Life in Southwest France

Welcome to La Lune, French for the moon. This is the name of the lieu-dit (locality) in southwest France where our 18th-century farmhouse is situated. We have lived here since 1997. The name almost certainly has nothing to do with the moon, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.

I’m a British writer and novelist. You can see my books, which are set mostly in France or on the French island of Corsica, in the right-hand sidebar. Visit my separate writing website to find out more about them.

Life on La Lune 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 also 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 would like to subscribe to my blog (completely free and you can unsubscribe at any time), please click on the email link in the right-hand sidebar. Your email address will never be publicly visible.

Life on La Lune now has a Facebook page. There, you’ll find additional photos, info and snippets about France that don’t fit on the blog. And you can comment on posts there, too, if you’re on Facebook. I look forward to seeing you there.

Bonne continuation!  

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Cornflowers and Poppies: Symbols of World War I

Symbol of Flanders fields

Today is Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11th November, the day the Armistice came into force in 1918. Tomorrow is a public holiday in France, and remembrance ceremonies will take place at war memorials throughout the country. Wearing a poppy is common in the UK, symbolising the blood that flowed and the flowers that grew “in Flanders fields”. The French equivalent, le bleuet, or cornflower, is less well known.

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Autumn’s Bounty: Pumpkins and Pumpkin Recipes

Could this be a winner?

Where we live in southwest France, size is of the essence; in fact, the bigger, the better. One of our local villages held a competition a couple of years ago for the biggest, heaviest and oddest shaped.

I am of course talking about pumpkins, otherwise known as potirons or citrouilles in French. The difference between them seems to be that the potiron is bigger, but, curiously, citrouille is the word used as an insult for a fat person.

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Every Château Tells a Story #17: Le Château de Bournazel

So much for my theory that tourist sites are less crowded out of season. Le tout Aveyron turned up at the Château de Bournazel yesterday, giving the hard-pressed guide some logistical problems. “This is the first time we’ve opened in October,” she said. “We weren’t expecting so many people!” Like everyone else, we took advantage of a glorious, if blustery, October afternoon to visit this château, of whose existence I learned only recently.

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Autumn Food Fêtes and Festivals

We’re definitely in autumn now. This year it has started off rather damp and gloomy, although the weather is often glorious at this time. But I make no secret of the fact that autumn is my favourite season. After a particularly hot summer this year, it’s nice to feel a nip in the morning air and settle down in front of the wood burner in the evening. And wouldn’t life be monotonous if all the seasons were the same?

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Back to Belcastel

Belcastel on a greyish September evening

This week, we celebrated an important wedding anniversary and returned to Belcastel in Aveyron to do so in style. This plus beau village is home to a Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Vieux Pont, which specialises in Aveyronnais produce and local recipes with a modern twist. The family who run the restaurant also run a small hotel in a converted barn on the other side of the River Aveyron. This means we can sample their excellent wine list without having to worry about driving the 50 km home with a police contrôle potentially around every corner.

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Abandoned Village: Saint-Amans-le-Vieux

Today was a beautiful, if still too dry, autumn day, so the SF and I decided to bestir ourselves and make the most of this fine weather for a walk. “Where shall we go?” We are faced with an embarras de choix, since so many walking trails criss-cross this area. Walk from here or take the car? In the end, the car won, and we parked down at the lake in Caylus, where several footpaths converge.

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Bowled Over: One of France’s Favourite Sports

Under the plane trees on the outskirts of a southern French village, an ancient tradition is taking place. A knot of men is gathered, fortified by glasses of Pastis. The sun dipping behind the trees makes zebra patterns on the dusty patch of earth. The “chock” of metal striking metal alternates with voices raised in dispute. What are they doing? Playing France’s 10th most popular sport: boules or pétanque. This has become one of the classic symbols of French culture, along with the beret, the baguette and the bouteille de vin.

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Cordes-sur-Ciel: Dramatic and Timeless

I’d forgotten what a long way up it is. Seventeen years had obliterated our memory of the steep hike up to the cité of Cordes-sur-Ciel perched on its hilltop, which was long considered inaccessible. But we weren’t going to wimp out and take le petit train, which deposits less athletic, but maybe more sensible, tourists at the top. The effort is worth it to see one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the region. Luckily for us, by the last weekend in August the tourist hordes had largely disappeared, but it was busy enough.  

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From Monks to Mona Lisa: L’Abbaye de Loc-Dieu

Imagine a place the locals dreaded so much that they named it locus diaboli, the devil’s place. A lonely, remote spot near the major trade route between Rodez and Cahors, with dark woods bristling with bandits lying in wait. And yet this was where a group of Cistercian monks founded an abbey in the 12th century, and the name of the place was transformed to locus dei, or Loc-Dieu, God’s place. I revisited the abbey, which is now privately owned, last week, after a gap of 12 years or so.

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Missing Cat: Chat Perdu

I wrote this post this morning after our cat had been missing for 15 days. An hour later she miaowed and walked back through the door as if nothing had happened. She was hungry and a bit perturbed, but apparently unharmed. We are so relieved. But I will leave the post here, because it might help others whose animals have gone missing.

Our cat, Bella, has been missing for a fortnight without trace. This is why I haven’t been posting recently – I simply haven’t had the heart. It’s a long shot posting here, but since this blog reaches quite a number of people in SW France, it may be worth it.

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Rally Round: the Caylus Car Rally

It isn’t exactly the Paris-Dakar rally, but it’s an annual event that we really enjoy taking part in. The Caylus rally is not about speed; it’s about discovering the local historic heritage during a 50 km circuit with eight checkpoints. Organised by Caylus Notre Village, which has been instrumental in restoring the lavoir (wash-house) in Caylus, the theme this year was – no surprise – lavoirs.

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Timeless Monument: The Cathedral of Cahors 900 Years On

2019 marks the 900th anniversary of la Cathédrale Saint-Etienne in Cahors. The cathedral is even older than the ill-fated Notre-Dame de Paris. Yesterday, 27th July, was supposed to be the official anniversary, since it was on that day in 1119 that Pope Sixtus II consecrated the high altar. Unfortunately, after weeks with no rain at all, the heavens opened, and the Tourist Office website says that the fête has been put back to Tuesday 30th.

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The French Countryside isn’t Quiet: Spread the Word

One of our co-residents in full song

Lying in bed early this morning, through the open window I heard cockerels crowing, a tractor doing some heavy-duty work not far away, cow bells jangling, dogs barking, pigeons cooing and the sparrows that nest in our walls chirping and bickering. So it wasn’t exactly silent. But I would far rather hear these sounds than constant traffic noise, emergency services’ sirens, thumping pop music and neighbours’ domestics. However, it appears that not everyone appreciates the sounds that accompany life in the French countryside.

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Drought in Southwest France

First, let me wish you a joyeux Quatorze Juillet. Today is la Fête Nationale in France and one of the most important holidays in the calendar. Today is sunny and hot. In previous years, we have been known to light a fire on 14th July. This year, the firework display in our local village seems to be going ahead, despite the sécheresse (drought). It has been cancelled before, notably in 2003, owing to the fire hazard.

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Summertime, and the Living is – Busy

Life on La Lune has been a bit quiet recently. One non-negotiable reason is that we had huge problems accessing the internet during the past week. While it is back, it’s wobbly. The other reason is that summer has arrived, and with it a raft of activities that all seem to have come at once.

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Favourite French Films: Marcel Pagnol’s La Gloire de Mon Père and Le Château de Ma Mère

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A few months ago, I posted on Life on La Lune’s Facebook page that we were re-watching the films of Marcel Pagnol’s classic Provence novels, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. Do watch them if you get the chance. Someone commented that I ought to write about the films of his childhood memoirs, La Gloire de Mon Père and Le Château de Ma Mère. Your wish is my command. I will try not to give away any spoilers.

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Quirky Quercy Art – or Quart

Some of you will remember the late lamented Fyfe Robertson, a British TV journalist known for his trenchant views. A somewhat quirky figure himself, with his tweeds and deer-stalker hat, he had his own series, ‘Robbie’, in which he roamed Britain debunking myths and pouring scorn on affectation. In one programme in 1977, he turned the spotlight on aspects of modern art. This was the era of the bricks in the Tate Gallery and other such installations. Robbie labelled these “Phoney Art – or Phart”. So he was in mind when I came up with the title for this post.

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Noses to the Grindstone? La Meulière de Clayrac near Cordes

Our walking group has recently taken some interesting routes, which have introduced us to the patrimoine (historic heritage) of the region. Some of the sites are quite off the beaten track and we hadn’t come across them before in our 22 years here. Last week, we took the road to Cordes-sur-Ciel in the Tarn, to explore the countryside around this perched hilltop town.

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How Does Voting Take Place in France?

For people like me who are not French citizens, voting here is a rare event, confined to the municipal elections (every six years) and the European elections (every five). The last time I voted was in March 2014, for the conseil municipal. I am not permitted to vote in the UK, having been out of the country for more than 15 years. So I was determined to exercise my vote today in the European elections, and we duly presented ourselves at our village Mairie.

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A Walk Around Caylus

Caylus. The lake is on the other side of the hill, below the ruined château

It’s been an eventful 10 days or so. My latest novel is now out, involving quite a lot of last-minute effort. And the Irish Embassy in Paris phoned on Tuesday to say that my citizenship application had been accepted. My certificate arrived yesterday and was, in fact, a bit underwhelming. It bears a photo of me looking as if I’m going to the scaffold as usual, plus some bare personal facts. It doesn’t even mention my grandmother, by virtue of whose birth in Ireland I became eligible for citizenship.

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The Life of an Agricultural Labourer in France in 1900

I posted this on my writing site, since it’s background to my latest novel, but I thought Life on La Lune readers might be interested, too. It’s the results of my research on female agricultural labourers in France in 1900: how did they get hired? What did they do? How much did they earn? What were their prospects?

Vanessa Couchman

Market place in Villefranche-de-Rouergue, which had several large monthly agricultural fairs at one time. The fountains are a 21st century addition.

At the turn of the 20th century, the world of agricultural
labour in France was a patchwork of different métiers and social positions. Wherever you were on the social hierarchy,
your life was governed by the tasks associated with the different seasons.

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Saving Face: Some of the Less Obvious Gems in SW France


Disrespectful stone carving in Caylus.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I’m following the example of fellow blogger Midi Hideaways, who wrote a recent post about the statuary and carved stone faces on buildings in the towns of the Languedoc. In this post I look at some of the less flamboyant, but often charming, architectural patrimoine in our area.

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A Special Day for Life on La Lune

Eglise Saint-Corneille in Puycelsi.. Stark on the outside…
A riot of colour inside
Puycelsi – hilltop fortress town

Today is a rather special day for us. More of that below. It’s been a rather eventful couple of weeks, which explains my erratic blogging record just now. Having taken part in a concert in the hilltop village of Puycelsi in aid of restoring the church, the following day saw the semi-destruction by fire of Notre-Dame de Paris.

A couple of days later our cat, Bella, went missing and didn’t return for 72 hours, when we were starting to give up hope. It’s almost impossible to settle to anything when that happens. Fortunately, she was unscathed, if starving, and has hopefully learned a lesson. In addition, I’ve been getting my latest novel ready for publication and attempting to stop the garden turning into a jungle.

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Emma Calvé: Forgotten Singing Star of the Belle Epoque

I posted this on my writing blog, since it concerns my latest novel, but as this post is about a famous singer who was born in Aveyron, SW France, I thought readers of Life on La Lune might be interested, too.

Vanessa Couchman

Emma Calvé, Wikimedia Commons, SIP 89-12, by Reutlinger

Have you heard of Emma Calvé? I hadn’t, until I read about her in a French novel. However, she was one of the brightest stars of her time in the singing world and had a highly-acclaimed international career. Hers is a fascinating rags-to-riches-to-rags story, which has inspired my latest novel, Overture.

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Centuries to Build, Hours to Destroy: Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame intact

One of France’s – no, the world’s – best-loved icons, Notre-Dame de Paris, caught fire shortly before 7 pm last night. The flames quickly took hold and, although the fire brigade was quick to react, it was impossible to save the roof, composed of tonnes of wood and lead. This morning, thanks to the tactic of playing water over the stonework, the towers and the walls are still intact. And no one was killed, although a fireman was badly injured while fighting the flames.

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Clock This

I hope you remembered to put your clocks forward last night if you’re in Europe, otherwise you’ll be a bit behind everyone else. We posted reminders throughout the house so that we wouldn’t forget, but there’s always at least one clock that slips through the net. However, in 2021, we will change the hour for the last time.

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Say it with Flowers: France’s Villages Fleuris


The garden is burgeoning and it’s that time of year when one’s thoughts turn to planning and planting. While driving around France, you might have noticed village signs declaring “Village – or ville – fleuri(e)” and sporting one to four flower symbols. I had never really thought much about this until Le Figaro published an article celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Villages Fleuris organisation. Rather like the plus beau village label, these accolades are not given out lightly.

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Tilting at Windmills

Windmill at Saillagol

One of the things I love about living here is local people’s interest in le petit patrimoine, the vestiges of a rural life that has faded away. Groups of enthusiastic volunteers contribute to their restoration to rescue them from oblivion. Today, I dragged the SF off to visit one of these projects, lo molin de la Gaventa, a windmill outside the village of Saillagol.

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The Story of the People at La Lune

Our house, almost at the point of no return in the 1960s.

I’d love to know who lived in our house long ago. Elderly neighbours have always been hazy about this, perhaps because it doesn’t really interest them. This week, at last, I discovered a story about previous occupants.

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Very Welcome Visitors

Who’s hiding in here?

We knew they were there, because we’d heard them. But we didn’t know exactly where. They kept themselves well concealed, only moving about at night, until we stumbled upon their secret hiding place.

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