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.
I chose Restaurant Peron because it was extensively featured in famed author Peter Mayle’s Caper series. The four books ran the gamut from vintage wine theft and unsolvable diamond heists to the influx of Russians along the French Riviera, and a real estate deal gone bad. Throughout, the protagonists ate and drank their way deliciously from Paris to Provence, as they moved ever closer to cracking the case in question. I had read and reread the books many times during the frigid New England winter and promised myself I would go to France the following summer and walk in the footsteps of Mayle’s characters.
On that very windy day at Peron, my playboy was well known to the legions of Mayle fans. He wrote about him often. 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.
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. Once COVID is behind us, my corkscrew and I are heading to Nice and Corsica. The former to see where Levitt cracked the Diamond Caper, and the latter in search of the dive bar owned by the fictional Figatelli brothers, the unsung heroes of the Corsican Caper. Until then, “bon appétit”.
Postscript: Peter Mayle died in 2018. His many books romanticizing the French culture earned him the Légion d’Honneur from the French government.