Provence Through the Eyes and Words of Peter Mayle

As I was thinking through how to frame this post, I struggled a bit trying to decide what picture to use for the cover photo. The region generally called Provence–technically the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France–is a vastly diverse one. From the sun-baked Mediterranean coast to picturesque chateaus, from rolling lavender and sunflower fields to the idyllic village in rural France, it’s difficult to find a single picture that encapsulates all that is Provençal.

The answer hit me after typing out the title–a picture of the village of Ménerbes. What better way to honor the man that revealed to the world the beauty, charm, and culture of Provence than of a picture of the village in which he and his wife made their home? Ménerbes was where Peter Mayle and his wife, Jennie, lived after moving to France from England, and was from where he wrote his famous memoir A Year in Provence.

To me, this is the quintessential travel book, by which all others are compared. The writing is evocative and vivid–the food made your mouth water, you could almost imagine sitting in the restaurant with him, or feel the cold Mistral on your cheeks–but at the same time light and tight. It didn’t get bogged down by elaborate, over-descriptiveness. His stories were warm, witty, and sharp. Most importantly, it inspired people. After all, that is what travel writing is meant to do, right?

A Year in Provence has been the source of inspiration for me–my travels, my cooking. Southern French cuisine is much more rustic than northern French, relying less on creams and sauces and more on enhancing the natural flavors of the ingredients. And though I’ve yet to make my way to Provence, you can be sure I already have a rough plan of where I want to stay, what I want to do, where I want to go, and what I want to eat.

This past weekend was a bit bittersweet. Whenever I go to the bookstore, I look first at the travel story section to see if there’s anything new that would catch my eye. Lo and behold, My Twenty-Five Years in Provence, Mayle’s latest book–published only in June–on the shelf. I excitedly flipped through it, only to find a passage from the publisher stating that Mayle had passed in January, age 78.

Thank you, Peter, for your motivating words; your vivid descriptions of people, food, and places; and the humor and wit of your stories. I’m sure you’re in a field of French lavender, red wine in hand, with a knowing smile on your bespectacled face, content with the fact that you’ve opened the minds of countless people to explore Provençal culture and lifestyle. Bon voyage.

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