Life in Southwest France

A common sight in SW France. Detail from Sunflower field © Stanisa Martinovic/Photoxpress


Welcome to La Lune, French for the moon. This is the name of the area around our 18th-century farmhouse in southwest France, where we have lived since 1997. The name almost certainly has nothing to do with the moon, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.

I’m a British novelist, freelance writer and journalist. This blog includes episodes from our French life, snippets about French history, culture and customs, and details of things happening in our area.

I try to tell it as it is and not to romanticise life in France. After so many years, je ne regrette rien, and I love living here, even if aspects of French life are still unfathomable. I try to convey my fascination with la vie française in my posts.

To see my full profile, please click here.

For the latest posts, please keep scrolling down this page or select a subject you’re interested in from the categories list in the right hand sidebar. I love hearing about other people’s experiences of France, so do leave a comment underneath a post if you feel moved to do so. I always reply.

If you want to find out more about my writing please click here or follow the link in Blogroll in the sidebar – Vanessa’s writing.

Bonne continuation!  

One of the fantastic sunsets we enjoy here

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French Solstice Customs


Frozen sunset

Frozen sunset

We’re in winter now, marked by a sharp frost and bright sunshine (hurray!). The winter solstice occurred today in France at 00.03 Central European Time. The December solstice marks the shortest day/longest night of the year. This is when the North Pole is at its furthest point from the sun. But it varies slightly from year to year, so in some years it occurs on 21st December.

The evenings will start drawing out from here, although it will be imperceptible for a while. But at least it’s going in the right direction. Around mid-January, it becomes more noticeable. What significance does the solstice d’hiver have in France? Continue reading

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Carol Services with the Choeur de Parisot 2014

Carol Service 2014 - Limogne

Carol Service 2014 - Parisot

Christmas carol services are a British import into France. The French have fewer Christmas songs and they don’t have a tradition of special carol services. However, it’s something they have enthusiastically embraced, even if they regard them as concerts rather than a participative event.

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Every Château has a Story #3: Le Château de Caylus


The village of Caylus below its château

The village of Caylus below its château, at the top of the picture

Very little remains of this château, except for a square tower in surprisingly good condition and parts of the original ramparts. And yet, in its heyday, le château de Caylus had dominion over a large swathe of the surrounding area. Set on a rocky mount, the castle controlled an important crossroads. Continue reading

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French Regional Cuisine: L’Auberge Lou Bourdie at Bach

'Black diamonds' at the Limogne truffle market

‘Black diamonds’ at the Limogne truffle market

Bach is a small village on the Causse de Limogne, in the heart of truffle country. In common with many rural French villages, it’s a quiet place nowadays. But it does have a rather good restaurant, l’Auberge Lou Bourdie. Continue reading

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Flies and Weather in SW France November 2014


Year of the fly

Year of the fly

This year should be christened “The Year of the Fly.” It has been exceptionally mild and an unfortunate result is a mass invasion by flies. We are not the only ones to suffer, although I wondered if something had died in the vicinity. A lot of people around here have been complaining about it. Continue reading

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10 Reasons to be Proud of France?

Belcastel (Aveyron): France's patrimoine is something to be proud of

Belcastel (Aveyron): France’s patrimoine is something to be proud of

The “Stop au France Bashing” campaign is the latest in the beleaguered French government’s efforts to draw attention away from itself. Last week, it posted 10 statistics on its website to demonstrate why citizens should be proud of France. Now, I love living in France and can think of a lot of things to praise. But equally, after 17 years here, I feel I’ve got past the starry-eyed stage. So let’s take a closer look at the reality behind this promotion. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #2: Le Château de Najac


Château de Najac with the Seneschal's House to the left.

Château de Najac with the Seneschal’s House to the left.

On autumn mornings, it rises out of the mist, perched on top of its pinnacle; while on summer evenings, it seems to float in the sky, lit from below. The fortress is a landmark for miles around, standing sentinel over a loop of the River Aveyron, which flows far below. The château enjoys a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and the river valley. The perfect place to site a defensive citadel. Continue reading

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Bordeaux #2: Sustenance for Body and Soul


Fish stall at the Chartrons market

Fish stall at the Chartrons market

Our mouths watered as we strolled past the displays of fish, fresh produce and pâtisserie at the Quai des Chartrons market. The air rang with the raucous cries of the fishmongers as they broadcast their wares, while wielding filleting knives and oyster openers. This is one of the must-do things in Bordeaux on a Sunday morning – and le tout Bordeaux was there last Sunday. Continue reading

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Bordeaux #1: City of Superlatives

Place de la Bourse with le miroir d'eau in front

Place de la Bourse with le miroir d’eau in front


“Can I help you at all?” asked one in a succession of Bordelais as I wrestled with the Tourist Office map. Mostly, we knew where we were going, although it didn’t look like it. However, this was typical of the helpful attitude we encountered last weekend in the capital of Aquitaine. The Bordelais are proud of their city, and rightly so. Continue reading

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Weather for Walks: October 2014 Weather in SW France


Autumn colours in the Viaur Valley

Autumn colours in the Viaur Valley

We took advantage of the continuing spell of glorious weather last weekend to do one of our favourite walks, along part of the Viaur Valley. I mentioned this in my previous post. It’s a walk that’s best done on a fine autumn day. The colours are magnificent, chestnuts litter the ground and there’s hardly anyone else around. The only sound is the river rushing over the rocks not far from the path. We don’t get there often enough (it’s a 45-minute drive). The last time was in autumn 2011. Continue reading

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5 Reasons why Autumn is the Best Season


Parisot lake in autumn

Parisot lake in autumn

Not least because of the luminous wall-to-wall blue skies we have enjoyed here for almost two months. Every season has its charms, even winter, although by the end of February they’re well hidden. But for me, autumn is a special season down here. Why? Continue reading

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A Captivating Novel of Corsica Explored


Writers Abroad friend Dianne Ascroft kindly invited me to appear on her blog today, talking about my historical novel, The House at Zaronza, the story and the research behind it.

Originally posted on :

This summer I read a wonderful historical novel set in Corsica, The House At Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman. I’ve always wanted to visit this island so I soaked up the scenery and atmosphere as I read. I was also completely absorbed in the story. It is a well written love story that unfolds through letters discovered nearly a century after they were written. Since I enjoyed the book I am delighted to tell you that I’ve invited the author, Vanessa Couchman here today to answer some questions about the book.

Welcome Vanessa. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

VC: The House at Zaronza is set in early 20th-century Corsica House Zaronzaand at the Western Front during the First World War. It follows the fortunes of Maria Orsini, a young woman from a bourgeois family, who lives in a Corsican village with her parents…

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Plague Cross


La Croix du Miracle

La Croix du Miracle

Wayside crosses are very common around here. Some date back to the Middle Ages; others are more recent. We’ve even seen one erected on top of a dolmen, imposing the supremacy of Christianity over earlier pagan religions. Sometimes, they had a particular purpose, like the one above, known as la Croix du Miracle. It celebrates the halt of the plague during one of the many epidemics that affected the region. Continue reading

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The Day the Village had NO BREAD

Temporarily bread-less village

Temporarily bread-less village

Our life here has its Clochemerle moments (explanation below). I experienced one of them yesterday when our local village had no bread. Bread is not just the staff of life to a French person; it’s an essential accompaniment to every meal. Yesterday, there was a whiff of revolution, which I compounded. Continue reading

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Monet’s Garden at Giverny


Monet's house at Giverny

Monet’s house at Giverny

Most people have heard of Claude Monet (1840-1926), one of the founders of French Impressionist painting. Many people know about and/or have visited his house at Giverny in Normandy, where he landscaped the gardens and developed the lily ponds that he immortalised in many of his paintings. We made our first visit at the end of September, on our way up to the UK. Continue reading

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Parisot Literary Festival 2014: how did it go?


Autumn view of Parisot

Autumn view of Parisot

This poor old blog has been a bit neglected of late, but that’s because so much has been going on that it’s been hard to get to it. One of the local events that has taken up some of my attention recently was the Parisot Literary Festival, which took place last weekend. My impression is that it was a great success. Continue reading

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Monet and SW France Weather Summer 2014


Water lily pond at Giverny

Water lily pond at Giverny

The image above is of Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny in Normandy, inspiration for many of his paintings. We recently spent a night in the village of Giverny on our way up to the UK. Needless to say, I took a lot of shots and the garden was lovely, even though it was the end of September. Wish mine looked like that. More about Giverny in a later post. Continue reading

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Corsican Vendetta in Fiction and in Reality


Corsican landscape: Les Aiguilles de Bavella

Corsican landscape: Les Aiguilles de Bavella

We have recently returned from our fifth visit to Corsica, the setting for my novel, The House at Zaronza. L’Île de Beauté is a captivating place, with a savage beauty and a culture all its own. If you haven’t been, then I strongly advise a visit. So I hope you’ll indulge me if I slot in the odd post about it. This time we visited Olmeto, once the home of a woman who was the inspiration for Prosper Mérimée’s Colomba. His novel is all about vendetta, an integral feature of Corsican history and culture. Continue reading

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Parisot Literary Festival October 2014

Parisot Literary Festival logo

Parisot Literary Festival logo

A heads-up about the second Parisot Literary Festival/Festival Littéraire de Parisot, which will take place this year from 10th to 12th October. Parisot is only a small place with about 500 inhabitants but there’s a lot going on. This event is rapidly becoming an established highlight in the calendar.

Continue reading

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Prehistoric Corsica: the Remarkable Site at Filitosa


Megalith known as Filitosa V

Megalith known as Filitosa V

Les Journées du Patrimoine fell this weekend in France, when historic monuments and sites throughout the country are open, many for free. I’d like to mark them with an account of a visit that has been on my bucket list for several years: the prehistoric site at Filitosa, on Corsica, from which we recently returned. It was our fifth visit to the Ile de Beauté and there’s still more to see. Continue reading

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New Literary Magazine from Ex-pat Writing Group Writers Abroad

Writers Abroad September 2014 magazine

The online writing community for ex-pats that I belong to, Writers Abroad, published the first issue of its new literary magazine on 1st September. It’s packed full of interesting stuff and it’s absolutely free.

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Concert at Puycelsi 2014

Fortified hilltop village of Puycelsi

Fortified hilltop village of Puycelsi

We sang in another fabulous concert last Sunday at the hilltop village of Puycelsi in the Tarn, one of France’s plus beaux villages. A scratch choir comes together every September (and last April as well; a new innovation) for a weekend to rehearse and then give a concert in aid of the church restoration fund. Continue reading

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It’s Never Too Late to Start Writing


Crooked Cat Publishing colleague Jane Bwye, author of Breath of Africa, has published a birthday guest post by me on her blog today. I explain how I came late to writing fiction and how my recently published novel, The House At Zaronza, came about.

Originally posted on Jane Bwye:

Happy Birthday, Vanessa!

You can be a young writer at any age, Vanessa Couchman tells me. She is one of the more recent Crooked Cat “finds”, and I can vouch for the quality of her book.


I describe myself as a “young writer”. This doesn’t, alas, mean that I am young. It means I came to writing fiction comparatively late – in my fifties. Education, career (and a lot of excuses) got in the way. But joining online expat writing community Writers Abroad in 2012 was the spur I needed to get pen to paper – or hand to mouse.

To start with, I dabbled in short stories and flash fiction and cringe with embarrassment today when I re-read my early efforts. But, with the help of my more experienced Writers Abroad friends, and by dint of a lot of practice, I improved. Some placings in creative competitions and publication…

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Weather in Southwest France August 2014

Hoopoe displaying its crest

Hoopoe displaying its crest

We are currently enjoying a glorious Indian summer with wall-to-wall blue skies and sunshine. And what better way to illustrate it than with a photo of our hoopoe friends, who will shortly be departing – more of them below. What a pity for the holidaymakers that this fine spell didn’t arrive earlier. July and August have been amongst the gloomiest in our 17 years here. Continue reading

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The Liberation of Montauban, 19th August 1944


Montauban's Place Nationale plus cafés

Montauban’s Place Nationale plus cafés

This is a year for commemorations in France. The most obvious is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I on 4th August. It’s also the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings and the eventual liberation of France. The first French town to be liberated was actually Ajaccio in Corsica, on 9th September 1943, followed rapidly by the rest of the island. Other French towns had to wait until 1944, including Montauban, our préfecture. Continue reading

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17 Years in France: What’s Changed Since 1997?

Early summer

Early summer

Well, I’m 17 years older. And I don’t want to think about how old I will be in 17 years’ time. So let’s look back instead and think about what’s changed here since 1997. Yesterday was the anniversary of the day we moved into our house and the SF and I celebrated with a glass (or two) and mused on our time here. Continue reading

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Figeac: Medieval Gem


The churches and rooftops of Figeac with the hillside above the Célé beyond

The churches and rooftops of Figeac with the hillside above the Célé beyond

Every time we go to Figeac I ask myself why we don’t go more often. About 50 minutes’ comfortable drive from here through attractive countryside, it’s no particular hardship to get there. You often need an incentive to do these things and having visitors to entertain this week provided just that spur. Continue reading

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Fêtes and Festivals in Southwest France


Ready for the off at the Espinas fête

Ready for the off at the Espinas fête

It’s that time of year again. You can’t move for village fêtes, art exhibitions, concerts and so on. There are too many things to go to and you have to be selective, but it’s all good fun and excellent entertainment for visitors. The weather hasn’t exactly favoured outdoor events this year, but the organisers usually find a way around it. Continue reading

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Every Château Has a Story: #1 Le Château de Cas

Château de Cas

Château de Cas

Châteaux, large and small, have played an integral part in the history of France. Some have been at the centre of national events; others have been less affected by them, but nonetheless have a story to tell. This is the first in an occasional series about some of our local châteaux: number 1 is the château de Cas. Continue reading

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Grist to the mill: Peugeot from crinolines to cars (and pepper mills)

Peugeot pepper and salt mills

Peugeot pepper and salt mills

I always thought the Peugeot brand was associated just with cars and cycles. That is, until the trusty Perspex salt and pepper mills that have accompanied me for more than 30 years gave up the ghost. We toddled off to our nearest kitchen shop at Villefranche-de-Rouergue last week to seek replacements. Continue reading

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