France Today sits down with Martin Walker, author of the bestselling series, Bruno, Chief of Police. His latest novel, Fatal Pursuit, is available online and in all good bookshops, published by Quercus Books.
What was your first French experience?
I was aged 13, voice not yet broken and in my first pair of long trousers, on a school exchange trip to a family on the 15th floor of a high-rise in Porte de Saint-Ouen in northern Paris. From arriving by ferry at Calais, seeing men wearing bleu de travail and billboards advertising ‘Psshitt’ to the first Metro journey, smells of garlic and Gauloises, I was transported. My exchange partner was 15 years old, 6ft tall, dreamed of joining the paratroops and his only English came from pop songs. We roamed the streets of Paris, through the Montmartre cemetery to the Moulin Rouge and along the Boulevard de Clichy to Barbes-Rochechouart and over the canal to the Buttes Chaumont where I was terrified by the stories of the old gibbet of Montfaucon on the site, where the bodies of hanged criminals were left to rot.
What do you love about the French lifestyle?
Le p’tit apéro, the sound of an accordion, Piaf’s voice, the snooty voices on Radio France-Culture, the political gossip in Nouvel Obs, buying three dozen oysters for Sunday lunch in the market, the way they love the cinema and think about film, the importance of Monsieur le Maire, TGV trains, their love of the communal meal, village rugby, trying to work out the significance of the dates they so often use in street names, and their love of dressing up in mock-medieval robes for the confréries of wine, cheese, foie gras, strawberries and almost everything.
How often do you visit France?
I live in the Périgord for half of the year and write my books there. I’m always there to plant the potager in spring, for the wine harvest in autumn, all of the summer and for New Year.
What are your favourite places to visit, local or beyond in France?
I never tire of Paris, visit the Lascaux cave paintings every year without fail, love the truffle market in Sainte-Alvère in January, the river front in Bordeaux, the view of the ramparts of Carcassonne, the medieval streets of Aigues-Mortes and Saint-Malo, and skiing the glacier of La Grande Motte at Tignes.
Are there any food or drink specialities you particularly enjoy?
I love the Périgord version of cassoulet with stuffed neck of duck, the Quiche Lorraine at Fauchon in Paris, my first croissant at Café Cauet in Le Bugue after being away for a few weeks, and the blanquette de veau our neighbours always cook to welcome us home on the first evening. There is nothing like foie gras with a cold glass of Monbazillac, or a glass of sparkling rosé at Château Feely in Saussignac after walking through their bio-dynamic vineyard. And I’ll never forget tasting a flight of the last 40 years of the wonderful Pécharmant reds of Château Tiregand outside Bergerac and then being taken into the cave by Francois-Xavier de Saint-Exupery to taste his more recent wines straight from the barrel.
Tell us about a secret special place you love…
There’s a place beyond Tayac in the Vézère valley, just beyond the big rock the locals say looks like a woolly mammoth, with an amazing rock formation of ledges and overhangs. At the base is a spring surrounded by a thick carpet of wild garlic the size of two tennis courts – the leaves in springtime are delicious.
From France Today magazine