Travel to Provence with Jo Thomas
Time to head to the French Farmhouse with Jo Thomas!
Jo Thomas is very keen on France. She’s in love with Provence and is keen for readers to experience the same. Through this book, you really get to experience the setting in all its glory. Add a captivating plot and you’re off. So, how does Jo prepare and research such a book?….
Here she is to guide us on a very special tour of Provence…
Escape to the French Farmhouse is set in Provence in the South of France, in amongst the lavender fields there.
I love France. But I really love Provence. This book is a tribute to my love affair with France, from camping holidays with the family when I was a child, to activity holidays as a teenager over the summer staying in a chestnut forest, to sailing in the Med and then living and working in a restaurant in Provence as a young adult.
I love the smell of Provence, the wild rosemary and the smell of pine trees in the sunshine. The mistral wind used to whip through the restaurant sending glasses flying and the brilliant blue sky and vivid colours all around after it had left again. I wanted to celebrate the place and the lavender that grows in these parts. Because as I’ve always said, once you find the food that grows of an area, you find the heart of the place and it takes you by the hand and introduces you its people, culture and history.
Talking about research….
I started out looking on line at where the lavender grows in Provence, in the Luberon and around Mont Ventoux and booked to stay in the area in March 2019, with my friend, writer Katie Fforde. It was Springtime in Provence and the whole of nature seemed to be waking from the winter. The birds sang in the mornings and the markets were full of produce, people and lavender. The hills on the roadsides and all around were covered in wild rosemary and the smell told me instantly that I was back.
We ate local produce, including lamb with lavender and lavender nougat, all washed down with wonderful Provence rose wine. We then booked for a cookery class with a local French chef, who came to our rental property, with all the ingredients to show us how cook a three course regional dish, finishing with the most amazing apple and lavender dessert I have ever tasted. I can still remember the taste of it now. We also visit the Lavender Museum where we learnt about the history of lavender in the area, how the fine lavender grows high up the mountains where it used to grow wild. We saw the stills that would be taken to the fields to turn the lavender to oil, by the streams there. And then of course we discovered all the products made with lavender and the oil, which gave us the best nights sleep ever.
Later on in the Spring I returned to the area with my Mum and we drove up into the hills and mountains, along the snaking roads on the lavender trail, where fields of lavender grow all around. Just imagining the colours and smell when it’s in full bloom!
Why location is everything
I wanted to create a location, a home, that becomes a place of healing for my characters. Where their lives reach a turning point and here they can begin to heal and grow, just like the lavender. I remember the restful sleep I had with the lavender oil and the feeling of well being it brought me and wanted that for my heroine and her friends who join her at the farmhouse. It’s a house of happiness, healing and hope.
Apart from the two visits I made to Provence, the lavender museum, the cookery class, I, of course wanted to cook with lavender myself and brought some back with me. You have to use it sparingly, but as you would rosemary. It pairs brilliantly with lamb, in biscuits and chocolate, even in something like chocolate mousse. There are also lavender farms across the UK which are well worth a visit.
Oh to visit the setting for real!
Where do I start about this setting? What can I say? I love being there. I love the colours, the terrocotta roof tiles, the cream and orange walls, the herbs that make the food so wonderful from rich boeuf bourguignon to bouillabaisse and then of course, there’s the wine! To sit as the sun sets looking over the hills, to the mountains, and the plane trees, sipping a glass of wine with the smell of lavender, the wild rosemary, the pine and the sound of the cicadas is absolute bliss. I wish I could escape to the French Farmhouse. And if you can’t get there in person, I hope you enjoy the trip in the pages of the book.