices, and a terrace with a rooftop bar from which you can enjoy a stunning view over the city. This is probably the most impressive architecture you will see in the region and a must-visit if you are in Arles.
35 Av. Victor Hugo, Arles
Info, tickets, and opening hours: www.luma.org
Bonus tip: PleinSud
The South of France offers a captivating tapestry of contemporary art institutions, each contributing uniquely to the region’s cultural landscape.
If you are looking for more destinations than those above mentioned, check out the PleinSud website. PleinSud is a network of contemporary art-related institutions and stakeholders in the South of France that came together in 2020 to promote the outstanding and flourishing contemporary art offer on their territory. The network comprises 71 contemporary visual arts venues located all along the Mediterranean coastline from Sérignan-Sète to Nice-Monaco.
This is the perfect destination to plan a road trip to the South of France, as they also provide maps and detailed information on everything the region has to offer, as well as a calendar with all the activities and suggested itineraries.
Check out more at pleinsud.art