Passion for Provence - 22 Keys to La Belle Vie 

Falling for France wasn’t part of the Mediterranean honeymoon agenda. Pale rosé, languid lunches on a sundappled terrasse, and a dash of reckless abandon may have been to blame.


That was over 25 years ago. At the time, my husband, Ralph, and I had been living in Heidelberg, Germany, for over a year. We’d tied the knot near Washington DC, just a month before heading to new jobs across the Atlantic. When an opportunity for a proper lune de miel arrived, we decided on the south of France. Since Ralph is an avid birdwatcher, visiting the Camargue was high on his bucket list, and I was excited about experiencing the Provençal scenes painted by some of my favorite artists— Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. But there was something else. I’d just started Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and planned to finish it on site. It was magical to be in luscious Provence on my honeymoon, but enjoying A Year in Provence while in Provence made the special event even more memorable.


And so began our long-distance love affair with La Belle France. From our base in Germany, we took advantage of vacation time to crisscross France from Alsace to île de Groix, Normandy to île de Porquerolles. Our flirtation with France morphed into amour. With retirement, Ralph and I launched a quest for a permanent nest in Provence.


Lacking French skills and connections, we plunged fulltime into French life, first in Aixen- Provence for 18 months, and then in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where we’ve lived for six years.


As a long-time journaling fan, I documented our countless faux pas and lucky encounters. Ralph and I marvelled at our talent for landing in so many oddball predicaments, and also how serendipity led us to stellar encounters. How to make sense of it all? Eventually, reflection led to insights that became the 22 Keys to La Belle Vie. Some keys, like how to decode France’s food-first policy and its dependence on Gallic shrugs, are France-centric, but others have a more universal reach— "Untether your joie de vivre: Oh, the adventures you’ll have, the memories you’ll make. Giddyup." And, "Count on kismet to surprise: When Lady Luck appears, be ready to greet her." Or, perhaps the trickiest lesson—“Take in the views—from all angles: A sense of belonging can make a house a home and, just maybe, lead to La Belle Vie.


For us, shaping a French life is a work in progress. Ralph and I continue the pursuit of improving our French and cracking cultural codes. But they’re happy tasks— the allure endures.


"Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie" is available from any book store, the Saint-Rémy Presse, Book-in-Bar in Aix-en-Provence and Amazon (paperback and Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook).