Classic France: the insiders’ guide
Helena Frith Powell is a journalist and author. She writes the French Mistress column in the Sunday Times and is the author of More France Please; Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Ciao Bella – In search of my Italian father and To Hell in High Heels. She lives in the south of France with her husband Rupert Wright and their three children.
It is easy to find the Languedoc. Just follow the Rhône river, and when you hit the southern French coast, instead of turning left to head to St Tropez or Provence, head right towards Spain. The region stretches over 16,000 square miles.
Your first major stop is Béziers, a city that seems almost more Spanish than French. It was a Cathar stronghold in medieval times and the site of a horrendous massacre in 1209 when crusaders besieged the city. The worst bloodshed took place in the cathedral, which you should visit, if only for the views across the city and the Orb. Then you have two choices for lunch; either the best wine-bar in the region, Le Chameau Ivre (15 place Jean Jaurès, +33 4 6780 2020, tinyurl.com/5s93d5t), or a charming restaurant called Le Petit Monmartre (+33 4 6728 5654, lepetitmontmartre.net) in the elegant Place de la Madeleine. Stay at the Hôtel des Poètes, overlooking the park (80 allées Paul Riquet, +33 4 67 76 38 66, hoteldespoetes.net).
Next stop is the Etang de Bages, just outside Narbonne. You can walk along the wooden walkways over the water, or simply along the coastal paths, admiring the nature and the pink flamingoes. If you’re hungry there is no nicer place to eat than the restaurant Le Portanel (pas de Portanel, +33 4 6842 8166, leportanel.fr).
From there it is a short drive to Spain, but please don’t miss Collioure (collioure.com), just before the border, a favourite haunt of the fauvist artists and famous for its anchovies.
Helena Frith Powell is the author of Love in a Warm Climate (Gibson Square, £8.99)
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group. She writes a beauty blog www.beautyorbeast.uk.
Her third novel, The Arnolfini Marriage, based on a romance that evolves around a van Eyck masterpiece came out in 2016. As well as contributing regularly for newspapers and magazines, writing short stories and studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, Helena is also working on a thriller called The Longest Night that will be published in spring 2019. Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and came out in paperback in April 2018.
Helena was educated at Durham University and lived in the Languedoc region of France for eight years, where the family still have a home. She lives between there and London with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019