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The People, Places and Food of Provence: Interview with Cheryl Robson
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The People, Places and Food of Provence: Interview with Cheryl Robson

Picture of Culture Trip
Updated: 9 February 2017
Cheryl Robson’s new cultural guide, titled Provence: People, Places, Food, casts a light on this gorgeous region in southeastern France. The book is an eclectic collection of travel and food recommendations, but also includes a curated selection of articles about the artists and writers who lived in Provence and contributed to its cultural life. We talk to Robson about this ambitious project and the inspiration behind it.


© Cheryl Robson


Q: How did the book come about?


A: I’ve owned a second home in the Var for over twenty years and have visited nearly all of the places included in the guide with my family during that time. Many of the photos are exclusive to this book, having been taken either by myself, my husband or my daughters over the years. I also spent a year being based in Monaco which gave me the opportunity to visit some of the smaller places like Eze which are absolute gems, slightly off the main tourist trail.


Provence: People, Places, Food
© Aurora Metro Books

Q: How long did it take?


A: I began to think about the book five years ago. My husband became suspicious that I was up to something when we’d venture out on a day trip and I’d get very serious about taking photos of the place. He’d say to me: ‘You’re not working, are you?’ and I’d assure him, to start off with, that I wasn’t. Once I’d decided there was a book in it, I had to confess that we weren’t just on holiday, for example, in the Luberon, but were actually on a research trip.


Q: How did you get the idea to include the artists, writers and movie stars?


A: As a writer and editor of dozens of other books, I always find coming to the region is good for renewing my energy and developing new ideas so I began to wonder about other writers and artists who spent time here and whether they were inspired to be more creative too. As I read about the lives of numerous writers and artists who’d been drawn to the area over the years, I discovered that it was probably a combination of the beauty of the natural environment and having an artistic community of other like-minded souls willing to discuss ideas and experiment, which acted as a magnet, drawing people together.


Q: You also include footballers, fashion designers and musicians in the book. Why?


A: I’ve included people who I think were either influenced by the region or who contributed to cultural life in some way, sometimes going on to be internationally recognised. International footballers and other sports stars are as much a part of society and culture today as other more well-known faces such as rock stars and movie stars. French fashion from the days of scented gloves and the indiennes patterns on fabrics, through to Coco Chanel, Pierre Cardin and Christian Audigier, has a long-running connection to Provence.


© Cheryl Robson


Q: You have chosen to focus on about 30 places in the guide. How did you choose these?


A: It was difficult to decide which places to include but as a travel guide we wanted to keep it to under 300 pages so it wasn’t too bulky to carry around (of course there will also be an e-book.) We tried to select places which offered plenty to do for tourists as well as having an eclectic mix of personalities associated with them. For example – Sanary-sur-Mer – isn’t often included in travel guides but it was an important place during the 1930s when a community of exiled German intellectuals which included Berthold Brecht, Arnold Zweig and Thomas Mann, developed there. Their work had been banned or burnt in Germany by the Nazis and the south of France was a cheaper place to live than Paris. It had a positive effect on much of their work too.


© Cheryl Robson

Q: Did you make any discoveries along the way?


A: Yes, I found some fascinating lesser-known characters such as an English travel writer called Lesley Blanch, who ran away to Menton from her bourgeois home in Chiswick, West London at 17 with a Russian spy who was 25 years older than her. She later spent time travelling in the Arab world and then a period living in Hollywood in the 1960s with diplomat husband Romain Gary.


And Alexandra David-Neel was once the most famous woman in France. Why? Because she was the first foreigner to be allowed into the forbidden city of Lhasa in Tibet in 1924. She also studied spiritual matters with a guru literally living in a cave for a few years. You could say she inspired the whole hippy movement with her keen interest in eastern mysticism.


Q: Any other projects in the pipeline?


A: Yes, we’ve compiled the first-ever global overview of women film directors with contributors from every continent, a highly topical book considering the current debates. The book is called Celluloid Ceiling, women film directors breaking through and is published by Supernova Books in the UK. It will be available in shops in time for the Cannes Film Festival.


Cheryl Robson’s Provence: People, Places, Food (£12.99 ISBN: 9781906582333) is available to order from Aurora Metro Books and can be purchased from Amazon and Waterstones.