Saturday mornings couldn't be more different for James Martin, now he's longer getting up at 5am to host Saturday Kitchen.

"For 10 years, I was waking up thinking about scripts and who's on the show; now I get up in the morning and I just want to go for a pee," the bubbly Yorkshireman confides with a chuckle.

"I'm getting older! I get excited about going to the osteopath because my back's killing me - I walk my dog now on a Saturday morning. I miss the buzz, but then 10 years is a long time."

When it was announced last year that Martin, 44, was stepping down as the face of the popular BBC cookery show, there was a national outpouring of emotion, which took him by surprise.

"When it was compared to One Direction splitting up, that was a bit excessive, but you don't realise," he says. "People around me said, 'You're going to be missed', and I went, 'Oh, I doubt it'. All I saw was seven cameramen, I never saw three million people. It's very humbling, but what can you say? It's just a food show."

Those who've been missing Martin's cheeky-chappie persona have no doubt been watching him cook his way around France, in new ITV series James Martin's French Adventure.

Falling in love with France

Over the course of 20-episodes, he's visiting foodie regions from Provence to Brittany and paying tribute to his late friend - and "still the best" TV cook - Keith Floyd, who made his home in L'Isle sur la Sorgue, and in whose old Citroen 2CV Martin drives around the country.

"He was one of the first ones, where he took that bench away. Before that, it was almost like a school lecture," Martin recalls of Floyd's pioneering role in TV cooking. "He never pretended to be a famous chef, he was an amazing foodie, with a vast knowledge and he was brilliant with people.

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"[Watching Floyd], you never knew what would happen, it was edge-of-the-seat stuff, where the irate woman in Marseilles is kicking off about the omelette, or he gets p****d off and downs tools. He made food fun and accessible."

The same could be said for Martin, who grew up on a farm on the Castle Howard estate in North Yorkshire, and first fell in love with France on family holidays. At just 12 years old, he started training in the kitchen at the Hostellerie de Plaisance in St Emilion - and makes an emotional return in the series.

He also called up old friend and mentor Michel Roux Sr, and spent "one of the most memorable days of my life" cooking in his garden near St Tropez.

"The weather was beautiful, we cooked [quail with sausages and confit tomatoes] outside on a barbecue on his terrace, I went swimming in his pool and beat him at petanque! Now he doesn't want to speak to me any more," he says, chuckling again.

No food fads

The book that accompanies the series is bursting with French classics - you'll find French onion soup, moules mariniere, steak au poivre and, of course, creme brulee and pain au chocolat, which Martin admits he once had an unhealthy addiction to.

"When I was pastry chef at Chewton Glen [the five-star hotel in Hampshire, where he's set to open a new cookery school and eatery in the spring], I could eat about two dozen pain au chocolat before lunch, easy.

"I eat and drink what I like - I was on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show [the other day] and had half a bottle of red wine, a loaf of bread and some duck rillettes for breakfast! But the problem is, when you get over 40, you have to get something called a gym. I've got a gym, it's calling me now, and I just kind of look at it and go, 'Really?'" he adds with a laugh.

You won't catch him going down the clean eating route though.

"I'm not into wheatgrass and all that stuff. I've never supported it, because I don't agree with it. I've always said if you're going to tell somebody what to eat, you need to be a doctor or a nutritionist," says James. "I can hopefully inspire people or teach them about food, but I'm not going to lecture people in what they should and shouldn't do, because it's a personal choice."