An interview with Jenny Powell
The television presenter tells Andrew Williams about childhood holidays in France and owning a house in a Riviera hideaway
When did you first go to France?
My uncle was really into wine and food so we went over several times when I was a child with my cousins and we’d do a road trip. He used to rent a place in Bandol and we’d stop on the way in a bed and breakfast. He was a great cook so we ate in all the time or would have picnics on the beach.
Why did you buy a place in Giens?
I don’t like the tourist traps but like the food, wine and climate of the south coast. If you’ve been on TV for a while you don’t really want to go somewhere where there will be loads of English people so I’d been looking for somewhere that isn’t an obvious place to get to – and that end of the Riviera wasn’t easy to get when I bought the house there, you had to go to either Marseilles or Nice and then it would be a two hour drive. Giens is a beautiful, quintessentially French town with a beautiful small church on the hill and they have a festival each year where all the fishermen take their beautifully painted boats out and throw flowers on the sea. It’s very rural.
What else did you like about the area?
It has a lovely microclimate, it’s right on the tip of this little curve of the Riviera so gets the most amazing weather. In August when all the other beaches and tourist places are busy people would go to the island of Porquerolles which is a national park. It’s much quieter as there’s nothing really there. We’d just take a picnic and sit on the beach. The water is crystal clear and in summer can reach 22°C. It’s idyllic.
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What was the house like?
It was a proper Provence house with wooden shutters – ones that were for use, not fake ones stuck on the wall. It was built by a fisherman and it had a big kitchen because he used to invite all his friends round. It was only seven years old when I got it. It had peach trees, plum trees, pomegranate trees, almond tress, the sort of thing you’d write a novel about if you were having a mid life crisis. I sold it six years ago. I didn’t want it to go to a foreigner so we sold it to a woman who’d been working in the north but was from Giens and wanted to move back when she retired. It was refreshing to find a place that was so natural and so uncommercialised. We went there for a couple of months every summer. We went once for New Year which was lovely. We went up to St Tropez and they had an ice rink in the square which was great.
How is your French?
It was all right – it’s not good anymore. You have got to make an effort. I understood a lot more than I could say. I could order things and be polite to people. Hyeres is the main town which has more bars and more boats come in – I went there once and tried to order a red wine and the bar man said he didn’t understand what I was saying because I didn’t emphasise the last syllable in ‘vin rouge’ enough. The accents can chance so much from region to region.
Have you ever been to France to work?
I’ve done programmes from all over the world but the only time I worked in France was when I was a children’s TV presenter and had to cover the opening of Euro Disney in 1992. There’s nothing particularly French about – if there was any regional variation someone would be sacked.
Jenny Powell’s Food and Wine Adventures in Romania was on The Travel Channel. Follow her on Twitter @JennyPowellTV