why Philadelphia is worth a visit

Dear east coast

Philadelphia is the ideal city to avoid the crowds while preserving the wallet, while the exchange rate (1 euro = 1.07 dollars) increases the price of American holidays. Cheaper than New York, it can also be explored on foot, rare in the land of cars. With daily flights from Paris (from 465 euros on American Airlines), the airport is twenty minutes by shuttle from the center (phl.org ). The many hotels are half the price of New York, proof at Logan (theloganhotel.com , from 192 euros), huge (391 XXL rooms, American style), central (near the museums), gourmet (pantagruelic breakfasts, pancakes, banana waffles and others) and panoramic (cocktail bar on the rooftop ). And if a trip to New York proves too tempting, it’s an hour and fifteen by train (an hour and fifty for Washington). In short, a good deal.

On the streets of Philadelphia

Founded in 1682 on the banks of the Delaware River, the city has retained a historic cachet, rare in the United States. All in red brick, right down to the sidewalks, the square of original alleys has retained the flavor of Northern Europe from the first Dutch, German and Swedish settlers. It is good to stroll there under the trees, randomly independent boutiques, coffee shops, juice bars and pubs, such as the McGillin’s Olde Ale House (mcgillins.com ), one of the oldest American pubs (1860), always crowded. A stone’s throw away, here is Independence Hall, with an appearance as humble as its fame is immense since it was here that American independence was signed in 1776. The cradle of the United States, nothing less.

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Rocky Museum

Real selfie spot: the statue of Rocky Balboa (offered by Sylvester Stallone himself), placed at the foot of the monumental staircase with 72 steps leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A cult scene from the film was shot there: the one where the hero lets out a cry of victory when he reaches the top. In doing so, he turned his back on the immense neoclassical temple with countless masterpieces and thus missed the Impressionist rooms (incredibly rich), the Marcel Duchamp collections (the largest in the world), Picasso and Brancusi, and those of American art: landscapes and portraits, Quaker furniture, Indian objects, or, more popular, the wedding dress of Grace Kelly, the famous princess born… in Philadelphia (­ philamuseum.org ).

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The Superstar Barnes Foundation

The guards say that some visitors end up in tears, stunned by the abundance of masterpieces. The Barnes Foundation (barnesfoundation.org ), it is indeed 2,500 paintings, including 181 Renoir (the largest collection in the world), 69 Cézanne (including the famous Bathers and The Card Players), 59 Matisse (including the monumental Dance in three parts, created for place), 46 Picasso, 11 Degas, 7 Van Gogh… Prestigious canvases touch-touch, according to the original hanging to which Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951), who devoted his immense fortune (born from the pharmaceutical industry) to the invaluable collection, where the Impressionists parade in the lead. In 2012, the institution moved from its suburban corner to the Museum Quarter. Modernist and tinged with Zen, this new setting literally envelops the original rooms, reproduced identically. Result: (much) more space and ambitious exhibitions. The current one, “Modigliani Up Close”, promises to reveal the creative secrets of a tormented artist (1884-1920), with the help of X-rays and high-tech processes (until January 29).

A legendary orchestra

The Philadelphia Orchestra (philorch.org ) is one of the Big Five, these historic orchestras of the United States. Music lovers praise its warm and velvety sound, the same since 1900. When it is not on tour, the “Philly” gives its concerts at Verizon Hall, its headquarters since 2001. As inspired by this flagship, the local music scene is bubbling , to be found in the many café-concerts, including the warm MilkBoy, this pocket bar located on the multicultural South Street (Facebook MilkBoy South Street).

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Matisse forever

Also at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the event exhibition “Matisse in the 1930s”, co-produced by the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Matisse Museum in Nice. Behind the gluttony of colors of the hundred exhibited works emerges the fine chronicle of the creative rebound of a painter who has reached the peak of his art, paradoxically lacking in inspiration. After a trip to Philadelphia and a commission from Albert Barnes (La Danse, admired above), Henri Matisse, 60, began a creative revolution, abandoning the easel for the monumental, the figurative for the sketch, beginning the period of cut-out papers (until January 29, ­ philamuseum.org ).

And contemporary art, then?

He is everywhere, even, and above all, in the street. How to fight against the graffiti that disfigures the city, one of the poorest in the country? In 1984, the first black mayor of Philadelphia launched a program of urban frescoes, which would now be 4,000. Guided tours tour the most beautiful (muralarts.org/tours ). We fell in love with those of Shepard Fairey (alias Obey), the artist who signed Obama’s campaign portrait (2008). Further north, the district of Kensington (ex-locomotive manufacturing site), reputed to be infamous, is becoming more gentrified. Former industrial spaces are transformed into headquarters for emerging artists, such as the Clay Studio (75 ceramists in residence and an interesting boutique,theclaystudio.org ) and Crane Arts (contemporary art workshops, cranearts.com ).

In the countryside

Forty-five minutes from the city, stop at the Brandywine Museum of Art (brandywine.org ), where to discover the multigenerational work of the Wyeths, a family of painters who chronicled rural America, both harsh and warm, all in chiaroscuro. A five-minute walk away, the studio of patriarch NC Wyeth offers an enchanted view with skylights over the countryside. A vision worthy of the most beautiful paintings.

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