Tracking Peter Mayle's Characters...
Updated: May 28
When you are a woman of a certain age traveling solo, having a purpose can make your trip more fun. That was certainly the case for me on a recent visit to southern France. A fan of famed author Peter Mayle’s Caper series, I decided to walk in the footsteps of his characters, so vividly portrayed in the four books. From vintage wine theft to unsolvable diamond heists, I was riveted as the protagonists ate and drank their way deliciously from Paris to Provence.
My first stop was Restaurant Peron because it was extensively featured in the series. It was a blustery August day in Marseille. The view overlooking the Mediterranean was dramatic. The waves crashed against the rocks, mere feet below my table. The meal began with a welcome glass of chilled Rosé from Domaine Tempier. The Provençal tomatoes and fresh herbs drizzled with olive oil paired perfectly. The anticipation built for the main course. My playboy was waiting in the wings.
The famed daurade royale was celebrated by foodies and by Mayle as “the playboy of the Mediterranean”. Yes, my playboy was a fish! A delightful main course cooked in a salt crust and served with a delicious aioli. I had gone to the restaurant alone, but with the books for company. They were a great icebreaker. The manager and nearby diners took photos, and I was peppered with questions.
In addition to the lunch at Marseille’s Peron, I marveled at Le Pharo, the fictional home of Francis Reboul, a key character in all four books. I also drove to wine country in Cassis and visited its small port, as Mayle’s rogue sleuth, Sam Levitt, had done at the end of the Vintage Caper. Unfortunately, it was too early for the Bouillabaisse that he had so enjoyed.
In Monte Carlo, I had a quick lunch at the Café de Paris where Levitt and Elena Morales plotted their next move in the Corsican Caper. Later, I watched the yachts jockey for position in the harbor. I imagined Lord Wapping, the villainous Brit from the Marseille Caper, at the helm of the biggest of them, his aptly named “Floating Pound”.
Before leaving France, I went to Paris’ Le Récamier which was showcased in Mayle’s first Caper book. In it, Levitt waxed poetically about the joys of solo dining. On that warm summer night, my table for one was set among the locals who were enjoying their meals al fresco.
While dinner was an unhurried pleasure, I saved the best for last. Thanks to the Vintage Caper, I knew Le Récamier was known for its soufflés, so I chose (Levitt’s and presumably Mayle’s favorite) the caramel soufflé and was overcome by an urge to kiss my fingertips in a tribute to the chef, as Mayle’s characters had done many times in his books. When I showed the waiter the excerpts about the restaurant, he couldn’t read English, so I did my best to explain it in somewhat halting French. He seemed bemused, but appreciative.
My homage to the witty chronicler of all things France was one of my best solo vacations and it’s not over yet. I have tentatively booked part two for this August. I’m heading to Nice to see where Levitt cracked the Diamond Caper, and I’m finally going to have the Bouillabaisse at Cassis’ Nino, where the three amigos from the Vintage Caper celebrated one last time before going their separate ways.
Postscript: Peter Mayle died in 2018. His many books romanticizing the French culture earned him the Légion d’Honneur from the French government.