Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book review of French Essence - Ambiance, Beauty & Style in the South of France by Vicki Archer

Ten years ago Australian Vicki Archer, along with her husband and three children, bought and restored an olive farm and mas (French farmhouse) outside of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, an ancient, romantic walled village in the heart of Provence. The south of France is undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous places in the world. Vincent van Gogh also thought so because it was the setting for many of his famous masterpieces, including Starry Nights. There’s something very special about the light there that I’ve never seen anywhere else. With her captivating prose, Vicki paints an intimate portrait of life in Provence as only an insider could know. You will be captivated by the numerous photographs in the book by celebrated and talented photographer Carla Coulson as she captures the beauty of Vicki’s private Provence through the lens of her camera. All of the photographs shown below from the book are by Carla.

Sitting room in winter Mas de Berard

Vicki’s first book, My French Life, tells the story of the beautiful restoration of the Mas de Berard, her property in Saint Remy and French Essence takes over where it left off. For a fascinating interview with Vicki about My French Life, please visit the charming blog Annechovie, which I know you will love.

Vicki has a very popular blog of her own, French Essence, that if you haven’t visited, you must. Pop over there now if you wish, but hurry back. I was lucky enough to receive a signed copy of French Essence from Vicki and I’m dying to tell you all about it.

Vicki Archer’s inspiration wall

In the introduction Vicki describes French Essence as a continuation of her love affair with France and in particular Provence. I can fully understand that love because my husband and I have had the privilege of visiting Provence and Vicki’s charming village Saint-Remy-de-Provence twice and we, like Vicki, fell instantly in love.

Morning light on the terrace Mas de Berard

Through French Essence Vicki shows you her private Provence, the inside of her gorgeous home, and takes you on a tour of her beautiful lush gardens that are so typical of the south of France. Vicki says she “views the gardens as a series of exterior rooms and moving between the areas provide an element of surprise and a changing palette for outdoor living.”

Lazy days on the lawn at Mas de Berard

You feel as if you’ve been with her during the olive harvest in the fall of the 3000 olives trees on the property that help make the farm self-supporting. After the harvest, the olives are taken to the CastelaS mill in Les Baux for processing. As a matter of coincidence - my husband and I visited the CastelaS mill when we were there and bought a bottle of cold-pressed A.O.C. olive oil in their shop. Perhaps it’s possible we’ve tasted the rich olive oil from Vicki’s Mas de Berard.

Olive harvest with nets draped under the trees

In the walled city of Avignon where thousands of visitors flock to see the Palace of the Popes, Vicki takes you on a private tour of some of her favorite spots - the Opera Theatre and the Place de La Mirande.

Interior of the Opera Theatre in Avignon

Along the narrow cobbled streets of Avignon after the Opera, she goes to the Place de La Mirande, a splendid family-run hotel that dates back to the 14th century.

Salon of La Mirande, Avignon

She visits French Impressionist Cezanne’s Aix-en-Provence, where she introduces you to her favorite family-owned chocolate shop, Le Chocolaterie du Puyricard. And for pure whimsy and the child in all of us, there’s a chapter devoted to the colorful French circus to transport the reader to a world of make believe.

Streetscape of Aix-en-Provence

French Essence is a delight to read and makes a great gift for Francophiles such as myself, lovers of all things beautiful, and la bonne vie, or the good life as the French say. The book’s cover is elegantly plush and makes a spectacular addition to your collection of coffee table delights as does her first book, My French Life.

I’ve searched on line for the best place to buy French Essence and I’ve found two sources – and The But you may find others based on where you live. Vicki’s first book, My French Life, is available at Amazon. Both books will leave you wanting to buy a ticket for the next flight to Marseilles so you can capture the French essence of the south of France for yourself.

Guest room at Mas de Berard

When I received my signed copy of French Essence, my husband and I were flooded with wonderful memories of our visit to Vicki’s charming village, Saint-Remy-de-Provence in 2007. (See the side bar for links to those posts under France.) We rented a house there for two months and shopped with the locals, cooked and ate their wonderfully fresh foods until our hearts and stomachs were content.

In future posts I’ll be featuring some of the foods typically found in Provence and other of our French food favorites. The first will be a Daube de boeuf a la Provencale, a slow-cooked beef dish that is a specialty of the region. For dessert there are oranges marinated in brandy, a light fresh winter salad that’s perfect to round off the very hearty meal.


  1. I love her blog! I have got to get that book!!!

  2. I'm heading to Provence next week for a week long lesson on truffles. Your post has me quite excited about the beauty and history of the region. This is a stunning book.

  3. We look forward to sharing any future dishes from Provence with you Sam.

  4. Lovely post and your promise of more about Provence and its food has me drooling!

    I've been following Vicki A.'s blog for sometime now with great avidity and not a little envy. I can see I need this book!

  5. I love books such as this. This one reminds me of a french version of Under the Tuscan Sun and what a treat this one would be to read. I will have to check out her blog as well. All things French have fascinated me since I was little.

  6. What I find most delightful about your blog is what you are willing to learn and teach your fellow bloggers!

    I love reading about all the wonderful places you've been and food is an integral part of the experience traveling to different regions in the world!

    Thanks for sharing all this wonderful experiences and knowledge you've obtained traveling all over the world!

    Love your blog!!

  7. I would love to live abroad for a year or two, but I wouldn't want to stay there forever. It would help if I had a place that looked like that!

  8. France is absolutely stunning. You could never grow tired of the food, wine or the scenery.
    We are hoping to take a bicycle trip this summer through the Loire Valley. I am so excited!!!

  9. I hope one day to see this place you described beautifully and shown so elegantly in the book. I enjoy posts like these for I may never get to "see" them in person. I love the shot most of the streetscape.

  10. Okay, this post has me a tiny bit depressed. GREG

  11. Such a fun post to read, with so many lovely pictures. I would love to go to Provence at some point (hopefully sooner, rather than later).

  12. I am dreaming of visiting Provence. Someday soon ...

  13. Although I live in France I discovered the beauty of olive orchards in Tunisia. The perspective gave dreams so much space!
    The pictures of this mas are beautiful - but if I were to buy a country house, it would be in the Loire...

  14. I would so love to visit Provence again! Maybe soon it will be time to take my daughter :) This book sounds great, I will check out the blog too. And looking forward to your Provence recipe posts!

  15. Interesting life and one I'd like to peek into every once in a while!

    Loved the pictures!

  16. My the photos from the book are amazing! And I can't wait for upcoming food posts-sounds so glamorous :)

  17. Dear Sam,

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post, I am so touched and flattered by your generous words. I am really looking forward to your recipes....xv

  18. You know I love France....I will check out Vicki's blog right now.
    Isn't the most beautiful place???
    I want to go there now!

  19. this looks like such a beautiful book! I love this kind of decor. It's so romantic!

    Can't wait to see your recipes!

  20. Oh Sam. Oh Sam. I visited Aix twice - as a poor college student and as a poor actress. You are making me yearn. Yes, the beauty. Lovely post.

  21. Sam, I am such a francophile too. I am hoping we can take a trip to Provence soon. I will definitely get this book. Looking forward to the Daube recipe.

  22. I just found your blog and I love it! You've got some amazing recipes!! Can't wait to browse around :)
    -Mini Baker
    ps. When I was little I used to watch "A Year In Provence" with my mom. I STILL need to go there!

  23. Sam this post was delicious tpo read! I ahve never been to France but I have spent time in Tuscany and I imagine them to be similar in beauty and golden light.

    Thank you for the blog links ..I'm sure I'll enjoy both.

    I'm looking forward to your authentic recipes.

  24. Sorry about the typing fingers feel stiff today.

    I also wanted to comment about the book's opera photo... it looks so elegant. I am a patron of the Metropolitan opera and I would adore visiting the Opera Theatre someday.

  25. These photos are marvelous. I need
    to get this book. I would love to visit France, but enjoyed your posting. It's always a joy to visit your blog.

  26. Your descriptions in this post are wonderfully written. You've made this a place that everyone will long to visit. Your two months must have been a fantastic experience. I can't wait to see the recipes.

  27. Another wonderful post! I love traveling with you! Thanks for sharing the great pictures and the book. Also, thanks for stopping by the BlogginBirthday Party and commenting. I think you and I entered Pink Saturday on the same day, Sherry was the first one to Welcome me as well.

  28. Oh, Sam, this is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this book with us and the beauty of Provence. Your friend has an amazing home, too.

    I have always wanted to visit Provence and hope to some day. I actually am more enamored of that region than Paris... well, I would love to visit both! :-)



  29. Lovely book.
    I love to be there one day:)
    Have a wonderful weekend Sam.

  30. Oh Sam sweetie...
    What a wonderful post. You have left me sighing with such happiness.

    I would really love to crawl up into that big bed and feel the warmth from the fireplace. I could lay there and read for hours I know.

    And the little narrow streets with all of the shops. My goodness I would be on the same street for a day. I know I would love exploring all the little shops.

    Who wouldn't want to sit in the sun on the lawn at Mas de Berard? I want to sit in that leopard looking chair. That is definitely the seat for me. Look at all of the beautiful pillows.

    I am definitely going to and purchasing a book. I mean a girl can always dream right? Sighhhhh.

    Have a beautiful day sweetie. I so love this post. Wonderful job.

    Country hugs and much love...Sherry

  31. Oh, so wonderful to view-all those gorgeous photos from her book. i do read her blog, now and then, makes me want to jump the jet and head out across the pond.Thanks so much for showing us!

  32. Beautiful pictures!Looks and sounds like a wonderful book!

  33. Hi Sam, Thanks for sharing your Saints story and now I'm off to visit Vicki. I have dreamed my entire life of visiting France. Will probably never get to go but I enjoy it so much in my dreams. XXMollye

  34. Sam, thanks to you and Vicki Archer for taking me there, to the olive farm and all, to "one of the most georgeous places in the world." I believe it.

    I enjoy your blog. I've been in the south of France for hours. Don't tell. There is something else I am supposed to be doing, you know.

  35. I so enjoy books like this one!!
    I also love France!

    Thanks for sharing this with us, dear friend!

  36. Delightful post. I must read this book. You have whet my appetite!

  37. Ooh La La! Oui, Oui, I love anything French too! From food to fashion to lifestyle. I will def'ly check out this book and Monet's Table listed on your sidebar and visit her blog. Thanks and have beautiful day! Roz

  38. This is everyone's dream... to make a perfect French house... the book sounds wonderful... you did a great job reviewing it!

  39. This was a fantastic post Sam! I am absolutely getting this book! Thank you so much for sharing!

  40. Great post, Sam. Having a review from you makes me want to read the book even more than I did.

    I agree, Vicki is a wonderful writer and the pictures are divine.

    Congratulations on all your well, well, deserved awards, you're the best.


  41. Sam, this is so well written I am dreaming of going just reading your post. I look forward to your wonderful meal creations!

  42. The guest room at Mas de Berard looks beautiful :)

  43. I could spend an hour here, looking through your photos. They are wonderful.

  44. I had never heard of this before you:)


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