Peter Mayle, the author, and his wife purchase a 200-year-old farmhouse in the remote countryside of Provence, France. They are familiar with the area, having traveled to Provence annually from their previous home in England to spend a few weeks each year vacationing in this sunny land of southern France. They, along with their two dogs, move into their new home in time to celebrate the New Year.
The first surprise the new residents to the area are met with is the cold wind, known as the Mistral, which blows through the Lubyron valley each winter for stretches of two weeks at a time. The author and his wife have thought the wind to be merely a rumor, but it proves true. The Mistral is the catalyst for a meeting between the Mayles and the first contractor of many they will hire during their first year in Provence. When the cold freezes their pipes, they call upon the plumber, Monsieur Menicucci.
The book proceeds through each month of that first year they live in Provence, describing the neighbors and
other residents they meet, the customs of the locals and how they differ from other parts of France, and most of all, the gastronomic fanfare which highlights each day. Eating is revered in this part of the world with a love so deep that the author takes pains to describe each unique meal down to the last drops of fresh pressed olive oil.
It is often a painful transition from tourist to full time resident, and Peter is blunt in his portrayals of this in-between state he and his wife live in. They struggle to learn the language well enough to enjoy the company of their new neighbors at dinner parties, and to fend off the guests who come in droves to settle around their pool and drink up their wine. Guests are not only friends from England, but mere acquaintances with whom the Mayles must put up with. As they try to settle into their new life as best they can, the renovations taking place on their home and the onslaught of guests are ongoing and haphazard.
Throughout the book, Peter takes us on a journey through the learning curve he and his wife experience. By the end, Peter’s wife comes up with a plan to get the builders to finish all the work on their house before Christmas. She sends invitations to each of them and their wives to a party to view the work. She knows that the men will not want to lose face in front of their wives. The bait works, and they have their party once the work is complete, before Christmas, but not before one more catastrophe takes place.
At the end of the book, the Mayles enjoy their newly renovated house in the peace and quiet that comes of being together. After a year of guests and renovations, they find themselves alone to enjoy the solitude of a finished house and no guests, in the place they now call home.