Provence Inspired Memoirs Books to Add to Your Reading List
For many, Peter Mayle’s best-selling novel A Year in Provence was their introduction to the Provencal countryside. Images of the Côte d’Azur have long covered the pages of travel magazines, but it was Mayle’s descriptions of bumbling through a home renovation in the arrière-pays (translation: backcountry or hinterland) that shifted our view beyond the coastline. This book was published in 1989, so clearly Mayle was far from the first to write about the region. However, the timing of his book and the humorous descriptions of expat living in Provence resulting in skyrocket sales.
The following are some of the memoirs inspired by those who have chosen to settle in Provence for a period. What is appealing about these books is that the authors have all visited more or less the same geography, yet each story is different. Some are humour-filled tales of expats trying to fit in, and others are reflections on the attraction of cultural differences.
The books are listed in alphabetical order (by author’s last name). To order a copy, please click on the book covers. Note: if you purchase a book via these links we receive a small commission that does not impact the price you pay. Thank you in advance for supporting the work we do to maintain Perfectly Provence.
Enjoy these personal stories.
Memoirs Inspired by Provence
“The Provence Book, A Guide with Fables” was published posthumously in 2011. Born in Washington, D.C. in 1939, Huntley Baldwin wanted to be an artist from an early age. He trained in Georgetown, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. His path led to a career in advertising, but his inner artist was reignited while on holiday in Europe (read his full bio here).
Baldwin and his wife Joan visited Provence for the first time in 1973. Once bitten by the Provencal lifestyle bug, they were hooked, and they returned to the region some 15 years running. Their approach to spending time in the South of France was to rent a location that they could call “home base” and then take day trips from there. Baldwin enlisted his creative talent to record many of their day trips via sketches and plein air watercolour paintings. The Provence Book: A Guide, with Fables, captures their discoveries and encounters in a delightful read.
Picnic in Provence, A Memoir with Recipes by American Elizabeth Bard is the story of how (and why) an art historian from New York and a Frenchman with a Ph.D. in computer science, turned film executive, end up in small-town Provence. Bard describes how she and her husband fell in love with a small hilltop village in the Luberon. They changed the course of their career paths in one weekend.
Published in 2015, Picnic in Provence is Bard’s second book after Lunch in Paris, A Love Story with Recipes. In this story, Bard writes about how she, her husband, and toddler son settled into village living. Bard’s book is organized by month, covering a full year, she describes seasonal changes, fascinating discoveries, but she is refreshingly honest about personal challenges as well. Each chapter includes a typical Provencal recipe.
Many readers already know Janine Marsh from her successful website The Good Life France. In 2017, her memoir on the backstory of how she and her husband Mark ended up in rural, northern France taking care of chickens and ducks. The basis for My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream starts with an innocent day-trip to France, to fill their car with some French wine and cheese before returning to England on the ferry. That auspicious day turned into a new address, change of lifestyle and jettisoned both Janine and Mark Marsh towards new career pursuits.
His stories of life in Provence kept us entertained for years. His last book is a collection of short vignettes and his musings on living in the South of France for the last 25-years of his life. Published posthumously in June 2018.
As a 30-something, Paul Shore seized the opportunity to settle into life on the French Riviera for 12 months. It was an easy decision at a time in his life before marriage and children. Shore was a curious traveller with a corporate assignment to establish a branch office in Nice, France for his employer, a Vancouver-based technology start-up. Sounds like a dream job?
Although she covered the race car circuit for much of her journalistic career, it was hardly a sprint back to Europe. Anne-Marie Simons moved to the United States, from Holland, in the fall of 1966 “for one year” and stayed for three decades. Simons and her husband Oscar determined that Aix-en-Provence ticked all the right boxes for their retirement years – pleasant weather, ready access to culture and of course the food. Here, is the backstory on Simon’s journey from the Formula One circuit to her blog Provence Today.
Published in 2011, Simon’s memoir Taking Root in Provence describes the couple’s decision-making process that led them to Aix-en-Provence. And, what it takes to put down roots in a new home, even if you speak the language.
Gayle Smith Padgett
American expats Padgett and her husband Ralph worked in Heidelberg, Germany for two decades. They decided to choose the region for their retirement. Hardly out of the blue, their move was the result of several vacation forays (she calls it flirting) to the South of France. Padgett’s first book Passion for Provence, 22 keys to La Belle Vie is a lighthearted memoir. Read this collection amusing short stories about their new life in France.
Keith Van Sickle
After 20 visits to Provence, Keith Van Sickle and his wife Val decided to make the region their part-time home. A Northern California native, Van Sickle spent his early years on an island in the San Francisco Bay – Alameda, California. Keith decided to turn their expat adventures into a novel.
In December 2018, Keith published his second book Are We French Yet? Keith & Val’s Adventures in Provence. This book is the continuation of their story of a couple who are determined to live part-time in France. In this memoir, Van Sickle maintains his relaxed writing style. He is quick to laugh at a misstep and turn it into a French cultural lesson.