Summer is here and so today we’re going to do a little literary jet-setting to the South of France, with the 10 best books set in the French Riviera. There’s no need to pack your suitcase. Just bring your imagination as we set off to the beautiful Côte d’Azure (or the bookshop, whichever you prefer!).
A Little Bit About The French Riviera
The Côte d’Azure, or the French Riviera as it’s known in English, is a beautiful stretch of coastline in southern France. Although there’s no ‘official border’ the French Riviera stretches from the Italy in the east along to Cassis in the west. It includes St. Tropez, Nice, and Cannes, as well as the independent state of Monaco.
Known for sun (it gets an amazing 310 out of 350 days a year!), sparkling seas and glamour, the French Riviera has always been a well-loved setting for books.
During its heyday, The French Riviera was a playground for artists and writers as well as the rich and famous. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda spent much time there in the 1920s and the region was home to a host of artists including Picasso, Monet, Matisse and Cèzanne. It was also where (ex) King Edward VIII and his scandalous wife Wallis relocated after his abdication.
With so much inspiration, it’s no wonder it’s the perfect setting for a little literary escapism.
The Best Books Set in The French Riviera
Whatever type of book you prefer, there’s something for everyone with these books set in the French Riviera. From cosy crime to literary classics, these ten books will transport you to the beauty of the south of France. With the added benefit of never having to leave your chair. Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to be planning a trip, make sure you pack at least one of these books set in the French Riviera. After all, there’s nothing better than discovering the places you’ve been reading about.
1. Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart
“It sounds idyllic: a leisurely drive through the sun-drenched landscape of Provence. But Charity’s dream holiday turns into a nightmare when she becomes embroiled in a sinister plot to kidnap a young boy. She soon finds herself in a deadly pursuit and must uncover who to trust …and who to fall for.”
Mary Stewart’s attention to detail will instantly transport you to 1950s Provence. And, if you’re a fan of the ‘Miss Marple’ brand of crime fiction you’ll appreciate the stylised speech and can-do attitude of the characters. You can practically hear the old-school RP accents dripping from the page, which I found delightful. Madam Will You Talk. I read this book on my own trip to the French Riviera and it made my day out in Marseille a little bit more fun, as I kept my eye out for dastardly criminals!
2. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Psychoanalyst Dick Diver and his wife Nicole, hold court at their villa in the fashionable French Riviera. Into their circle comes Rosemary Hoyt, a film star, who is instantly attracted to them, but understands little of the dark secrets and hidden corruption that hold them together. As Dick draws closer to Rosemary, he fractures the delicate structure of his marriage and sets both Nicole and himself on to a dangerous path where only the strongest can survive”
The lyrical novel is, in my opinion, much more interesting than The Great Gatsby. Written on location, it is without a doubt one of the best books set in the French Riviera. Fitzgerald poured much of the essence of his own life into this book. He also perfectly captured the materialism, shattered idealism and broken dreams if the age. For a little extra literary connection, the title of Tender is the Night comes from a beautiful, bittersweet poem ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats.
3. Death on the Riviera by John Bude
“When a counterfeit currency racket comes to light on the French Riviera, Detective Inspector Meredith is sent speeding southwards. Along with Inspector Blampignon- an amiable policeman from Nice. Soon their interest centres on the Villa Paloma, the residence of Nesta Hedderwick, an eccentric Englishwoman, and her bohemian house guests. Before long, it becomes evident that more than one of the occupants of the Villa Paloma has something to hide, and the stage is set for murder.”
Death on the Riviera was recently re-published as part of the British Library Crime Classics. Set in 19512, this classic crime novel evokes all the sunlit glamour of life on the Riviera. Alongside some clever plotting with a dash of humour is a murder mystery that will keep you guessing. Perfect to read on the beach while you soak up the sun.
4. The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
“Set on the Cote d’Azur in the 1920s, it is the story of a young American writer, David Bourne, his glamorous wife, Catherine, and the dangerous, erotic game they play when they fall in love with the same woman.”
This daring, and unfinished, novel caused a sensation when it was first published in 1986. It has been called ‘A lean, sensuous narrative…taut, chic, and strangely contemporary,’ The Garden of Eden represents vintage Hemingway, at his best. This book is one of Hemingway’s most fascinating character studies and will leave you thinking long after you finish.
5. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
“Peter Mayle and his wife did what most of us only imagine doing when they made their long-cherished dream of a life abroad a reality: throwing caution to the wind, they bought a glorious two hundred year-old farmhouse in the Luberon Valley and began a new life. In a year that begins with a marathon lunch and continues with a host of gastronomic delights, they also survive the unexpected and often hilarious curiosities of rural life.”
Not strictly set in The French Riviera, nevertheless, this book is still worth a read. For those who enjoy immersing themselves in what it’s like to really live in a place, A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle is the perfect pick. From mastering the local accent, to discovering the delights of boules (seriously, they’re mad for this game in the South of France). This book is the perfect introduction to Provence and will leave you desperate to up-sticks and move!
6. The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson
“Romance, suspense, and World War II mystery are woven together in three artfully linked novellas-rich in drama and steeped in atmosphere. The Sea Garden is a vivid and absorbing chronicle of love and loss in the fog of war-and a penetrating and perceptive examination of the impulses and circumstances that shape our lives.”
A great choice for the Historical Fiction fans out there. Rather than flitting between past and present in separate chapters, Deborah Lawrenson takes the unique approach of using three novellas. Each of these novellas presents a separate story, with an overarching theme that brings them all together nicely at the end. Perfect for fans of beautiful and poignant prose, wrapped up in beautiful setting and tied together by the thread of history.
7. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
“Stylish, shimmering and amoral. The story of Cécile, who leads a carefree life with her widowed father and his young mistresses until one hot summer on the Riviera he decides to marry. With devastating consequences.”
Françoise Sagan published this book when she was just eighteen. Sagan’s tale of adolescence and betrayal on the French Riviera was her masterpiece. However, this frank and explicit novella was considered too daring for 1950s Britain. So, sexual scenes were removed for the English publication. Now considered a modern classic, but perhaps not one for people who dislike explicit scenes.
8. My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s Castle by Marcel Pagnol
“With warmth, lucidity and good humour, Pagnol, a boy from the city, recounts the glorious summer days he spent exploring the sun-baked Provençal countryside. He vividly captures the atmosphere of a childhood filled with the simple pleasures: a meal, a joke, an outing shared with his close-knit and loving family.”
French novelist, playwright, and filmmaker, Marcel Pagnol’s creates a triumphant work, suffused with joy and optimism. Furthermore, his eye for humour and his ability to re-capture the wonder and confusion of childhood saves it from becoming a more run of the mill memoir. These heart warming stories are a change of pace from some of the darker books set in the French Riviera on this list. But they are sure to delight readers who want a sense of time and place filled with good memories.
9. Riviera Stories: Just Below the Surface by Debra Moffitt
“Twelve Riviera residents in search of something beyond wealth and glamour. Mysteries open up as they all seek to find something that makes sense beyond the crazy, materialistic world around them. Riviera Stories spotlights Monaco’s playground of the rich and famous, Antibes’ beaches and restaurants, and the lush mountains and perched villages beyond the coast and brings them to life.”
Riviera Stories is a collection of short stories. It invites you to experience the sensuality of the Riviera even if you can’t travel there. Which is why it’s made it onto this list of the best books set in the French Riviera. It also explores the big questions of life: Is more money really going to make these people happy? What’s really important? Is there something more to life than success, fame, and pleasure? The characters in “Riviera Stories” begin to realize that something is calling them to a deeper experience of life.
10. Letters from My Windmill by Alphonse Daudet
“The stories are all told by the author in the first person, typically addressing a Parisian reader. The author, having relocated his home from Paris, recounts short bucolic tales about his new life in Provence as well as his trips to Corsica and French Algeria.”
Now his most lasting legacy, Letters from My Windmill was written by acclaimed eighteenth century author Alphonse Daudet in 1869; as an homage to beloved Provence. These stories are characterised by a lightness of touch and the crispness of his prose. . A written version of a Monet painting, perhaps. His work is filled with tenderness and delicacy, a wistfulness and wry humour. A beautiful glimpse into ‘La France profonde’.
*Bonus* The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers
“The sunlight and calm of the French Riviera have been a magnet for writers since the fourteenth century. The Cote d’Azur has provided the inspiration and setting for some of the greatest literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers” is a reader’s journey along this fabled coast, from Hyeres and St. Tropez in the west to the Italian border in the east. Introducing the lives and work of writers who passed this way, from distinguished Nobel laureates to new authors who found their voices there”
You didn’t think I could resist including a book that combines both my loves: travel and books did you? Probably one of the best books set in the French Riviera. Especially if you are planning a trip to the South of France any time soon, this book is the perfect companion. Ideal for those who want a little literary tourism in their lives.