The Sunday Review: A Virtual Week in Provence

If you have been friends with me for any length of time, you already know that I was lucky enough to have a fabulous vacation in France just about a year ago. I traveled in a group of eight friends and family and it was an amazing trip.

The France Frolickers

We started our vacation by flying into Nice in southern France; I wrote about it here on our vacation blog. I feel very sad that life got in the way and I abandoned our online record of the trip. Maybe I have time now to work on that…

Image Credit

Image Credit

Anyway, since I was feeling nostalgic for our trip, I checked one of my favorite “set in Provence” films out of the library — again. A Year in Provence is a British made-for-television adaptation of Peter Mayle’s book of the same name. Both the book and the television series chronicle Peter and his wife’s first year of retirement after buying a beautiful home in southern France. Starring veteran English actors John Thaw and Lindsay Duncan, the episodes are a relatively faithful adaptation of Mayle’s book.

I have probably watched A Year in Provence ten times, but this time, I saw it in a new light. In fact, I posted a photo of my television on Facebook to show the France Frolickers that we had essentially the same photo that was in the the film.

The village of Gordes in the movie

The village of Gordes in the movie



There were comments and scenes about Provençal institutions, such as the filmmaker Marcel Gagnol and the ubiquitous game of boule (here in the United States, we usually call it bocci — an Italian game that is very similar). And then there’s the story of the truffles, a theme which follows the entire year portrayed in the book. Thinking about truffles brought me back to the fabulous meals we shared while in France — day after day of gourmet cuisine that I’ll never forget.


If you are planning a trip to Provence or have already been there, give yourself a treat and watch A Year in Provence. It’s got its faults — not everyone loves Peter Mayle and his bumbling behavior, but there’s a lot to love in this series.

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Book Club: A Table in the Tarn

France is probably going to be on my mind a lot during the next year; we’re planning another trip in 2013. That means it will probably be in my blog as well, since I mostly write about what I am thinking about. Not too much space between my thoughts and my fingers, actually. To paraphrase my favorite movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, “It’s my process.”

Given that we’re going to France and I love food, I put my name on the list at the library for what appeared to be a very cool book — A Table in the Tarn: Living, Eating, and Cooking in Rural France. I mean, really? How could this be bad? I read all of Peter Mayle’s books about his experiences living in southern France and reviewed a couple of them here and here. Oliver Murrin’s book looked like it was worth waiting for at the library.

I was right. It was a wonderful book, packed with personal stories of giving up the city life and starting up a bed and breakfast in southern France. It was also packed with recipes; about two-thirds of the book is mouth-watering ideas for fabulous eats. I was drawn to the Roquefort Tart pictured above — the recipe is here at what appears to be a blog on hiatus.

Imagine my surprise when I actually went to find the web site for Manoir de Raynaudes to see if we could stay there. It’s gone. Well, not actually gone, but sold to the highest bidder!

It appears that Oliver Murrin and his partner Peter Steggall went back to their British roots, bought a very old manor in southwestern England’s Somerset Levels, and operate it as a bed and breakfast. I’m pretty sure we’ll stay at Langford Fivehead when we do our southwestern England trip, which will of course include my pilgrimage to Daphne Du Maurier’s Cornwall.

But that’s another set of books and another year of traveling. 🙂

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Book Review: A Good Year

Tonight’s guilty pleasure is going to be to write about a wonderful book and and its not quite wonderful movie. I should be grading papers…

I have a love/hate relationship with Peter Mayle. I’ve read practically everything he has written and I regularly check out the delightful A Year in Provence video from the library, but sometimes I get tired of his similar plot lines. They are really “all about him” — or perhaps what he wishes he were.

After last year’s immersion in books about France, I’m pretty sure I don’t have what it takes to chuck it all and live in the French countryside, but I still love reading about those who do, and Mayle is a master at telling us about what it’s like to be a foreigner in the strange land that is France. That’s why I keep reading; maybe someday I’ll actually be brave enough (and fluent enough in French) to take the plunge into the Luberon.

Image via

I remembered with a certain fondness the movie A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe. I hadn’t watched it for a while and I started thinking about the whole Netflix thing; maybe I could instantly get it without actually having to go to the library…

That didn’t work out and I still don’t have Netflix hooked up, but I did decide to read the book first. Somehow, I had never read it during my Peter Mayle fixation.  The protagonist, Max Skinner, inherits his uncle’s estate in Provence where he spent his childhood summers. While trying to decide whether or not to sell the property and return to his life as a stockbroker in London, he falls in love again with the lifestyle of southern France. Along the way, he learns that his vineyard has been hijacked by nefarious wine merchants. It was a grand little mystery with stereotyped English, French, and American characters and lots of wine thrown in. What’s not to like?

Then I watched the movie. Although it’s a delightful little piece of Provencal love-story fluff directed by Ridley Scott, the full-bodied mystery was lost and the host of quirky characters were diluted to a pale white zinfandel. Russell Crowe is lovely to look at, and young Freddie Highmore is adorable as the young Max Skinner. If you’re not a reader, by all means watch the movie; you’ll enjoy it, but the book is better.

Isn’t the book always better?

Book Review: Hotel Pastis

After his success with travel memoirs A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence, Peter Mayle turned his charmingly wicked pen to fiction. Hotel Pastis: A Novel of Provence tells the story of the burned-out London ad man who uses his prodigious fortune to buy and renovate a venerable building in the Luberon region of France. Along the way he meets the love of his life and gets involved in a ludicrous bank robbery turned kidnapping.

About one-third through Hotel Pastis, I realized that I had read it before. The vision of seven ex-cons training for the bicycle ride of their life was a plot trick that one remembers vividly. Conveniently, I didn’t remember how it turned out, so I read Pastis eagerly all the way to the somewhat predictable ending.

The fact that I read this book before didn’t dilute my enthusiasm for Peter Mayle in general. I love his recipe for a fun read: one part luscious Provence, one part longing for the “gettingawayfromitall” simple life, and many parts humor. If you haven’t read Hotel Pastis, it’s available for you to borrow from my bookshelf.

P.S. If you want to do something a little special for me for Valentine’s Day — and you know who you are — you could book me into this lovely version of Hotel Pastis in St. Tropez.

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