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The South from your sofa: our Top 10 lockdown reads

Being on lockdown doesn’t stop you travelling from the comfort of your home. Many great authors were born here or simply fell in love with Provence, the Southern Alps or Côte d’Azur, and we invite you on a journey to explore the beautiful Région Sud in their company, comfortably seated with a cup of tea. Marcel Pagnol, Jean-Claude Izzo, Albert Camus, Alexandra David Néel… Welcome to a virtual tour of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – as if you were here!

Marcel Pagnol

“Marius”, “Fanny” and “César”

The Old Port of Marseille, César’s Bar de la Marine, sunshine and card games… Plunge into Marcel Pagnol’s famous trilogy “Marius”, “Fanny” and “César”, and embark on a voyage to Marseille in the 1920s. The prodigal son of Aubagne, Pagnol’s storytelling skills have no match. Welcome to a world of Made in Marseille verbal jousting and such classic scenes as the picon-lemon-curaçao cocktail mixing lesson:

Marius:
“-And now you have four thirds.
César:
 -Exactly. I hope you got it this time. (He drinks a gulp of the mixture).
Marius:
-There are only three thirds in a glass.
César:
-But it depends on the size of the third, you idiot!”

Alexandra David-Néel

“My Journey to Lhasa”

An intrepid adventurer, Alexandra David Néel sought refuge in Digne-les-Bains between two trips to the ends of the earth. In 1928, she purchased a small house (a must-see after the lockdown!), which she decorated with Buddhist and oriental objects brought back from her incredible expeditions. In “My Journey to Lhasa”, she tells the story of how she became the first European woman to enter the forbidden Tibetan City. A fascinating book and wonderful way to climb the Himalayas without getting out of puff…

F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

The American author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda set up home in a luxury villa on the Côte d’Azur, between Cap d’Antibes and Juan-les-Pins, in 1925. High society gathered there to party night after night and alcohol flowed like water… Still standing witness to the couple’s excesses, Villa Saint-Louis was a powerful source of inspiration for Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby” – one of America’s greatest ever novels – there. Can’t be bothered reading? Simply tune in to Baz Luhrmann’s excellent film starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of Gatsby, a young millionaire enamoured with luxury and debauchery. To be consumed without moderation.

 

 

Albert Camus

“The Plague”

Oran, Algeria in the 1940s. The daily life of the town’s inhabitants is suddenly overturned by an epidemic. Placed under quarantine, they are cut off from the rest of the world. “Hostile to the past, impatient of the present, and cheated of the future, we were much like those whom men’s justice, or hatred, forces to live behind prison bars. In the last resort, the only way to escape this unbearable holiday was to make the trains run again in our imagination and to fill the hours with the repeated ringing of the doorbell, however silent it obstinately remained.” Sound familiar? Sales of “The Plague” have rocketed in recent weeks. Published in 1947, this novel is the key work of Albert Camus, a fervent lover of Provence who made Lourmarin, in the Luberon, his spiritual home.

Jean-Claude Izzo

Fabio Montale Trilogy

How about exploring Marseille with a good thriller? Or rather three good thrillers: “Total Chaos”, “Chourmo” and “Solea”. Jean-Claude Izzo was born in Marseille, just like the hero of his trilogy, the disenchanted, oddball cop Fabio Montale. The northern quarters, snaking lanes of the Panier quarter and untamed Calanques fjords… Montale knows Marseille like the back of his hand. When lockdown is over, let’s venture back into the city together to explore the mythical locations of his investigations.

 

 

 

Agatha Christie

“The Mystery of the Blue Train”

The unrivalled crime novel queen, Agatha Christie was a great lover of France and the Côte d’Azur, where she holidayed several times. She wrote “The Mystery of the Blue Train” in 1928, inspired by the coast’s pretty resorts. The intrigue takes place on the train linking Calais to Nice, where a rich heiress has just been murdered… Detective Hercule Poirot, who was hoping to enjoy a quiet few days’ holiday by the sea, hunts down the perpetrator…

Alphonse Daudet

“Letters from My Windmill”

And we’re off for a literary voyage through Provence! A collection of 24 short stories, “Letters from My Windmill” leads the reader into rural Provence, to the villages of Beaucaire, Cucugnan and Fontvieille – where Daudet’s famous windmill still stands -, in the second half of the 19th century. Village gossip, fake flour trafficking, tales told by lighthouse keepers and customs officers and, of course, the unforgettable “Mr. Seguin’s Goat”… This book is the ultimate escape.

 

 

Jean Giono

“The Horseman on the Roof”

Ready for some adventure? Delve into “The Horseman on the Roof” and the feats of Angelo Pardi. A colonel in the Piedmont Hussars, Angelo flees his Italian homeland and arrives in Manosque at the peak of the cholera outbreak. Accused by locals of poisoning their fountains, Angelo seeks shelter on the town’s rooftops. One of Provence’s literary giants, Giono never left Manosque, where he wrote this monumental work inspired by the sunny pathways and beautiful natural scenery of Haute-Provence. Here’s to exploring them for real in a few short weeks. 

Fred Vargas

“The Man Inside Out”

It’s time to head to the Mercantour. In these wild and mysterious landscapes where nature reigns, wolves are little by little reclaiming their rights. They attack a sheep, then a woman is found with her throat cut… Rumours are rife in the Alpine valleys: what if the wolf is actually a werewolf? Chief Inspector Adamsberg is in charge of the investigation. This unlikely yet irresistible cop might seem to be missing the point, but at the end of the day, the truth always emerges from the deep mists of his disjointed mind.

Colette

“Green Wheat”

One of the 20th century’s finest authors, Colette fell under the spell of Saint-Tropez in 1925, when it was still a little fishing village. She bought a house there and named it “La Treille Muscate” – inspired by the Muscat grapes that flourished around it -, where she lived until 1939. “Green Wheat” plunges the reader into Colette’s world and her transition from childhood to adolescence. A story of jealousy and carefree spirits. Just the ticket right now.