Author, actress and FRANCE Magazine columnist Carol Drinkwater returns to our television screens this autumn with a new series that sees her reminiscing about 35 years of life in the south of France and visiting some of her favourite places. Here she tells us what we can expect from the six-episode series.
What can viewers expect from A Year in Provence with Carol Drinkwater?
I hope that viewers will be transported to a land of sunshine, local colour and fabulous characters who live and work the land in the south of France. In fact, we cover slightly more ground than ‘Provence’. We discover and pay visits to locations in the larger sense of the term, Provence. Our little olive farm which is at the heart of the series, is overlooking the Bay of Cannes so actually in the Alpes-Maritimes region. These days, France has opened its arms to the notion of Provence, meaning the south of France from the Camargue travelling as far east as Menton, on the Italian border. This has given us plenty of scope for ideas and to meet some of the people I have worked with and who have become my friends, colleagues, during my 35 years of living here in this utterly wonderful corner of the world.
Where did the idea for the show come from?
I was approached by Emma Westcott who is a commissioning editor at Channel 5. She is a very persuasive lady and sold the idea to me very well. I don’t think I took on board quite how intimate the programmes might be. A film crew in your garden, at your breakfast table day after day…. It’s a new experience for me.
How many episodes will there be and what form will they take?
There are six episodes in all. Each one visits us at the farm and we talk in interviews about our life here over the years, our love for the place and one another. I then go out on visits to various glorious locations. In each episode, we usually stop to shop for food or discuss the ingredients for upcoming meals. There is plenty of cooking. There are also some lesser-known places, places that are very special to me or have inspired the novels I have set down here. We take to the sea on boat trips, or by car along winding mountain passes into the Haute Provence and the land of lavender. I am challenged to do a little glassblowing. Plenty to see and enjoy, and a few laughs at my expense, I suspect.
What did you enjoy most about making the show?
Reconnecting with some people down here who I haven’t had an opportunity to catch up with in a while. Meeting a winemaker who encouraged his entire village to go organic thus making it the first organic village in France, strolling the streets of Marseille which is one of my favourite cities…. There is so much. The series is very rich and varied. I looked for ideas and inspiration from my life that might draw in viewers with a broad range of interests. I even played a few games of pétanque!
Were there any particularly memorable moments?
Several. Distilling lavender was great fun and I had never actually turned my hand to it before. As I said, glassblowing in Biot, and it was very hard work! Returning to Matisse’s exquisite chapel in Vence. Oh, there were so many wonderful and very memorable moments.
Did you discover anywhere that you’d like to go back to in the future?
I return to most of the locations in the series from time to time. Nowhere was new to me although I was able to experience some of the places from a slightly different perspective. Renoir’s astounding olive trees in his garden in Cagnes-sur-Mer, for example – I hadn’t returned there in, I think, over 20 years, since before all my Olive Route travels so it was very special to revisit those monumental trees with new eyes, with all that I have learned from my Olive journeys around the Mediterranean. I felt very humbled by their majesty, by Renoir’s work and capacity to keep painting even when his health was failing him.
Where are your favourite places in Provence?
I love the south of France, almost all of it. I think it would be easier to pick out what I don’t like! We returned to the Calanques area near Marseille where I set my novel, The House on the Edge of the Cliff. We took a boat out and travelled into the calanque, the creek, where I had set a very dramatic scene in the novel. It was a glorious sunny day, the water was calm and sparkling, fish beneath and about us. It was genuinely memorable. I wanted to sing with joy at the sheer beauty of it all. The area is a nature reserve now. I sincerely hope our viewers will be transported and warmed by the sheer magnificence of all that is on offer.