By Rick Steves and Steve Smith
To learn more about France past and present, and specifically Provence and the French Riviera, check out a few of these books and films. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)
- A to Z of French Food, a French to English Dictionary of Culinary Terms (G. de Temmerman, 1995). This is the most complete (and priciest) menu reader around — and it's beloved by foodies.
- At Home in France (Ann Barry, 1996). An American author describes her visits to her country house.
- The Course of French History (Pierre Goubert, 1988). Goubert provides a basic summary of French history.
- A Distant Mirror (Barbara Tuchman, 1987). Respected historian Barbara Tuchman paints a portrait of 14th-century France.
- French or Foe? (Polly Platt, 1994). This best seller, along with its follow-up, Savoir-Flair!, is an essential aid for interacting with the French and navigating the intricacies of their culture.
- A Goose in Toulouse and other Culinary Adventures in France (Mort Rosenblum, 2000). This series of essays provides keen insights on rural France through its focus on cuisine.
- La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life (Elaine Sciolino, 2011). Sciolino, former Paris bureau chief of the New York Times, gives travelers a fun, insightful, and tantalizing peek into how seduction is used in all aspects of French life — from small villages to the halls of national government.
- Portraits of France (Robert Daley, 1991). Part memoir, part travelogue, this is a charming reminiscence of the writer's lifelong relationship with France, including marrying a French girl on his first trip there.
- Postcards from France (Megan McNeill Libby, 1997). This perceptive account tells the adventures of an American exchange student adjusting to life in France.
- The Road from the Past: Traveling Through History in France (Ina Caro, 1994). Caro's enjoyable travel essays take you on a chronological journey through France's historical sights.
- Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong (Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, 2003). This is a must-read for anyone serious about understanding French culture, contemporary politics, and what makes the French tick.
- Travelers Tales: Paris and Travelers' Tales: France (edited by James O'Reilly, Larry Habegger, and Sean O'Reilly, 2002). Notable writers explore Parisian and French culture.
- Two Towns in Provence (M. F. K. Fisher, 1964). Aix-en-Provence and Marseille are the subjects of these two stories by the celebrated American food writer. She also writes about her life in France in Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon (1929).
- A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence (Peter Mayle, 1989/1991). Mayle's memoirs include humorous anecdotes about restoring and living in a 200-year-old farmhouse in a remote area of the Lubéron.
- The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles (Martin Gayford, 2006). This historical account vividly chronicles Van Gogh and Gauguin's tumultuous stay in Arles.
- The Fly-Truffler (Gustaf Sobin, 1999). After the death of his young wife, a Provençal man stays in touch with her spirit through intimate dream visions.
- Hotel Pastis (Peter Mayle, 1993). Mayle, whose nonfiction books are recommended earlier, also writes fiction set in Provence, including this book and A Good Year.
- Joy of Man's Desiring (Jean Giono, 1935). Giano captures the charm of rural France. (The author also wrote the Johnny Appleseed eco-fable set in Provence, The Man Who Planted Trees.)
- The Chorus (2004). Filled with angelic choir music, this touching film tells the story of a schoolteacher and the boys he brings together.
- Cyrano de Bergerac (1990). A homely, romantic poet woos his love with the help of another, better-looking man (look for scenes filmed at the Abbaye de Fontenay).
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988). Steve Martin and Michael Caine star in this hilarious flick, filmed in and around Villefranche-sur-Mer.
- French Kiss (1995). This romantic comedy includes scenes in the French countryside and Cannes, as well as Paris.
- The Horseman on the Roof (1995). The beautiful Juliette Binoche seeks her missing husband in this romance-drama set in 1830's southern France.
- Jean de Florette (1986). This marvelous tale of greed and intolerance follows a hunchback as he fights for the property he inherited in rural France. Its sequel, Manon of the Spring (1986), continues with his daughter's story.
- My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle (1991). These companion films, based on the memoirs of writer/filmmaker Marcel Pagnol, show his early life in Provence.
- The Return of Martin Guerre (1982). A man returns to his village in southwestern France from the Hundred Years' War — but is he really who he claims to be?
- Ronin (1998). Robert De Niro stars in this crime caper, which includes a car chase through Paris and scenes filmed in Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Arles.
- To Catch a Thief (1955). Alfred Hitchcock's thriller showcases both the French Riviera and crackling performances by Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.
Steve Smith is the co-author of the Rick Steves Provence & the French Riviera guidebook.