An insider’s guide to life in France

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

Welcome to La Lune – French for the moon. Why La Lune? This is the name of the area that surrounds 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 writer and journalist. I post about la vie française a couple of times a week.  This includes episodes from our French life, tips about French manners and customs and details of things going on in our area. I try to tell it as it is and not to romanticise life in France.

To see my full profile, please click here.

The French have an expression, ‘Dans la Lune‘, which means to be in a dream or have one’s head in the clouds. This is a pretty accurate description of our life here sometimes. However, after so many years, je ne regrette rien, even if some aspects of French life are still unfathomable.

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 others’ 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 work as a writer 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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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.

As always, our journey was not without incident. Our GPS consistently tried to take us into central Paris. We resisted, even though this involved taking a motorway that went through a 14 km long tunnel (which did nothing for my claustrophobia) and turning left serially in Nanterre, where we realised we were going around in circles. Once on the correct route we were able to relax somewhat, but it meant we arrived at Giverny rather later than planned.

We had booked into a chambres d’hôtes at the entrance to the village, Les Jardins d’Hélène. Sandrine, the delightful owner, regarded us in horror when we arrived at 4.15 pm and said we had prepaid tickets to the Monet house and garden.

“Go, go, go!” she said. We did.

Yellow and orange border

Yellow and orange border

We were fortunate. Not only were we able to park in the car park opposite the garden but we were also able to get in very quickly. Most of the visitors were on their way out.

Monet first rented the house and two acres of land in early 1883. His artistic reputation, and his income, increased, and he was able to buy the property in 1890. He developed the gardens and bought additional land in 1893, including the water meadows on which he created his famous lily ponds.

Water lilies at Giverny

Water lilies at Giverny

By the end of the 19th century, he was painting numerous views of the water lily ponds, complete with Japanese-style bridge. These scenes became an integral part of his work. Despite employing numerous gardeners, he retained control of the architecture of the garden and the planting schemes.

Lily pond with the famous bridge

Lily pond with the famous bridge

His house is not huge. Rather, it is long and narrow. Sandrine said, “In May and June, it’s so busy that you can’t even get into the house.”

We could well believe this. Even at the end of an afternoon in late September, we felt we had to keep moving on in the house and couldn’t linger to look at things. We especially liked his study at one end of the house and the kitchen at the other, with its immense range.

Kitchen in Monet's house

Kitchen in Monet’s house


However, we were really there to see the gardens. And they were sublime – even in early autumn.

Nasturtiums running riot

Nasturtiums running riot

The only false note was struck by the fact that a busy main road now separates the main garden from the lily ponds. Thanks to the generosity of a benefactor, you can walk through an underpass between the two. Nonetheless, the sound of juggernauts and coaches thundering along did rather spoil the general effect. No doubt in Monet’s day, the road was a simple cart track.

We were sorry not to be able to spend longer at Giverny. The house and gardens close at 18h00 sharp. And Sandrine’s chambres d’hôtes was a real find. Her place is a typical Norman late 19th-century house. She has thought of every possible detail: bottles of water on the bedside tables; Q-tips and make-up remover pads in the bathroom; elegant and comfortable furnishings throughout. And the breakfast was copious: a far cry from some of the cost-cutting B&Bs where we’ve stayed elsewhere in France.

Water lily pond

Water lily pond

Regretfully, we had to leave early the next morning to ensure we caught our ferry from Calais. Phalanxes of coaches were already arriving in Giverny.

You might also like:

Glorious French Gardens
Les Jardins de Quercy Revisited
Dry Gardening

Copyright © 2014 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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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.

Continue reading

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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…

View original 616 more words

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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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French Summer Markets and Weather in SW France July 2014


Villefranche-de-Rouergue market

Villefranche-de-Rouergue market

French markets come into their own at this time of year. The difference between summer and winter couldn’t be more marked. In the winter, a few brave souls stamp their feet and try to stop their produce freezing while the locals hurry to get their shopping done. In summer, the number of stalls increases several-fold along with the holidaymakers, and finding a parking space is difficult. Continue reading

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French Women and World War I


Symbol of the "war to end wars"

Symbol of the “war to end wars”

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I is almost upon us. Huge amounts have been written about almost every aspect of the war. But some topics have received less attention than others. One of those is the role of French women during the war, a subject that is a theme of my forthcoming novel, The House at Zaronza.

Continue reading

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French Restaurant Capers

Aligot à emporter - but did he peel his own potatoes?

Aligot à emporter – but did he peel his own potatoes?

French restaurants are currently on the menu in the news. A hapless blogger posted a bad review and was fined by a judge. And as from last Tuesday, restaurants have to indicate if any or all of their meals are “homemade”, i.e. cooked on the premises with fresh ingredients. Continue reading

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Another excerpt from ‘The House at Zaronza’

Pisan Church at Murato, Corsica

Pisan Church at Murato, Corsica

With a little over two weeks to go before publication, here is another short extract from my novel The House at Zaronza. The story is set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front during World War I.

Continue reading

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Les Jardins de Quercy Revisited

Red border

Red border at Les Jardins de Quercy

Gardening in our region is not easy. The soil is poor and stony and the climate can be freezing in winter and baking in summer. Plants either thrive or decline, but you have to wait three years to find out. I’m always full of admiration, therefore, for people who have the persistence and imagination to create wonderful gardens down here. One of these is les Jardins de Quercy, near Verfeil.

Continue reading

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Wildlife and Weather: June 2014 Update

Beautiful swallowtail on our buddleia. I had to wait 10 minutes for this shot.

Beautiful swallowtail on our buddleia. I had to wait 10 minutes for this shot.

Visitors who are used to the constant hum of city life sometimes ask us, “Don’t you find it a bit quiet here?” The answer is no. I’ve never been a city-dweller by temperament and much prefer la France profonde. I sometimes miss the opportunity to pop out to art galleries, cinemas, theatres and so on. But, actually, I’m not sure I took advantage of them when they were on the doorstep. Instead, we have a wonderful array of bird and wildlife. Continue reading

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Abbaye de Beaulieu-en-Rouergue, Centre of Contemporary Art


Abbaye de Beaulieu - Front Elevation

Abbaye de Beaulieu – Front Elevation

One of the advantages (well, the only one, actually) of having house guests is that you go out and do things you normally wouldn’t. I have often observed that when you live in a place, everyday life takes over. This is a pity, since there’s so much to see down here and there are many interesting places we still haven’t seen. This week, however, provided the opportunity to re-visit the Abbaye de Beaulieu, only a few kilometres away. Continue reading

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An excerpt from my forthcoming novel, ‘The House at Zaronza’

Front cover final

I’m getting very excited about the publication of my historical novel with Crooked Cat Publishing, which is only just over a month away. I’m also delighted with the cover, above. Between now and 29th July, I’ll publish a few short extracts, starting with the ones below. Continue reading

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Fateful fête at Teysseroles? Not this time


200 fête-goers sit down for lunch

200 fête-goers sit down for lunch

At 7.00 am yesterday, I peered outside and saw with horror a black cloud advancing with a rainbow silhouetted against it. With even greater horror, I heard growls of thunder and rain pattering on the leaves. Why was this cause for such dismay? Because yesterday marked our annual fundraising fête at la chapelle de Teysseroles and, after last year’s rotten weather, we had everything crossed for sunshine. Continue reading

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The Good French Pedestrian

Much has been written – some of it by me – about driving in France, including responsibilities at the wheel and penalties for infractions. Much less is written about pedestrians and how they should behave. A recent story in The Connexion about the police in Saint-Etienne cracking down on errant pedestrians spurred me to find out more. Continue reading

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Fête Time at Teysseroles


Chapelle de Teysseroles by local artist James Burr

Chapelle de Teysseroles by local artist James Burr

It’s that time of year again. La fête de Teysseroles, the chapel we are helping to restore, looms on the horizon. This is our big annual fundraiser, which attracts more than 200 revellers and swells our coffers by several thousand euros. Continue reading

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Gardens and SW France Weather May 2014

Elaine and David's garden

Elaine and David’s garden

In early June every year, Rendezvous aux Jardins (national gardens weekend) takes place. We make a point of visiting at least one garden during the event. I normally leave green (appropriately) with envy and wish that my garden looked anywhere near as good. This year, we went to the rather new but already well-established garden of singing colleagues Elaine and David, near Villeneuve-d’Aveyron. Continue reading

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Sweet Lavender


Field of lavender

Field of lavender – David Hughes/PhotoXpress

Which part of France do we normally associate with lavender? Provence, naturally, where it plays a big part in the perfume and essential oils industry. But did you know that 10% of French lavender production at the start of the 20th century came from the Quercy region of southwest France? And it is still grown on a commercial scale in parts of the region. Continue reading

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Things I Didn’t Know When I Moved to France: Part 2 the Negatives

Winter - one of the things they don't tell you about

Winter – one of the things they don’t tell you about

Thanks to everyone who commented on Part 1, the Positives. They added to my list of unexpected pleasures, including: the (comparatively) empty roads; the variety of regional produce and recipes; the friendly interaction with neighbours and rural French people’s lack of concern with outward show; and the fact that dogs are welcome in restaurants. Continue reading

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