A book like a vacation. The author Peter Mayle moved with his wife to the South of France, and wrote with humor about their first year in Provence. In his memoir, he enjoyed the French lifestyle and explored local events, all in a delicious mix of culture and cuisine.
It had me at bon appétit.
First of all, I do recommend this memoir from 1989, that I would include in the travel writing genre, as the title tells us. Is incredible that it was published almost 34 years ago. To be read before taking the Provence roadtrip for lavender fields, or watching a movie adaptation with Marion Cotillard and Russel Crowe, but definitely not on an empty stomach.
Can you miss a place you’ve never seen?
The author invited us in his journey in all seasons in the French provincial life. Particularly I enjoyed the book structure with 12 chapters, each for every month of the year.
Somehow, reading it took months for me, because I wanted to savor every paragraph. I didn’t want it to end. Maybe that’s why I started reading other books in parallel while I was home in Berlin, and took this one with me in my travels to Madrid, Florence, Vienna.
I read and wanted more.
‘This year started with lunch’ is the first sentence in chapter 1 – January, during winter in Provence. The book is a fascinating introduction in the Provençal and Occitan cuisine. All their memorable meals descriptions are made with passion, wit and appreciation. What Peter Mayle admired was the willingness of the French to support good cooking and the quality of food.
Written in flawless British English, with many French words included in his phrases. A pleasure for any Francophile like myself. Bien sûr, I felt I could taste some of the dishes and understand life à la Français.
See what I did there? 🙂
“It was a meal that we shall never forget; (…) We ate it. We ate the green salad with knuckles of bread fried in garlic and olive oil, we ate the plump round crottins of goat’s cheese, we ate the almond and cream gateau that the daughter of the house had prepared. That night, we ate for England.”– Peter Mayle, quote from a Year in Provence
Their farmhouse in the village of Ménerbes and Lubéron mountains in central Provence are described. Followed by many other adventures, including meals in Cabrières, Isle-sur-la-Sorghe, or remore Buoux, Sunday market in Coustellet, plus trips to Cavaillon, Bonnieux and over to Lacoste. A journey in July to Côte d’Azur. And one of their favorite city, Aix, that is reached via the street Cours Mirabeau “beautiful especially between spring and autumn.”
The book is seasoned with daily conversations with the postman, carpet sellers, house workers, with locals and tourists alike. Has many surreal stories about restaurant owners, table manners, cafés in Aix or truffle merchants.
“We had a crisp, oily salad and slices of pink country sausages, an aioli of snails and cod and hard-boiled eggs with garlic mayonnaise, creamy cheese from Fontvielle, and a homemade tart. It was the kind of meal that the French take for granted and tourists remember for years.”Peter Mayle, quote from A Year in Provence
My first book review
The book made me take notes, ideas, reflect on my life journey. I even re-read the blog stories from my French trips – Paris, Nice and Côte d’Azur cities, Strasbourg and Colmar, and noticed a couple of things me and Peter Mayle have in common. I also mixed English with many French words. And I also enjoy so much to explore France.
The two sequels are Toujour Provence and Encore Provence: New adventures in the South of France. Today, in his 70s, Peter Mayle still lives and writes in Provence.
On the back-cover, the New York Times Book review writes “Engaging, funny and richly appreciative”. And so it was.
“Look at those vines,’ he said. ‘Nature is wearing her prettiest clothes.”Peter Mayle, quote from A Year in Provence
Feature picture credit – CN traveller