Armchair Travel in France with Robert Louis Stevenson

Bored at home? Missing France? Here’s a pleasant way to while away a few hours.

Known for his classic novels like Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson was an adventurer. Born into a family of lighthouse designers in Scotland, as a young man he longed to see the wider world. As he put it,

“I have been after an adventure all my life, a pure adventure, such as befell early and heroic voyagers.”

His first great adventure was in France, in the wild and rugged region known as the Cévennes. At the age of 27 he made his way to the tiny village of Le Monastier, where he gathered (too many) provisions, had a sleeping bag made, and bought a donkey named Modestine. Then he set out—admittedly, not really knowing what he was doing—on a 12-day march into the unknown.

Read all about this fun book in France Today!

The Gift of Gab

In a recent issue of Living France Magazine, Lucy Shrimpton examines the science behind the benefits of learning a second language, which is especially helpful as we get older. Then she shares some practical advice on how to learn French, including interviews with some *ahem* mature French learners. I was one of the interviewees and I thought you might enjoy the various perspectives of those interviewed.

You can read all about it in Living France!

Book Review: Lavender, Loss & Love at the Villa des Violettes

“Families come in all shapes and sizes.”

This phrase, spoken by one the women in Patricia Sands’ new novella, is a good summary of what this lovely book is about. And what families they are! United by love, friendship, and sometimes even biology. Sands shows us how families bind us together, forming the center of a life well-lived.

As with all of her books, Sands does a wonderful job of capturing the sights, smells, and flavors of this unique part of the world. We see the stunning ocher mines of Roussillon, the austere beauty of the Abbey de Senanque, and the magical sound & light show inside the Carrières de Lumières. We learn about Provencal traditions like la vendange—the grape harvest—where each new vintage begins with a joyous celebration. And of course, there are meals, lots of meals, with tables bursting with the bounty of Provence.

Learn more about this fun new book at Perfectly Provence!

Discover Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wines at a Fun Spring Event

How would you like to taste some of the world’s greatest wines for a mere 10 euros? If that sounds appealing, then come to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine fair, the Salon des Vins. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a charming village in northern Provence, famous both for its wines and for its law banning flying saucers (more on this later).

To attend the Salon, you can a buy ticket ahead of time or just show up at the door. You pay 10 euros and receive an engraved glass which entitles you to unlimited tasting. This lets you wander from winemaker to winemaker, holding out your glass for a pour, and buying bottles of anything that strikes your fancy. Doesn’t that sound like a pleasant way to spend the day?

When you get hungry, there is a large outdoor food court with specialties from all over France. Would you like some foie gras from the Gers? Truffles from Ventoux? Or maybe oysters from Brittany? They are all there, along with plenty of simpler (but still delicious) fare.

Read all about it at France Today!

The Most Expensive Potato in the World is French

If someone asked you to name the most expensive foods in the world, you might come up with caviar and truffles and that sort of thing. But potatoes? POTATOES? No, you probably wouldn’t think of potatoes. But you should.

Yes, there is a type of potato that is so rare and delicious that it sometimes fetches a whopping $300 a pound—as much as Kobe beef! And it comes from France, from a little speck of an island in the Atlantic Ocean.

Read all about The World’s Most Expensive Potato in The Good Life France!

Reading in French–How to Get Started

French is a beautiful language, but like any foreign tongue, it can be intimidating. I remember the first time I was in Paris and a local spoke to me. I froze because I had no idea what she’d just said! It was so embarrassing. Let me tell you how reading in French can help you, as it helped me, no matter what your level.

I didn’t begin studying French in earnest until I was in my late 40s.

I improved little by little and today, a dozen years later, I can speak the language comfortably. I subscribe to a French newspaper and watch French news. And one of the things that has helped me is reading.

When I first started, I could only read the short handouts I got from my French teacher. Eventually, I tried newspapers and magazines, and finally made it to simple books—my first one is very popular with 12-year-olds!

Now I’ve enjoyed a number of French novels, including some of the classics.

I offer my tips for getting started with French reading in My French Life.

5 Top Hilltop Villages in Provence

Provence is famous for its hilltop towns, known in French as villages perchés. These lovely villages, with their winding, narrow streets, were situated as high as possible back in the old days, as protection against brigands and invaders. Today we can take advantage of their lofty perches to enjoy their charm and their fabulous views, while the only invaders are tourists.

Want to discover some of the best of these villages perchés? Then read my article in The Good Life France!

A Small-Group, Women-Only Wine & Food Tour in the South of France

I know I’m biased, but I think the South of France is the most beautiful place in the world. And springtime is the best time to visit—it’s warm and sunny and the markets are full of succulent fruits and vegetables.

If you have always dreamed of visiting this lovely area, here’s an idea for you. A friend of mine, Sarah Covey, is organizing a small-group, women-only wine and food tour that starts on June 1. Sarah is a wine professional, a food lover, a French speaker, and a thoroughly delightful person—you can’t help but like her!

There are a few spots left on Sarah’s next trip, so maybe it’s time to make your dream come true! If you’d like to learn more, here’s her website: Vibrant Travelers.

Bon voyage!

Try a Graphic Novel for Easy French Reading

Let’s say you know some French and would like to try reading something more challenging that a magazine article. Here’s an idea for you: a bande dessinée, or BD, what we call a graphic novel in English.

When native English-speakers think of illustrated stories, comic books like Batman and Spiderman usually come to mind.These are considered ‘kid stuff’ rather than something an adult would read. Sure, there is the occasional graphic novel that reaches an adult readership, like Persepolis or Maus (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), but those are exceptions.

Not so in France.

No, in France the BD is a serious and respected art form, with an annual festival in Angoulême that attracts hundreds of thousands. And while comic-book-style BDs are popular, those dealing with adult themes are also widely read. And they are a great way for a French learner to read in French. The text is limited and the illustrations help you understand the story.

I’ve written an article on the advantages of BDs for French learners, along with an explanation of the different kinds that are available (history, humor, contemporary social issues, and more.) You can read all about it at My French Life!

How to Spend a Day in St-Rémy-de-Provence

It may be the middle of winter, but what better time to plan a trip to sunny Provence? And if you go, you won’t want to miss St-Rémy-de-Provence, where my wife and I live for part of the year.

Provence has so many great places to visit that you may only have a day for St-Rémy. I’m here to help you plan that day, with ideas on art (Van Gogh!), markets, restaurants, nature, and more.

You can read all about it in Perfectly Provence!