The writer is, sadly, no long with us, but Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence still informs many of our notions about life in rural southern France. Holly Kirkwood investigates whether there's still any truth in the bucolic French dream portrayed in the famous book for those looking to buy a home.
Former ad man and children’s author Peter Mayle had plans to pen a serious novel when he and his wife, Jennie, relocated to Provence in 1987. On arrival, he found, to his chagrin, that renovating a rambling old farmhouse while negotiating the quirks of local village life left little time for writing. When he detailed his many distractions in a letter to his agent by way of excusing himself, it was suggested that he ditch his plans for the novel and send a few hundred pages more of the same.
The resulting book, A Year in Provence, was published 29 years ago, in 1989, and became a worldwide bestseller, with sequels, a TV series and even a 2006 film adaptation A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard.
Sadly, Mayle died earlier this year, but the cultural legacy of the book continues to inform our impressions of Provence, and the Luberon in particular. One of the most appealing elements to the story is the way the couple learns to leave their old impatient selves behind and live in the moment: ‘Time passed in a haze of well-being; long, slow almost torpid days when it was so enjoyable to be alive that nothing else mattered.’
This promise of a rural idyll where one can fully de-stress is a potent one, as Tim Swannie, director at Home Hunts, can testify. ‘Clients often mention A Year in Provence – our most recent example was a Scottish businessman,’ he says.
‘The lady of the house read the book five years ago and insisted that her husband follow suit. The family had their first holiday in the area a year later. They’re now hooked and looking to upsize from their current property to an estate.’
The Provençal landscape hasn’t changed much since Mayle’s book was published. ‘The wonderful valleys, mountains, vineyards and lavender fields are all still the same, but there are more restaurants and shops to cater for the increase in visitors,’ Mr Swannie says. All local agents agree that, as the market throughout France has picked up, the Luberon is more popular than ever and the pretty villages across the region are a huge draw.
‘Most buyers are looking to be in or just outside a village with a market, a couple of cafes and perhaps a few shops. A “golden triangle” area of demand can be found between Gordes [pictured at the top of the page], Bonnieux, Lacoste, Ménerbes [where the Mayles lived] and Oppède,’ explains Jack Harris of Knight Frank.
The book details the couple’s renovation of an old mas and, back in the 1990s, it inspired many buyers to do the same, but Nick Johansen of Propriétés de Provence Sotheby’s International Realty says he isn’t often asked for renovation projects – they’re just not convenient. Jelena Cvjetkovic from Savills agrees: ‘These days, people have less time, so they don’t want to spend months or years on the property – they want to enjoy it right away. As such, they look for homes that are modernised and ready to go.’
She continues: ‘Many buyers say they want to get away from it all, but the truth is that people still want to be connected, so fast broadband and all the other mod cons are very important.’
She also points out that there are some very good new properties built in a traditional style, mentioning a cluster around Eygalières, six miles south-east of Saint Rémy, which offers an ideal edge-of-village location without the complications of dealing with an older property.
Ultimately, what buyers come looking for here is the lifestyle, which A Year so elegantly describes. As Mr Swannie explains, ‘the Luberon is all about pottering around the local markets, shops and vineyards, enjoying a long, delicious, liquid lunch and then relaxing by the pool’. Although some things may have changed (for the better) since the book was published, happily, the region’s ability to provide these simple pleasures remains marvellously undimmed.
Four beautiful homes for sale in the Luberon
This part-moated chateau in the heart of the Luberon is an extraordinary building in a fine position, with 14 bedrooms and a pool.
Originally constructed in the 11th Century by the ‘Comte de Forcalquier’, the ‘Château’, is perched on the edge of a charming Provencal village, enjoying stunning views down the valley.
This house in a hamlet in the Luberon sits within an acre or so of land with fruit trees, olive trees and spectacular views.
Inside, the decor is simple and rustic, while there is a pool with its own separate poolhouse.
Ancient on the outside, modern on the inside, this three-bedroom home in Gordes is a real mix of styles.
Though the location is peaceful and private, this holiday home is still within walking distance of the centre of Gordes.
A renovated farmhouse full of character sitting in just under two acres of land with a swimming pool and several terraces.
There are four bedrooms, three bathrooms and two reception rooms, but it’s the wonderful views across the valley that are probably the biggest selling point.