Last summer saw the bi-centenary of Jane Austen’s death; there were events and celebrations across England.  Visiting friends in Winchester in the summer, Continue Reading »


Europe is having one of its darkest winters since records began: Lille in the first half of January has had just 3 hours of sun, while Paris has had only 10. Continue Reading »

I’m sure everyone in the area has seen the start this week of the ‘travaux‘,  basically carving a 7,2 km route from one side of town to the other for the ‘Bus a Haut Niveau de Service (BHNS)’, now thankfully renamed L’Aixpress.  

What do we know so far? Continue Reading »

What sad news to wake up to today. Peter Mayle, the author best known for writing ‘A Year in Provence’, has died in hospital near his home village of Vaugines.

In fact I had just posted this week about visiting his favourite restaurant in Marseille which had prompted me to pick up ‘A Year in Provence’ to reread a few chapters.

Peter Mayle in Lourmarin, Provence in 2006.
Peter Mayle in Lourmarin, Provence in 2006. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

This book inspired an entire genre of Provence-themed memoirs but he really was the godfather of them all.  His descriptions, so incisive and witty, were the product of his skill as an advertising man, added to a benign nature that saw the best in people and places.  His work is always optimistic and sunny, capturing the imagination of the millions who bought his books.

In true advertising tradition, he crafted his product, Provence, giving it an image and personality that so appealed to holiday-makers and people looking for a new life. No wonder the French made him Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur in 2002.

He was 78.  A sad loss.



It’s good the annual run of film awards happens early in the new year – it always coincides with cold weather during January just when it’s so tempting to snuggle down in the warmth of the cinema.

First up, ‘3 Billboards, Les Panneaux de  la Vengeance’ or ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri’ has just opened at the Renoir in VO  and it is every bit as magnificent as reviews have claimed. Lead player Frances McDormand is excellent as the grief-stricken mother looking for vengeance, up against her nemesis in the local police played by Sam Rockwell.  It is fascinating and surprising to realise that this quintessentially small-town American narrative was written and directed by a British/Irish film-maker, Martin McDonagh. What a talent.

Still playing, ‘Les Heures Sombres’, ‘The Darkest Hour’ is based on the true story of Churchill’s first days as prime minster in WW2.  It has had audiences standing up applauding in the US.  At the Cézanne.

Very much looking forward to ‘The Pentagon Papers’ or ‘The Post’ which starts in Aix on Wednesday 24th Jan. It was made by Steven Spielberg in just 9 months as he felt impelled to tell this story of press freedom as quickly as he could.  A partnership of Meryl Streep on screen with Tom Hanks for the first time promises to be electrifying.

In the meantime Aix audiences can enjoy the annual Télérama festival, a one-week showing for last-year’s best films.  Started yesterday – details below.


Marseille yesterday was strangely quiet with many shops and bars in the Panier closed.  Some had notices saying they were on holiday during January; other people explained that the wind was bad, there were no cruises in on a Tuesday, Mucem is closed on a Tuesday…and so on.

Happily, eventually, the pottery store, Memoire de Terre et Terroirs opposite the docks opened its doors towards mid-day – if you haven’t visited, do, as they  have a great range of Tunisian dishes, serving pots for tagines, jugs, plates at really modest cost.

They come in on the boats opposite, from Nabeul, which is the ceramics capital of the country.  If you like North African tableware, this is recommended.  We came out laden!

Peter Mayle once wrote that Chez Etienne was his favourite Marseille restaurant for lunch and it seems he is not alone.

As the locals say, ‘Il faut absolument passer, un fois, dans sa vie, chez Etienne’.

Even Gault & Millau call it a ‘veritable institution’.

Mayle was charmed by the old owner’s stance: no telephone, no menu, no reservations and no credit cards.  I couldn’t wait to visit!

It’s a tiny restaurant tucked away in the Panier, really busy when we managed to find it yesterday, but we did squeeze into a table. ‘Calamares or pizza?’ asked the server.  Mayle really wasn’t kidding about the lack of menus.

My companion enjoyed a plate of calamares, with the bowl of salad and bread that came to the table.  My pizza came some time after she had finished….but I was so busy looking around, I really didn’t mind. The walls are covered with memorabilia of the Cassaro family who arrived from Sicily in 1943.  They opened up their restaurant to provide good Italian cooking for the local labourers who probably didn’t care about choice.  Yesterday, dessert was tarte feuilletées aux pommes or…tarte feuilletées aux pommes, no coffee available with milk.

We loved it – the food was excellent and inexpensive.  Great ambiance and friendly service too. Sadly Etienne died in August. He sounds like he was such a character and I’m sorry not to have got there sooner.  But he has a son and it looks as though the family are carrying on with their gastronomic tradition.

Chez Etienne is at 43 rue Lorette and I do have a telephone no: 04 91 54 76 33 – and you didn’t really expect a website!  Cash only. Closed Sundays.

Thanks to Karen for introducing me to this ‘veritable institution’.