Like any country, much has been written, much has been
turned into books and guidebooks, narratives and simple travelogues. So, here
is a growing selection of books about France; some old, some new.
My Good Life in France: In pursuit of the Rural Dream
Janine Marsh (Michael O’Mara Books Ltd., 2017)
Barely a month goes by without the dull thud through my
letter box of another literary account of someone’s exploits in moving to live
in France. Many are mediocre accounts of tussles with the legendary bureaucracy
(as if we don’t have such a thing at home), strained relationships with local dignitaries
and neighbours, and, for some, an inevitable surrender and retreat.
More than once on my travels through France I have
encountered ex-pat Brits doing their thing: maybe running the village bar, or a
B&B, or even producing wine. But a year or two later, the faces have
changed; it wasn’t quite the idyll they had imagined.
So, it’s great to read an account of someone who saw the experience
less of a triumph over adversity, and more of a blending with the local
landscape, its culture, its traditions, and its people. That’s what Janine
Marsh (no relation) and her husband have achieved, and Janine’s account is a passionate
and warming story of cold Christmas Day’s huddled around a log fire, close encounters with feisty cats, ladies with eggs in their bras, and, ultimately, the
warmth of acceptance as someone who stayed and made a success of it.
Sure, there will be red tape and difficulties and builders
who don’t understand the concept of keeping appointments. You just have to take
that as read, and put it down to par of the ritual of becoming grounded in
What is so often missed is the need to go to live in France
as French people, not as Brits (or whatever). At the very least, that means
speaking the language, but it also means developing a symbiotic relationship
with your new neighbours, and sharing in their way of life.
It would have been so easy for the author to have filled
this book with trials and tribulations. Instead, you find happy story after happy
story of how that symbiosis has evolved. It’s all about living in France, of being
at one with the French people. And what makes this account particularly
compelling is that it observes the best travel writing traditions: show not
tell; educate; inform. I don’t want to know that there are ‘Some trees at the
bottom of the field’; I want to know how many, what species, and maybe a bit of
descriptive wafting in the breeze. I don’t want towns disguised as magnets, or
views to die for…whatever they might be. I want to be shown through wordcraft description, I want to be educated about life in France. I want to be informed
about the good things of attempting the ‘Good Life’.
I read this book remarkably quickly for me, and realised
that’s because it was compulsive reading, hitting the nail on the head,
literally and metaphorically, time and time again.
It’s amazing what you can cram into a small space, and that’s
just what Marin Montagut has done in this pocket-sized fold-out map, which he
subtitles ‘A selection of refined experiences to enjoy after dark in the city
of lights’, or Une sélection d'adresses confidentielles pour les noctambules en
quête de plaisirs raffinés.
Basically this is a guide for lovers of night-time in Paris,
uncovering the best of Parisian nightlife and exposing more than 80 refined ‘insider’
addresses, all illustrated on a waterproof, tear-resistant, fold-out map.
Want to find an Australian chef in Paris? In urgent need of
a ‘Love Hotel’, where rooms can be rented by the hour for what is
euphemistically called ‘a romantic interlude’? Or maybe you want a
bookshop-cum-café, or a great cocktail hideaway, or an ‘alternative’ British
scene. Then look no further, you’ll find them all just there…in your pocket
It’s a wacky idea, but these are often the best.
FRENCH HOLIDAY COOKERY:
EASY RECIPES FOR SELF-CATERING IN FRANCE
ISBN 978-1-291-36333-3 (3rd edition, 2013)
Among the many joys of visiting France is the pleasure of entering a
restaurant within which a talented and enthusiastic chef is doing wondrous
things with regional and local produce. Star-ratings may be one thing, but
across the whole of France the culinary art, invariably passed down from ‘Maman’,
is as poetic as ever on many levels.
But not every visit to France plays on the country’s hospitality
service industry; there is a simple, and often cost-effective, alternative in
the form of self-catering, ranging from plush gîtes and holiday villas to the
unpredictable vagaries of camping…and this is increasingly where my ageing
Volvo takes me.
And there is a reason for this, because another joy is the arrival in a
town or village on market day – you can find them all on www.jours-de-marche.fr by the way – and
the subsequent trawl of the many and varied stalls selling produce familiar,
unfamiliar and downright bizarre. In some ways it is a frustration, when I’m
staying in a hotel, not to be able to purchase from the market. So, by
self-catering, I not only enjoy the pleasure of tasting, touching, smelling or
drinking much of what is on offer, but get to buy it, take it back to my base
and cook it…and it doesn’t come any fresher than that.
But, and for many it is a big but, holiday kitchens and camping cookers
are not home kitchens, and what might be achieved in the comfort of your own
home, may prove a challenge when constrained by limited utensils and cookers,
and, sometimes, limited space, too.
Enter ‘French Holiday Cookery’. In this simple and direct compendium,
Liz Garnett, a travel photographer specialising in France – and no mean cook,
too, by all accounts – presents a solution to the issues of cooking in a tent,
out of the back of a car, or in a small, strange kitchen with just a single- or
Of course, you might think that the end result is likely to be simple
and undramatic, but as ‘French Holiday Cookery’ shows, there is no reason why
chicken Provençal, sole Meunière, or pork with apples and Calvados, shouldn’t
be a feature of your daily diet. Moreover, there is some, probably, perverse
pleasure in eating lamb cutlets cooked with thyme and garlic, while sitting in
your car parked next to your tent…in the pouring rain…with a glass of sauvignon
blanc to hand…and Debussy issuing from your car’s stereo.
But not everyone thinks like that, which is why French Holiday Cookery
came into being, targeting self-catering holidaymakers, quite possibly those
with children, too, for whom a nightly restaurant bill can have an unsettling
impact on your bank balance.
Thoughtfully, the book is divided into sections: one involving no
cooking at all, another for those cooking on just one hob, and a third for
those with the luxury of two hobs. Throw in a detailed food glossary, and many
of the mysteries of the French market will be revealed, although – very minor
quibble – while the French-English glossary is itself divided into sections,
e.g. meat, fish, poultry, it may prove helpful to also have a comprehensive and
purely alphabetical English-French-English listing, especially when it comes to
Signal Books Ltd., 2014
Forty years of visiting Brittany on a regular basis left me
with a sense that I had a fair grasp on the place, its people and its culture.
But then along comes Wendy Mewes excellent book, serving very effectively to
put me in my place and let me know how much I had yet to learn. What is
immediately evident in the author's keen interest in the relationship between
historical reality and story creation, and what she calls the 'psychology of
Applied to this book, the result is a synergy of intrigue, myth,
folklore and anecdotal legacies bound up with history and life in the 21st
century. Quite a mélange...and a beautiful one at that...a masterpiece of
meticulous observation and research.
ONLY IN PARIS
Duncan J D Smith
If you love Paris...and idiosyncrasy, and
off-the-beaten-track, and weird and wonderful, and 'I never knew that' and 'Did
I really see what I thought I saw?' - then you must not go to Paris without
This borderline-bizarre compendium of nooks and crannies
gives you far more than you could ever hope to gain from a conventional travel
guide; it does what it says on the tin, and then some.
Moreover, Duncan Smith is just the person to lead you by the
hand, metaphorically at least, into a world where you can enjoy mint tea
beneath a minaret, search for the bones of Louis XVI, or check out the curse of
the Chateau de Vincennes.
Discover wonders of the East, a counterfeit museum,
concealed courtyards and secret squares and even Monet's Soleil Levant...a Paris, in fact, of ancient ruins, eccentric
museums, hidden communities and underground worlds....more than enough to
organise your own expedition through the City of Light, in 98 easy chapters.
Kazuko Masui and Tomoko Yamada
Dorling Kindersley, 2000 (revised)
This book is for all those who love French cheese, including
those who shouldn't eat cheese at all. You just can't resist.
Cheese in one form or another is what we have been eating
from time immemorial, one of the earliest food products that derived from the
domestication of animals. Of course, you can always count on the French to take
anything foodie to the highest levels, and cheese is no exception.
There are between 350 and 400 distinct types of French
cheese, grouped into eight categories 'Les huit familles de fromage'. In
addition, there can be many varieties within each type of cheese, leading to
claims that the actual number of cheeses is closer to 1,000 different types.
Moreover, the count could be higher still if you include local, home-made
cheeses that are rarely found beyond the region of production, indeed sometimes
no farther afield than the local market.
Use this excellent book to guide you through
cheese ecstasy...but don't forget the wine to go with it.