1. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
An obvious one to start with but well worth a mention never the less. This book could be thanked but also accused of changing the face of the beautiful southern French region of Provence. Mayle left his job in advertising and took himself off to live in a little cottage with his wife Jenny near the Lubéron Mountains where he immersed himself in the calm and delicious Provencal life. But unlike many travel books, this captured so many different people’s hearts because it’s not really about what a place is like but more what it feels like. The markets, the tourists, the locals, the insects and the Mistral all make you want to get on the first flight out there.
2. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
Quite unlike the calm and tranquil feel of Mayle’s book, here Mosse presents the French city of Carcassonne and the areas of south western France as being exciting and mysterious sites full of hidden archaeological treasures. It merges present day France with 13th Century France. It’s full of Counts being ruthless, torture, quests for Holy Grails of certain kinds and it feels very much in the same ballpark as The Da Vinci Code. It’s not a bad way of seeing how France has changed over the years and it’s certainly a good way of delving into it’s past too.
3. Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Chocolate and love go hand in hand and where better for such a marriage of romance and cuisine than in France. Harris’ delicate and charming 2000 novel sees Vianne and her little daughter try and make it in the business world of aphrodisiacal chocolate when all of the prim and pious village folk seem to be under the watchful eye of the local priest. Set in a fictional little village between Toulouse and Bordeaux everything that is sacred about village life in France is on display here and you’ll want to eat the innocent characters as much as the warm chocolate Vianne makes.
4. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
If you want to get stuck into some more meaty historic parts of France then look no further than this classic from the writer of The Three Musketeers. It’s the ultimate book in many ways. There’s romance, adventure, swords, dancing, laughter and revenge. In fact it’s probably one of the best books ever written about revenge. When Dantes is wrongly imprisoned, he manages to escape and then carry out revenge by posing as a Count and blending in with his enemy’s way of life. Set during the early years of the 19th Century, it shows what life was like in France for the poor and for the wealthy with the backdrop to the story being the Hundred Days of Napoleon’s reign and the reign of King Louis Philipe.
Photo of lavender fields, Provence, France by nicephore