Musée Soulages

Soulages Museum -  Rodez


Soulages Museum Rodez - another world-class art gallery for southwest France.

Soulages museum Rodez    In May 2014, the most recent of France's world-class art galleries, the new Soulages Museum - le Musée Soulages - opened in Rodez, southwest France.  The museum, with its stunning metallic architecture by Catalan architects Aranda,  Pigem and Vilalta has already drawn plenty of visitors.

   When the Pompidou  arts centre in Paris ran a retrospective exhibition for painter Pierre Soulages in 2009, it attracted over half a million visitors, making it the most popular exhibition ever staged at the Centre  for a living French artist. Soulages was also the first living artist to have had an exhibition devoted to his works at the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg. Today, Soulages’ works grace many of the world's top contemporary art galleries, including the Guggenheim in New York, and the Tate Modern in London. But now the place to view the greatest collection of the artist's works is in the small city of Rodez, in the wilds of southwest France, where the artist was born. And here visitors can be assured that on most days they will get to see the artist’s works – over 500 canvasses and other works – without the massive   crowds that thronged the Paris exhibition.

   There is a commonly held idea that all of France's best art galleries are in Paris, but this is certainly not the case. The Pierre Soulages museum will join the ranks of the many high quality art galleries and museums to be found in other less-visited French cities big and small. Rodez is one of these, a small French citiy that has plenty to offer, but is largely off the normal tourist trail; it is the capital city of the Aveyron,  a department in the Midi-Pyrenees region,  a beautiful rural area in the south of the Massif Central hills. Rodez itself, a hill-town which still has parts of its Gallo-Roman walls, has a historic centre with a fine medieval cathedral, some beautiful renaissance town houses, and no fewer than three museums all within walking distance. Forty miles away is Albi, with its superb Toulouse Lautrec musuem, housed next to the medieval cathedral which is classed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
   As for the Aveyron, it is an area of hills, lakes, and river valleys, which is also home to one of Europe’s finest small  pilgrimage churches at Conques, another UNESCO world heritage site. The church at Conques, famous for its remarkable medieval sculptures, also has 104 stained glass windows designed by Pierre Soulages between 1987 and 1994. Other impressive sites in the Aveyron include some fine medieval castles such as Belcastel or Calmont d'Olt,  more “most beautiful villages in France” than any other French department except the Dordogne, and the unique Millau viaduct, one of the world’s most breathtaking modern bridges. And that's just for starters.

    Discovering the attractions of France off the beaten track is a great idea at any time; there is so much to discover.  While tourism in Paris remains, of course, buoyant at all times of the year,  much of the French hospitality sector outside key locations like Paris, the Riviera and the French Alps, has experienced falling tourism in recent years, following several years of economic downturn in France and other parts of Europe.

    In this climate, market competition has kept hotel and holiday cottage prices from increasing; and in many areas of rural France, hotels and restaurants  are still offering the same prices as they were doing two or three years ago, and there are plenty of special rates to bring in the customers.

    Even in the South of France, away from the few well-known tourist spots like Avignon, the Camargue and the Riviera, there is plenty to discover; and it is only those in the know who discover this intimate hinterland, with its delightful villages, medieval castles, spectacular landscapes,  and wealth of historic and cultural attractions.

    As for holidays at the seaside, France has masses to offer too; the beaches of the Riviera are packed in July and August, but before that, or come September, there is room for everyone, and hotels and campgrounds offer rooms and spaces at half the price they charge in the two peak summer months.  And even in the summer holiday months, there are plenty of fine beaches on the French coast, for those who know where to look for them; for example in southwest France, on the coast of Aquitaine, or in Brittany.


Photo: Rodez cathedral, and the new  Soulages museum in the foreground

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