The English Book Centre, just around the 17th-century corner in Valbonne
Snuggled in the pretty medieval village of Valbonne, with a population of 9,500, an unassuming bookshop has quietly become an icon of the expat community and the French Riviera.
For nearly four decades, the English Book Centre (EBC) has been selling English books although the bestsellers, at times, have shared space with a tea shop. The books took over and the EBC became a fully-fledged independent bookshop, which today actively promotes local authors and, more recently, provides schools and students with textbooks and literature.
The shop at 12 rue Alexis Julien is run by the ever-welcoming Lin Wolff, whose knowledge of books will take your breath away. Lin arrived in the South of France after living 25 years in Cornwall and London, trading in the more often than not grey skies for the sunnier skies of Provence.
Like many expats, Lin had followed her heart. “My husband had a successful career as a helicopter pilot for films mainly based in Europe. Sitting in Cornwall during the horrible wet winter of 2000, I realised we could relocate to this side of the channel. As luck would have it, we settled in Plascassier – just 5 minutes away from Valbonne.”
It did not take Lin long to discover the bookshop. “It was one of those serendipity moments. I’d been shopping at Valbonne’s well-known Friday market and, with time to spare, decided to explore the village. As I meandered up the main street I turned a corner – and discovered an adorable bookshop. I was captivated and soon began spending time there among the beloved books, chatting to Jill Shepperd, the then owner of the bookshop, and other ‘refugees’ taking a break from the intensity of learning French and adapting to a foreign country. Before long, I was working for Jill, and when she wanted to sell up the business, I simply couldn’t imagine life in my corner of France without this pillar of the community. So in 2009 I bought it.”
Inside the English Book Centre with Lin Wolff
Lin has been careful to keep the quintessential charm and Provençal character of the shop’s interior, which remains largely intact since those early days – only the tearoom has gone. Arched wooden frame windows lead you into this Aladdin’s Cave of books, where the entire ground and first floors (and even the staircase) brim with books that rub shoulders with great authors of the past and present with genres as diverse as Biography, Politics, Home & Garden, Poetry, Music and Well-being. There is also a superb children’s section and a flourishing schoolbooks department, and for those of us who need (and forget) them – Lin has a steady supply of reading glasses.
“The shop often ends up acting as an advice bureau and we do a lot of hand-holding. In fact, I often feel like a bartender, sans the libation, of course! As the fourth owner, this shop has brought me friends and a culturally rich life.”
Lin has decided to return to the US where her family is now located and this thriving business is now for sale for €80,000 ($89,000 USD). It would certainly make a wonderful project for any bookworm who dreams of living in Provence and having a little piece of France. Valbonne, which translates as the “good valley”, is under 20 km from Nice-Côte d’Azur Airport and 13km to Cannes. Could the fifth owner be you?