Whenever I am planning a new trip, I always look for literature from the area I’m visiting. Authors that came from the regions or books that are set within certain cities. This way, I get to know a little of the (literary) history of the city. I have found some great books and new favourite authors this way, and I like to share them with you, so you can also emerge yourself into the literary world of… the French riviera!
Ever since I visited Nice, St. Paul de Vence and the Provence when I was fifteen, I’ve been dreaming of going back there. And it’s finally time! When covid hit, I couldn’t think of any reason why I hadn’t done that: go back. So I made a vow: as soon as it’s possible, I’m going. And now, the borders are opening up, I had a covid test this morning as it’s required and tomorrow morning, we’re going on a roadtrip! First stop is Dijon and the next day, we’re going to Nice! I cannot wait ♥ To make the waiting time a little easier, I’ve been reading books set in the French Riviera. Time for an overview of the best ones!
- Travel guides are useful to discover which exact place you want to visit on your trip. I’ve got a bunch of them, one of them being for Nice. Useful, but not exactly fun to read as the information presented is often dry and dense. For this trip I discovered an alternative travel guide: Travels through the French Riviera by Virginia Johnson. The perfect booktitle for this blogpost, don’t you think? It’s an artist guide and it’s a crossover between travel guide and filled sketchbook. The book focuses on 7 cities, namely: Menton, Nice, Saint-Jena-Cap-Ferrat, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Vence, Antibes and Saint-Tropez. It mentions highlights, the best beaches, restaurants and shops but only a few, and only ones the author was interested in: the ones where famous artists lived and worked. The book also contains beautiful watercolor sketches and maps, which makes it a useful and beautiful book if you want to know more about the area. Especially for artists, as it also mentions shops where you can buy the best paints and what colors to use to depict the French riviera best, but it’s also perfect for those who love beautiful books.
- Another book that is great if you want to know more about the area and are especially interested in authors that lived there and wrote about it, is The French Riviera by Ted Jones. It focuses on a couple of cities: Hyères, Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Cap Ferrat, Monaco and Menton, but also the back country. I really enjoyed reading it, as an who-lived-where but also who-wrote-what about the cities. Where did they get their inspiration and what were their findings about the riviera. I especially liked reading about authors and books that I have read and others I’ve added to my reading list.
- A book that directly comes to mind when you’re traveling to Provence, is a year in Provence by Peter Mayle. Some 40 years ago, Mayle moved from England to Provence and chronicled his first year as an expat. The book has become very popular since then. It reads as a story with a little humor here and there and even if it’s more useful to someone who might want to live in the Provence, the book really does transport you to the area.
- If you’re visiting Cannes, and in particular the famous film festival, a book you must read is The winner stands alone by Paulo Coelho. Coelho’s The alchemist is read by travelers worldwide but his other books are also definitely well worth a read. The winner stands alone describes one day at the Cannes Film Festival and follows multiple characters. All of them, except Igor, pursue the kind of fame the festival is known for. The book is about this fame and the illusion, about manipulated dreams, but also about how to get away with murder.
- Bonjour Tristesse is a classic and is set in the French Riviera. Françoise Sagan wrote this book when she was only 18 years old. The story describes the summer where main character Cécile is seventeen, as she spends her days lounging in the sun, swimming and living the good life. Her father, who has a different girlfriend every couple of months, decides to invite Anne, an old friend of Cécile’s late mother, despite his current girlfriend Elsa being there with them. (I must admit that I found it funny they were named Anne and Elsa, though this book was written way before Frozen was a thing). Cécile doesn’t dislike Anne, but when her father decides to marry her, Cécile knows her luxurious life will come to an end and she has to put a stop to it. Even though she knows she is in the wrong, and she doesn’t really wanna go through with the plan, she still does. I loved this book because the characters are so well written. You can really see Cécile’s struggles and her dreams, the way she tries to justify her actions even if she herself knows that they’re no good. It’s a short coming of age story about a girl who really doesn’t want to come of age. And who can blame her, as her summer is one we’d probably all long for when we’re traveling to the seaside.
- It’s funny how most books I’ve read describe the French Riviera as a paradise, with lounging, swimming, good food, alcohol and sex. Ernest Hemingway is no different. He wrote The Garden of Eden, a book about the honeymoon of David and Catherine. But there is trouble in paradise when Catherine shows her true self, as she is getting controlling, jealous and crazy. The book is not a difficult read but there are a lot of layers that I am still trying to unwrap. One of the best books I’ve read by Hemingway so far!
- If you want some great books that are easier to read, one you should pick up is Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands. It starts a bit depressing when Arianna’s husband gets dementia. The author quickly sketches his sickness and Arianna’s grief. Two years later, the husband is still alive but a shell of his former self and living in a special facility. Arianna needs to find herself again and after her daughter’s insistence, she goes on an artist’s retreat in Provence where she will rediscover the beauty of life and find her artistic spark again. The book is set in Arles, which is were Vincent van Gogh lived for a while and made lots of artwork. The book is about life, art and Provence and is on the one hand a beautiful story about what’s important in life, and on the other hand an informative account of the things Arles and surroundings have to offer, such as bloodless bullfighting, museums, the food, the history of Van Gogh and the Camargue. Though the beginning of the book is somewhat depressing, the greater part is light reading.
- I liked The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson. It’s historical fiction with mystery and what appear to be ghosts. The book focuses on two storylines, the first being the story of Dom and Eve. Eve falls quickly for this man who is 15 years older than she is, and who hides his past. When he decides to buy an old farmhouse in the French riviera, they start living the idyllic life while fixing up the place, until Eve wants to learn more about Dom’s ex wife and he refuses to answer her. What is he hiding? The second storyline is an older woman, living in the same farm but earlier (not sure how much earlier), who looks back on her life as the ghosts of her past come to haunt her. She especially focuses on her blind sister, who went to work for a perfume factory and became famous. Both of the storylines are detailed and well-written, and make it hard to put the book down. I liked how the stories intertwine at the end.
- If you love romantic books, you should definitely pick up Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas. The book is about a woman who moves to Provence with her husband and when he decides to move yet again, she decides to stay. She has to make it on her own in a country she doesn’t know and a language she doesn’t speak. It’s a lovely story about finding yourself and standing on your own two legs, set in the beautiful area of the French Riviera.
- Another great book, set in Nice this time, is Akin by Emma Donoghue. Protagonist Noah, a retired widower of 79, has planned a trip to Nice, where he was born and spent the first couple of years of his life before moving to New York city as a little boy. He never returned but now he wants to go back. But then he receives a call from social services. He turns out to be the closest available relative to his 11 year old great-nephew, whom he has never seen before. After quite a hassle, Noah feels obligated to take care of the boy, and takes him with him to France. There is so much in this book, a historical fiction set in the beautiful area of Nice, one I could really recommend.