Novelist Tasmina Perry reveals the inspiration for her new novel, Friend of the Family, and gives us her top tips for a vacation in her favourite parts of Provence.
I’ve always wanted to write a glamorous ‘cuckoo in the nest’ story, so my new novel, Friend of the Family, follows a glamorous magazine editor, Amy Parker, whose life is turned upside down when she does an old school friend a favour and sorts out work experience for her daughter.
At first, Josie is a dream to have around Amy’s office, and when Amy’s nanny is run over and can’t come on their summer holiday to Provence, Amy invites Josie to come with her family instead.
When they get to Provence, Amy becomes very unsettled by Josie and when things start to go very wrong, secrets from Amy’s past begin to be revealed.
Friend of the Family was enormous fun to write, not least because I was fascinated by the dynamic between Amy and Josie, but also because I got to write lots of luscious chapters about Provence.
I try to do research trips to make my books as authentic as possible, and I wrote some of this novel in Lourmarin, a stunning town in Provence that I thought would be the perfect setting for the villa that Amy visits. In the book, the villa belongs to a successful fashion entrepreneur, so I had to make sure that every detail felt stylish, although you couldn’t go far wrong in Lourmarin as everywhere looked straight out of a fashion shoot!
Where to go
Lourmarin is the perfect base for any trip to Provence. It’s a market town with chic cafés and manicured streets overlooked by a château where they have classical music concerts in the summer. Menerbes is another lovely village. Cassis, on the coast, is quieter and prettier than St Tropez.
Places to Eat
On the other side of Provence is Mougins (strictly speaking, it’s in the Alpes Maritime area, but with its orange groves and stone village houses, it’s what most people think of as Provence.) Mougins is one of the world’s great foodie towns and home to the Michelin-starred Le Moulin de Mougins, but you’ll have fantastic food in most of the pretty cafés dotted around the village.
La Columbe d’Or is the famous eatery in St Paul de Vence. Artists such as Picasso and Matisse used to eat here back in the day and gifted the restaurant with paintings that are still on display. I’ve eaten my best ever ice-cream in Uzès, another gorgeous town ninety minutes’ drive away from Lourmarin. You’ll find dozens of delicious flavours at La fabrique Givrée. I like the tomato sorbet (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!). In Lourmarin itself, I loved Helene Lunch – a tiny café with amazing salads (or whatever chef Helene has cooked that day). Their chic selection of aprons will make you want to bring out your inner Nigella.
Try Airbnb for some unique Provençal accommodation – the area is peppered with converted mills and limestone townhouses you can rent. En route to Provence we stayed at Le Vieux Castillon. I thought I had uncovered a real Provençal secret – then I found out that the hotel was used as Channel 4’s First Date hotel!
If you go to Provence in summer you’ll be there for lavender season, which is celebrated in many of the villages around Provence with town fairs and fêtes. Each area has a slightly different blooming period so the lavender harvest varies from town to town. We loved the famous Fête de la Lavande held in Sault. In the morning you can watch the farmers scythe the lavender, and in the afternoon you can scoop up any of the sweet-smelling leftovers and quench your thirst with a lavender lemonade.
You can’t miss market day in Lourmarin. It gets so busy but the beautiful soaps, ripe fruit and farm-fresh olive oils make it worth the crowds.
With the Verdon Gorge, seeing is believing. We camped overnight by the banks of the river. Looking up at the vast black starry sky felt like being in space itself. The water is bright green, and hiring one of the yellow pedalos (get one with a slide) is brilliant fun.
Provence and Beyond
Just beyond Provence is the famous Cote D’Azur area. We loved hopping over to Monte Carlo (ask the immigration kiosk for a glamorous Monaco stamp – it will be the glitziest entry in your passport).
Less well-known but just as lovely is the Gard area. Uzès has a beautiful central square called Place aux Herbes. Good food and smart interior boutiques are one draw, but it’s also home to the Haribo Museum, so your kids will thank you!
A short hop away is the Pont du Gard – perfect for an afternoon of culture and history.
Friend of the Family is out in paperback today! To celebrate we’ve teamed up with Headline Books to offer sets of Jo Severin swimwear to three lucky winners!