I’m having A LOT of fun researching for my trip to France. These are the best books about France that I’ve read so far!
‘At My French Table’ by Caroline Webster (Viking: Penguin) What a beautifully produced book! Thank you to my friend, Shawn, who recommended it. Gorgeous photos, lovely reading and delicious recipes. What more could you ask? There is even an address book of a few of Webster’s favourite places at the back of the book. We follow the life of Melbournian Webster who lives half of the year in France running a cooking school in Normandy; The French Table. Superbe! We are introduced to her potager (vegetable garden), her family’s travels in France, the local produce, history and explanation of holiday traditions all disbursed between beautiful, evocative, inviting photos. Fun anecdotes about the right time to eat cheese, stumbling onto a vintage Hermés Kelly bag in an auction showroom, and the Christmas markets outside Rouen cathedral. Groups stay at the French Table for a week at a time and take in the sights of Normandy, the region’s best markets and restaurants as well as a well-reputed, chef-run, daily hands-on cooking classes where they use ingredients from the potager of from the local markets we visited. Yoga the next morning or a 5 kilometre walk around the beautiful French countryside. Sounds gorgeous. Who’s with me? To buy a copy click here
Read my interview with Jane Webster here.
Visit Jane Webster’s website here. Jane Webster’s Instagram account is @thefrenchtablechateaubosgouet.
‘A Day with Marie Antoinette’ by Hélène Delalex (Flammarion; Thames & Hudson) This book is a thing of beauty; held in its own slipcase, the colour, design and photos are truly beautiful. Delalex is the heritage conservation manager of the coach gallery at Versailles so her research is very insightful. Marie Antoinette was indeed the last queen in France, but to many she was the queen of France. Arriving at the French Court at just 14 (to marry the French Dauphin – later Louis XVI – who was 15), Marie Antoinette influenced many trends and styles in her 20 year reign before dying at the tragically young age of 38. At court, outrageous fashions, outfits, hairstyles and general excess abounded. The Petit Trianon was the only place where the Queen had absolute rule and it is there where people still flock by their thousands each year to see the private life of Versailles. The gardens and grounds were extravagant, theatrical and creative. Designed in an idyllic rural style, dairies and wildernesses were created and the court ladies wore muslin dresses. The book also highlights the highly sophisticated code Marie Antoinette wrote in, which was broken in 2014 to reveal secret letters. A must for all lovers of history and design.
Hélène Delalex’s Instagram account is @helenedelalex.
‘My Stylish French Girlfriends’ by Sharon Santoni (Gibbs Smith) What a great idea for a book! Santoni dedicates each chapter to one of her stylish French friends – interviews them, has them photographed and she tells us why they are so interesting and so dear to her. Wonderful! I loved it. Really loved it. It was fun to read that, after the interviews, when the twenty stylish French women met, some of them coincidentally knew each other or owned artworks, dresses, champagne that the others had created. There is Evelyne the champagne maker who produces a beautiful Christmas bottle of champagne and asks a different well-known artist or designer to create the label each year, Marie who is a wire artist, ceramist artist Sophie who buys her cheese from a shepherd who plays classical music to his herd of goats!, event designer Stéphanie, wedding dress designer Celestina, and other women who have created lovely homes, creative spaces and lifestyles. This was a beautiful book to read and to savour the beautiful, beautiful photos. How fabulous! Enjoy. To buy a copy click here
Read my interview with Sharon Santoni here.
Visit Sharon Santoni’s website here. Sharon Santoni’s Instagram account is @sharonsantoni.
‘Lessons From Madame Chic; 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris’ by Jennifer L. Scott (Harper Collins) This was a fun, rollicking read as I followed American author Scott on exchange when she finds herself living with a very sophisticated, elegant yet grounded Parisian family which she playfully and lovingly refers to as Family Chic. Scott reveals the beautiful sense of style, restraint and joie de vivre that the family encapsulate. We read of Madame Chic’s pared-down wardrobe, the no snacking concept, their tiny kitchen facility which produces delicious food, the idea of dining well and food presentation, minimal make-up, the delights of perfume, the expected dress code (and the ensuing embarrassing clash of cultures) and what makes Scott’s experience in Paris really so much fun. Scott talks of the horror of discovering that she is to house her clothes for her six month stay in a very tiny, freestanding wardrobe with a handful of coat hangers and the revelation of the ten item wardrobe (+ accessories) for each season. Scott looks at choosing the right clothes and colours for the individual, personal presentation and being forced (and therefore, forces us) to reconsider quantity over quality, taking the time and care to look after yourself and ‘bien dans sa peau’ (being comfortable in your skin). This is a fun, easy read which certainly made me think and celebrate fashion and life.
Visit Jennifer L. Scott’s website here.
Read my interview with Jennifer L. Scott here. Jennifer L. Scott’s Instagram account is @dailyconnoisseur.
‘The Cheese and I; An Englishman’s Voyage Through the Land of Fromage’ by Matt Feroze (Michael O’Mara Books) Just a few years ago Feroze was working as an accountant at the National Audit Office in England. Keen to travel, he contacted the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) organization and, with a smattering of French, volunteered on a goat cheese farm in France. With the WWOOF organization Feroze’s manual labour was exchanged for food and board. Feroze became intensely interested in the cheese making process and after returning to England, decided to take some time off to explore the industry further. This book documents his time on French cheese farms, in the tunnels caring for the cheeses (turning and brushing the cheeses? I had no idea!), working in cheese shops, doing talks, and, against all odds, winning the Champion de France des Fromagers competition where he had to present cheeses for the judges, prepare a cheese platter and then announce the name, origin, type of milk, method of production and age of three unknown cheeses. What a fascinating read about an industry I knew very little about. It’s amazing to think that one of my beloved grandmothers didn’t like cheese; I can’t imagine life without it! My husband and our daughters now really enjoy time sampling, savouring and discussing one or two beautiful cheeses at a time.