GIVEN that stories of expats settling in rural France are a dime a dozen in the English-speaking world, is there really room for yet another “I-moved-to-Provence-and-kept-a-diary” memoir? When said book is as well-written, revealing and informative as this one, the answer is unreservedly “yes”.
When American writer Elizabeth Bard and her French cinema-consultant husband Gwendal head to Céreste – a village of just over 1000 people in the hill country of the sunny south-east – for a quick break before the birth of their first child, their plan is certainly not to set in motion a life-changing tree-change.
However, fate – and a shared passion for literary history – intervenes.
On learning that the wartime home of French Résistance leader and poet René Char is for sale, they do not hesitate. Upping stakes in Paris they leave behind family, friends and financial security in search of a more relaxed, more enriching environment in which to raise their son.
The lifestyle might well be idyllic but what will pay their bills? In Céreste the family’s challenge becomes supporting itself.
What results is the establishment one of France’s finest artisanal icecreameries: a business built on non-traditional dessert flavours as typically Procençal as saffron, fennel seed, basil, black truffle, and rosemary, olive oil and toasted pine nuts.
Like its predecessor, Lunch in Paris, Picnic in Provence contains the perfect balance of personal reflection and cultural and social observation without veering into the self-indulgence and maudlin introspection that mar so many uncomfortably personal “finding oneself” books.
The 63 original Provençal-inspired recipes which food-lover Bard includes are a mouth-watering bonus. Rabbit with pastis, fennel and fresh peas; char-grilled sardines with vinegar and honey; split-pea soup with pork belly and Cognac; blood sausage with apples and autumn spices; and lavender honey and thyme icecream stand out.