10 Great Books About France
A reading list for senior travellers
10 Travel Books About France
It has been said that ‘no other nation on the planet approaches France in its subtle and seamless blend of the old and the new; the industrial and the pastoral’. France is the largest country in Western Europe. It covers an area of 543,965 square kilometres – bigger than Spain or Germany – and has a population of approximately 65 million. Small group tours are the perfect way to explore France’s varied scenery and learn about its rich history and culture. With rugged coastline, rolling vineyards and the dramatic French alps, a tour to France is guaranteed to take your breath away. Our hope is that our small groups tours across France provide a memorable travel experience, and senior travellers return home with a better understanding of the people, their heritage and the reasons for their ability to blend the customs and ways of traditional village life with the challenges of one of the world’s more advanced urban economies. And perhaps, a few words of French too!
Discovering France through literature
For mature and senior travellers (either as a couple or a solo traveller) who are planning a trip to explore France. Whether on an Odyssey tour or as independent travellers, this collection of France travel books is intended to help you develop a sense of place before your journey commences. For all Odyssey tours, we actively encourage travellers to read all or some or one of these France travel books from this list before joining one of our small group tours.
This is Odyssey’s list of ten great France travel books. Please feel welcome to contribute to the comments section at the bottom of page. We appreciate any feedback on books listed, or further suggestions that will help travellers prepare for their tour of France.
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The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography
by Graham Robb
A narrative of exploration―full of strange and amazing landscapes and even stranger inhabitants―that considers the enduring fascination of France. While Gustave Eiffel was changing the skyline of the city of Paris, large parts of France were still terra incognita. Even in the age of railways and newspapers, France was a land of ancient tribal divisions, prehistoric communication networks, and pre-Christian beliefs. French itself was a minority language.
Graham Robb describes that unknown world in arresting narrative detail. He recounts the epic journeys of mapmakers, scientists, soldiers, administrators, and intrepid tourists, of itinerant workers, pilgrims, and herdsmen with their millions of migratory domestic animals. We learn how France was explored, charted, and colonized, and how the imperial influence of Paris was gradually extended throughout a kingdom of isolated towns and villages.
The Discovery of France explains how the modern nation came to be and how poorly understood that nation still is today. Above all, it shows how much of France―past and present―remains to be discovered.
A New York Times Notable Book, Publishers Weekly Best Book, Slate Best Book, and Booklist Editor’s Choice.
A Year in Provence
by Peter Mayle
Enjoy an irresistible feast of humour and discover the joys of French rural living with Peter Mayle’s bestselling, much-loved account of ‘A Year In Provence’.
Peter Mayle and his wife did what most of us only imagine doing when they made their long-cherished dream of a life abroad a reality: throwing caution to the wind, they bought a glorious two hundred year-old farmhouse in the Lubéron Valley and began a new life. In a year that begins with a marathon lunch and continues with a host of gastronomic delights of the French cuisine, they also survive the unexpected and often hilarious curiosities of rural life. From mastering the local accent and enduring invasion by bumbling builders, to discovering the finer points of boules and goat-racing, all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life are conjured up in this enchanting portrait.
Reviewer John Crace reflects on the memoir, and how it spawned of a new kind of travel writing, here.
How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People
Cambridge Illustrated History of France
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
Renée is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society’s expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this façade lies the real Renée: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renée lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever.
This French phenomenon is reviewed in the New York Times here, where Caryn James reflects on the novel’s international appeal.
Lower Normandy: French Impressions
My Life in France
by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
The bestselling story of Julia’s years in France—and the basis for Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams—in her own words.
Although she would later single-handedly create a new approach to American cuisine with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef, Julia Child was not always a master chef. Indeed, when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, who was to work for the USIS, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever with her newfound passion for cooking and teaching. Julia’s unforgettable story—struggles with the head of the Cordon Bleu, rejections from publishers to whom she sent her now-famous cookbook, a wonderful, nearly fifty-year long marriage that took the Childs across the globe—unfolds with the spirit so key to Julia’s success as a chef and a writer, brilliantly capturing one of America’s most endearing personalities.
The History of Modern France: From the Revolution to the War on Terror
Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong
Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.
Small Group Tours To France
Odyssey Traveller offers regular escorted small group tours for senior travellers to France each year. This link will take you to the Tours of France page. Odyssey has produced a “Country Spotlight” article on France. A more detailed focus on the highlights of France can be found here, with further information for mature and senior travellers interested in French history and culture. We have also written on discovering Paris by rail. Check out the official tourism website for France for more inspiration.
For more information on Odyssey Traveller and our educational small group tours, visit and explore our website, and remember to visit these pages in particular:
Our small group tour designed with the mature traveller in mind, gives you the chance to see eight different locations over 25 days while experiencing local culture, trying regional cuisine, exploring breathtaking architecture and admiring beautiful scenery. From Zurich the tour will move south towards Sare before returning north to Paris where the tour finishes, for a significant part of our journey we will be following old pilgrim pathways, taking the group deep into the villages, valleys, shrines and ski resorts.
Our 21 night program has daily itineraries with plenty of authentic experiences provided by passionate local guides in the key destinations in France, Channel Islands and England for this small group of like minded people. For Solo travellers minimal single supplement applies for this European tour.
Our France on Foot small group walking is designed for the active walker and extends from the scenic island of Noirmoutier on the Atlantic Coast via the Massif Central on the borders of Limousin and the Auvergne to the snow-tipped peaks of the Alps in Savoy.
On this small group Rural France tour, we spend 24 days exploring France beyond its bustling cities, travelling off the beaten track. We will explore the pastoral and provincial splendour of French rural towns which have resisted the dual siege of the automobile and the property developer. Our small group will visit many of France’s beautiful towns where within their walls the villagers conduct their daily lives much as they have done since Napoleonic times.
Odyssey’s small group tour offers travellers the unique opportunity to live for 10 days as a local Parisian in one of central arrondissements of Paris. The tour is based on tour is based on Ina Caro’s book of the same name, we stay in charming apartments as a base, and explore the city and surrounding areas using train and metro.