Ever since I had my first glimpse of New York at age 14 until I finally made the move there at 28, it seemed like the only place I really wanted to live.
But then I took a vacation in Provence, France, and saw right away that two weeks in this paradise wouldn’t be anywhere near enough. When I returned home to New York, I couldn’t help thinking, “Why would anyone live here when Provence exists?”
Though I had a great life in New York—I loved my job, my colleagues, my apartment, and social life—I couldn’t get Provence out of my head.
I returned there again about a year later, and that’s when reality hit: my marriage to New York was over and my love affair with Provence was in full bloom.
After working up the courage to tell my boss—who was also my mentor and close friend—that I needed a break, he gave thumbs up to a leave of absence. So, I sublet my apartment and took off. I had no idea what I’d actually do in France but somehow I wasn’t worried. A friend in St. Remy found me the perfect little house to rent and since I’d only be staying three months, I wouldn’t even need a visa.
Luckily, I had solid contacts in the food world and in publishing…and I could write…so I started pitching articles and getting magazine assignments. I found that if I really worked at it, I might be able to support myself as a freelance writer. When I wasn’t working, I ran all over Provence, thrilled to discover every corner.
I loved my little sabbatical so much that when it came time to return to “real life,” I took a deep breath and told my boss I wasn’t coming back after all. (He was immensely supportive and asked me to write not one but two monthly columns for the magazine.) I sublet my NYC apartment again and got a visa. I bought a car, learned French, settled in. Somewhere along the way, the escapade became a beautiful new life.
But then 2008 happened and magazine publishing fell apart. I’d pitch a story idea to an editor and wait weeks for a reply, only to find she’d been fired months before. They were no longer a source of income I could rely on. I had been writing about food, wine, chefs, restaurants, and travel for 30 years. It was my world and I loved it, so I was determined to find another way to make it work.
In 2009 I signed a book contract and I knew the project would take about a year. But I also knew that when the book was done, I would need a new career.
The blog I had started in 2008, ProvencePost.com, gave me visibility and a small monthly income; I thought about expanding it into more of a full-time endeavor. I thought about launching a PR firm promoting French businesses in the U.S. I thought about writing another book, getting a job, giving up and going home. But I knew if I was open and patient, the answer would reveal itself, and lo and behold…
Because I actually lived in the South of France and knew it super well, I received almost daily inquiries about where to go and what to do, in both Provence and on the Côte d’Azur. I heard it all the time: “We want to come to Provence and we need advice.” Or, “We’re flying into Nice but then what?” One day it dawned on me that people might pay for my expertise and trip-planning help that I had been giving away for years. So the next time someone emailed to say “Can you help with our upcoming trip to Provence?” I took a deep breath and said, “Sure, but I’m going to have to charge you.”
Fast forward to today, eight years or so later. My company, Provence Post Travel, creates South of France trips and experiences for travelers of all types. I don’t book plane or train tickets but I do just about everything else: finding the perfect hotel or rental villa, hiring the perfect guide, planning day trips and activities, booking restaurants, and much more. Along the way, I share all sorts of info and tips to increase my clients’ comfort level and alleviate any concerns. My goal is to take the hassle out of trip planning so they can focus on the fun.
For people who want easy-to-book experiences (cooking classes, private chef meals, wine tours, foodie walks, painting workshops, boat cruises, etc.), I created WhatToDoInProvence.com, a second website featuring 75 or so of them. One of my biggest sellers right now is a guided foodie electric bike tour with stops at local farms to taste homemade goat cheese, olive oils, jams, honey, sausages, wine, and more.
Between the fees I make from travel planning and the commissions I make booking activities and the ads I sell on my blog and the occasional consulting gigs I do for major cruise lines (a holdover from my previous life), I’m able to fund my life in Provence. It’s work I love in a magical place and I feel very grateful and blessed.
Reinventing myself and creating a new business from scratch was definitely not easy. But then again, neither was starting a life in France 20 years ago: I was single, clueless, and didn’t speak a word of French. But when I throw open my shutters each morning—seeing Van Gogh-worthy vistas in the distance and smelling lavender in the breeze—I’m still convinced that launching a life in Provence was the smartest stupid thing I’ve ever done.
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