I love finding a book that is so descriptive and powerful that it makes you want to see things first-hand. In honor of Bastille Day (on Tuesday, July 14) here is a list of books that inspire the French arm-chair traveler in me. Like the movie Amelie — that made me really want to see Paris — these books take me to France.
- The Count of Monte Cristo Location: Marseilles. My first foray into French novels was Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. This books stands out in my memory as the ultimate epic tale – adventure, betrayal, romance, revenge… (if you’re not into 1,300 page books the movie is pretty good as well). Visiting the Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseilles & Chateau d’If — you almost forget that Edmond Dantes was a fictional character!
- A Year in Provence Location: Provence. Peter Mayle’s book, A Year in Provence, was recommended to me while I was studying in Marseilles. Of course the recommendation came from a professor who ironically had also relocated from England. Mayle has a great writing style that makes you think “that’s exactly how it is!” if you’ve spent any time in the south of France, which is probably why his books are so popular among the Brits. Encore Provence is a fun book too.
- Tender Is The Night Location: Cote de Azur. Like many teens, I went through an F. Scott Fitzgerald kick in high-school. Tender Is the Night was probably the first book that made me think about France as a vacation destination and not just a backdrop for old historical novels. After reading Gatsby or This Side of Paradise, you can appreciate how personal this book is.
- Words In A French Life Location: Aix en Provence. I spent an afternoon at a winery near Aix en Provence in 2006 and my wine tasting (& lunch) guide, Jean-Marc Espinasse, told me about a book his wife, Kristin Espinasse (an American) had written called Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France. They met while she was an exchange student in college and they now have a family and live in Provence. When I returned to the States I read the book and have been reading her blog French Word-A-Day ever since. It’s a quick and charming read.
- French Women Don’t Get Fat Location: Paris. I may have been a little obsessed with the French way of life after coming back from my three weeks of summer school in Marseille, as evident of picking up French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. This book is part narrative of her life growing up in France and part learning to eat for pleasure with recipes and tips thrown in. Even if you’re not looking for a lifestyle change or diet tips I would recommend this book.
- The Dirt On Clean Location: Versailles. Ever wonder why the French have a reputation for being dirty? The Dirt On Clean explains it all. While it’s not just about France (it profiles our collective unsanitized history), it has some fun facts about the state of cleanliness in Europe.
I spent three weeks in Marseilles on my first-ever adventure abroad, so these books my be skewed slightly to the Provencal… :) What books have inspired you to travel?