“Serena Kent” is the pen name of husband and wife writing duo Deborah Lawrenson and Robert Rees. Here they share their favourite places from around the world, to celebrate the publication of their new book, Death in Provence.
Deborah: We have to start with the Luberon region of Provence! The Luberon is real Provence, far from the crowded excess of the Riviera. It overflows with olive oil, lavender and almond and apricot orchards, and fruit on its way to being crystallised in Apt. Historic hill villages gaze out over the wide verdant valley, and the rosé is superb. Rob has been coming here since childhood, when his parents had a house in Viens. I first visited in my twenties as Rob’s girlfriend, and was hooked.
EZE, COTE D’AZUR
Deborah: Way up in on the Grand Corniche, between Nice and Monaco, nestles the extraordinary village of Eze, reached by narrow cobbled alleys. From the top are stunning views of Cap Ferrat. The first time we went, in celebration of the imminent publication of my first novel, we were given a table in the corner of the outdoor dining terrace. I will never forget sitting there drinking champagne, above cliffs which fell a thousand feet into the azure sea beneath us. It was truly uplifting!
AYERS ROCK, AUSTRALIA
Rob: I had to get up at about six in the morning to take a land rover to the other side of this monolith. The aim was to watch the sun come up. It really does glow. When I visited, one could still climb the great rock and stand on the top, gazing at the scrubby plain extending as far as the eye could see in every direction. In the most remarkable of many remarkable coincidences I went back the hotel and spent that evening rudely staring at a girl I felt I recognised. She turned out to be my Australian second cousin who I had once met five years before whilst she visited Europe.
Deborah: I was never in one place for very long when I was growing up. My father was in the diplomatic service, and he was posted to Singapore just before I went to university. Singapore wasn’t yet the modern high-rise city it is today. Chinatown extended over more than a few streets; the heat and humidity got into your bones, the frangipani trees scented the night, and ceiling fans beat the air around our old-fashioned house with deep veranda looking out over a lush garden. It felt both exciting and timeless.
THE WEALD OF KENT
Rob: One summer evening in the mid-80’s we were taken by a friend to a country pub and spent an evening looking out at the rolling panorama of the valley where the rivers Eden and Medway meet. In the middle distance a church spire pierced the heat haze. Trees swayed in the breeze and sheep wandered the fields. It was the most quintessentially English of all views. Ten years later we returned to live there and haven’t budged since.
Rob: This is where the story of Serena really begins, when we met as students in the early 80s. I singled out the glamorous Deborah as potential, mainly on the premise that she pretended to be interested in my photos of Australia. She has, of course, long since dropped that pretence, but the rest seems to have gone OK. I can still remember those eyes under her fringe and the colour of her trousers as we passed on a Trinity College staircase for the first time (purple).
Deborah: My enchantment with the Durrells, from childhood reading of ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald, to the more serious novels by Lawrence, later, have led us on more than one occasion to Corfu. One October half-term we rented Lawrence’s old home, the top flat of the White House in Kalami, which is almost unchanged (his desk is still the dining table). On the wall hang grainy black and white photos of him and the Greek landlord’s family. We realised that the young boy in the photographs was now the grizzled old man mending his nets in the house below.
BEAU VALLON BEACH, SEYCHELLES
Rob: We spent our honeymoon on Mahé in the Seychelles and have returned a number of times. Beau Vallon is the epitome of a tropical beach: vivid colour in the trees and flowers at its edge, dense jungle, steam rising from the red earth and the cacophony of birdsong. Under the turquoise sea are worlds of bright fish and turtles to be discovered with a simple mask and snorkel. And then the relaxation on soft white sand with a cocktail as the sun sinks below Silhouette Island.
Deborah: The newest favourite. Our daughter has just spent her third year at university in Chile’s wonderful capital city, and we went in December/January without any expectation of what we would find, beyond seeing the places she’d been describing. It was high summer in the southern hemisphere, and what we found was a sultry, romantic, bustling city with views of the Andes at the end of every street, modern and old Hispanic architecture framed by trees and gardens, and pink blossom on the pavements. The Chileans we met were charming and friendly, and we can’t wait to return.
TORRE DEL LAGO, ITALY
Rob: Famous for his dramatic operas, Puccini also loved hunting, and bought a substantial lodge on the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli near to Pisa. He was a quintessential Italian gent, or liked to be thought of as so, at least. His hunting lodge interposes the sublime (I still get a shiver when I recall staring at the great master’s composing piano) and the ridiculous. You move from where Madama Butterfly was created to the adjoining room, which is literally black with the heads of various animals staring back at you, in varying expressions of surprise.
Death in Provence by Serena Kent is published by Orion and out now.
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