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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SW France Summer Weather 2015

Corsican sunset

Corsican sunset

We had a great holiday on Corsica a couple of weeks ago. And it was a good thing we went then, because we had nice weather for the most part. One week later and it would have been quite different: storms, torrential rain and flooding. Stages of the international car rally held there had to be cancelled because the weather was just too bad. Here are a few pix from our hols.

Bougainvillea-clad wall

Bougainvillea-clad wall

Corsican village that inspired my novel

Corsican village that inspired my novel

Rugged Corsican landscape

Rugged Corsican landscape

Summer 2015

And now, onto the weather here. The SF (Statistics Freak to the uninitiated, aka my husband) who has been compiling weather stats for nearly 18 years has disgorged his latest spreadsheet. This includes a summary for the months that he considers to equate to summer, May to September.

I should explain that we apply a subjective weather assessment technique. We assign each day a plus (good), a minus (bad) or a zero (in between). According to this measure, summer 2015 was pretty good. We considered 66% of the days to be pluses, compared to the average of 62.5%.

Some summers have been even better: 2003 (71%), 2009 (76%) and 2012 (72%) were all well over the average.


The average for the summer was dragged down a bit by September this year. Normally a gloriously warm month, it was variable this year:

Plus – 17
Zero – 10
Minus – 3

The chart shows the percentage of plus days each September for the past 18 years. The line is the trend – still upwards. This September is in the lower third, with two the same and four worse.

Proportion of pluses each September

Proportion of pluses each September


We had less rain than normal in September: 40.5 mm compared to the average of 55 mm, but it rained slightly more often.

Rainfall 2015 to date

Rainfall 2015 to date

The rainfall for the year to date is still above average: 663 mm compared to 634 mm, i.e. 4.6% above.

Changing seasons

Now we are definitely in autumn. Although the days can still be quite warm, the evenings are chilly and drawing in and we light the woodburner almost every night. But the autumn colours are starting, with crimson creeper festooning the hedgerows and some of the trees turning already. The walnuts are getting underfoot and need to be gathered. And I will soon have forgotten how it was to plunge into the swimming pool.

Here’s a French dicton (saying) for October.

En octobre, il faut que l’homme vite s’habille quand le mûrier se déshabille. In October, people should wrap up quickly when the mulberry tree loses its leaves (lit. undresses).

You might also like:

5 Reasons Why Autumn is the Best Season
Chestnuts and Chestnut Recipes
Walnuts and Walnut Recipes

Copyright © 2015 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


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Where there’s Smoke…Beware of the Smoke Detector Scam

Our smoke detector, strategically situated in the stair well

Our smoke detector, strategically situated in the stair well

I never cease to be amazed by the inventiveness of potential scammers. Not content with phoning up and pretending to be Microsoft’s help centre, or emailing to tell you that someone you don’t know in Cameroon wants to place millions of euros in your bank account, they have now turned their attention to smoke detectors. Continue reading

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Language Larks: What French Words Mean Depends on Where You Live

Occitan flag - also the symbol of the Midi-Pyrénées Region

Occitan flag – also the symbol of the Midi-Pyrénées Region

Just a short post this week, for reasons that will become apparent later. Before we moved here, in my ignorance I had always assumed that French was a pretty homogeneous language and that the vocabulary of Lille must also be that of Biarritz. The longer I live here, the more I realise that this is not so. Continue reading

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Singing at Puycelsi

Figures above the church porch

Figures above the church porch

Last weekend, we took part in one of our favourite events of the year: two days of rehearsals followed by a choral concert at the hilltop village of Puycelsi in the Tarn. This was the ninth year that these concerts have been held, in aid of the restoration of l’église Saint-Corneille. Continue reading

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Preparing for Winter

Wood pile ready for winter

Wood pile ready for winter

This might seem a little premature. After all, we’re only in early September and it’s still summer officially. But heating these old stone houses has to be taken very seriously. The summers can be blisteringly hot here in SW France, but the winters can be the opposite. Nobody informs you about the latter before you move here. Today, we are having the third new heating system installed in 18 years. Continue reading

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Weathering the Storm

Large branch from an ash tree

Large branch ripped from an ash tree


August went out like a lion with one of the most damaging storms we have experienced for several years. The thunder and lightning were not especially violent, but the wind was, gusting up to 150 kph in places. We are still tidying up the mess. Continue reading

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End of an Era at the Hamlet of Flouquet

The hamlet of Flouquet

The hamlet of Flouquet

It was the end of an era in two senses, to which I’ll return below. Every year, as part of the summer walks laid on by the commune of Espinas, we visit a pretty hamlet called Flouquet. The houses are grouped around a village green and the inhabitants, now only part-time, put on something of a show for us. We learn new things every year. Continue reading

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Stirring Up a Hornet’s Nest

Remains of a hornet's nest

Remains of a hornet’s nest

I lifted the trapdoor into the loft of our pigeonnier with infinite care. On the ceiling, right over my head were the unmistakable signs of very unwanted summer visitors, accompanied by a tell-tale buzzing. I shut the trapdoor fast and descended the perpendicular ladder like a bat out of somewhere. They were back. Hornets. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #7: the Château de Féneyrols

Le Château de Féneyrols

Le Château de Féneyrols

Our region is crammed with small châteaux that played an important role in its history at one time. Almost every village of any size had one. Now, they are seen as quaint relics of bygone days. I set out to find out more about them and this is the next in my series of occasional posts about these fascinating examples of French patrimoine. Continue reading

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Drought and Southwest France Weather July 2015

Our well, lovingly restored by the SF

Our well, lovingly restored by the SF

I have been reminded yet again this summer of how tough life must have been for the people who lived in our house up until the 1960s, when mains water was installed. Our property has two citernes (water-collecting cisterns) and a well that is fed by a proper source (spring).

Before they sank the well, which is 12 metres deep, they had to do a round trip of about 3 km to get water from a stream if the citernes didn’t have sufficient water. It was uphill on the way back. This brings to mind the Pagnol novels, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, set in Provence, in which water really was a matter of life or death. Continue reading

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Another Seasonal Hazard in SW France: Mosquitoes

What's this? Find out below.

What’s this? Find out below.

Here’s another seasonal hazard: mosquitoes. I am their favourite meal. There are several reasons for that (see below) and they are becoming more of a pest down here.

Do you have blood group O? Do you have a high metabolic rate? Join the club. Recent research shows that you are among the most likely to attract mosquitoes and to be bitten silly on summer evenings. I know. I share these characteristics. Continue reading

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5 Seasonal Summer Road Hazards in SW France

Summer market stalls at Villefranche

Summer market stalls at Villefranche

The last few weekends have marked the start of the summer holidays in France, when a mass exodus from the towns takes place and people head for the hills or the coasts. Overnight, the numbers of market stalls, tourists conspicuous in their summer gear and foreign number plates double. The normally quiet roads also take on a different aspect. Here are five things to beware of as high summer begins. Continue reading

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Dig This! What the Archaeologists Found at Teysseroles

15th-century Chapelle de Teysseroles

15th-century Chapelle de Teysseroles

I missed a big event at Teysseroles a couple of weeks ago because I was slaving over a hot computer. The mandatory archaeological test digs took place over nearly three days around the 15th-century chapel. This is a requirement before any further restoration work can take place. They made some interesting finds. Continue reading

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Teysseroles Fête and SW France Weather June 2015

In the shade under the trees and the tarpaulins

In the shade under the trees and the tarpaulins

We scanned the weather forecast nervously during the 10 days leading up to our annual fête at Teysseroles, the 15th-century chapel we are helping to restore. The last thing we wanted was to have to put up a marquee, as we were obliged to do in 2013 because the weather was so awful. We needn’t have worried. As we approached last Sunday, the day of the fête, it was clear that it would be dry, sunny and warm. The team breathed a collective sigh of relief. Continue reading

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Noises Off on a Country Evening

Pink sunset

Pink sunset

The poor old blog has been sorely neglected of late. The trouble is that there’s this pesky thing called work, a necessary evil that keeps me away from what I really want to do. And it’s nearly always at its most intense – sod’s law – in the summer. Before you all reach for your hankies, let me move swiftly on.

People who come to stay with us often remark how quiet it is here, compared with London – or indeed any part of SE England. Some of them even find it unnervingly so without the comforting sound of traffic, police sirens and other people’s music in the background. Continue reading

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Hare caught in a rare moment of stillness

Hare caught in a rare moment of stillness

You don’t often see them, since they are shy creatures and hide in the long grass. But at this time of year, once the hay has been cut, you’re more likely to see a hare around here. I love our rare glimpses of them; another advantage of living en pleine campagne. Continue reading

Posted in Nature | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Unwanted Visitors and SW France Weather May 2015

This year's resplendent irises

This year’s resplendent irises

I stepped off the plane at Toulouse on Wednesday evening into a different season. During a brief business visit to London, it was chilly and blustery. Back in SW France, summer had suddenly arrived with temperatures well into the thirties centigrade. Now the lawn has stopped growing, we have to water the plants and the electric blanket is definitely de trop. Qu’il dure! Continue reading

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Le Temps des Cerises

Succulent ripe cherries

Succulent ripe cherries

The title (‘Cherry Time’) is that of a very famous French song written in 1866 and interpreted much later by Yves Montand. With the addition of some verses, it became one of the anthems of the revolutionary Paris Commune in 1871, a symbol of the better times that would follow. However, I’ll take it in its more prosaic and literal sense and focus on the fruit.

Continue reading

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Celebrating the Past at our Village Fête

Caylus viewed from the hill opposite

Caylus viewed from the hill opposite

Unlike many local villages, which hold their fête in the summer, ours has it in May to coincide with la Pentecôte (Whitsun). It involves the usual stuff: concours de pétanque (boules tournament), go-kart racing, a bal/disco and other events. This year, more interest was added by introducing walks around the historical sights of the area. Continue reading

Posted in History, Places, Walking in France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Question of Accent

Spring flowers

Spring flowers


I speak French with an English accent. Try as I might, I can’t get rid of it, even though my French is now pretty fluent after 18 years here. As soon as I open my mouth, I give myself away as non-French. However, this is apparently not the disadvantage it might at first seem to be. All is revealed at the end of this post. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Language | Tagged , , , , , | 37 Comments

The Biggest Moth in Europe

Great Peacock Moth

Great Peacock Moth

Living in the comparatively unspoilt French countryside, one comes to appreciate the richness and variety of the wildlife. How about this for a wingspan? 14 cm is not very big compared to an A380 but when you’re a moth it’s pretty impressive. This is the Great Peacock Moth, Saturnia pyri, also known as the Great Emperor Moth. In French it’s a Grand Paon de Nuit (Great Night Peacock). And it’s the biggest moth in Europe.

Continue reading

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Countless May Holidays and SW France Weather April 2015




May in France is a month when you can’t move for public holidays. There’s one a week: two historical and two religious. Then the next one isn’t until 14th July, la fête nationale. We were talking about it at our yoga class today (I am the only non-French participant) and everyone agreed that it gets a bit much this month. Continue reading

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Thunder and Lightning at Puycelsi


Puycelsi - hilltop fortress town

Puycelsi – hilltop fortress town

We have adopted Puycelsi in the Tarn, since we go there to sing at least once a year in a temporary choir that comes together for a weekend or less. This delightful – and apparently impregnable – hilltop village is one of the plus beaux villages de France. Not only does it boast some beautifully-restored medieval buildings but it also has terrific 360° views of the Forêt de Grésigne and the vallée de la Vère. Continue reading

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French People’s Favourite Village: Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in 2015?


Terracotta rooftops of Saint-Antonin by the Aveyron

Terracotta rooftops of Saint-Antonin by the Aveyron

In 2014, it was Cordes-sur-Ciel in our Midi-Pyrénées region, about 30 km from us. Which village will it be this year? The 2015 candidate for our region is Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. Voting in this contest – Le Village Préféré des Français – run by TV channel France 2, closes on 19th May. Continue reading

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Work Continues to Restore La Chapelle de Teysseroles


Chapelle de Teysseroles

Chapelle de Teysseroles

I haven’t written much recently about the 15th-century chapel that we are helping to restore. This is partly because the work goes into hiatus over the winter; and partly because the bureaucracy involved grinds exceedingly slowly. However, there was a flurry of activity last Friday when work resumed on the wall that encircles the cemetery. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story: #6 Le Château de Penne


Penne with château on the right

Penne with château on the right

Circumstances have prevented me from posting for a few days, but now I’m resuming with my series about the region’s châteaux. Le château de Penne commands a strategic position 120 metres above the River Aveyron on a rocky outcrop. It’s at the highest point of the village of Penne, which straggles away down the hill. The village is at the northern edge of the Forêt de Grésigne, one of the biggest in the region and formerly noted for its glassblowing industry. Continue reading

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Cuckoos, Birdsong and SW France Weather March 2015


Easter Egg - made by local artist Catherine Smedley

Giant Easter Egg – made by local artist Catherine Smedley

Bonnes Pâques à tout le monde. I had hoped to report the cuckoo’s arrival, but it’s dragging its heels (or whatever cuckoos have) this year. A friend 10 km to the south said it had arrived over a week ago. We heard one yesterday evening in the Lot, north of us. But not a peep here. This is rather late. Continue reading

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Seasonal Treats: Asparagus and Strawberries


New season's asparagus

New season’s asparagus

When we first moved here, it was frustrating not to find strawberries or asparagus in the French shops in the winter. I completely changed my mind a long time ago. There is a lot to be said for enjoying produce only when it is in season. First, you know it hasn’t got an eye-wateringly large carbon footprint. Second, it’s generally better because it’s in season and not forced unnaturally. Third, it’s more of a treat as it’s not available at other times. Continue reading

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The Ups and Downs of Life in La France Profonde


Ruins like this are not uncommon in the French countryside

Ruins like this are not uncommon in the French countryside

I spent much of last week in London, which led me to reflect on the differences between urban and rural life. As it turns out, this was quite timely, since the French government had been carrying out a charm offensive on rural voters in advance of last Sunday’s cantonal elections. On the menu was improving access to public services, health care and telecoms. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #5: Les Châteaux de Bruniquel

Twin châteaux of Bruniquel

Twin châteaux of Bruniquel

Les châteaux? Yes, there are two, built at different periods. The village of Bruniquel is one of France’s plus beaux villages (most beautiful villages). It is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the River Aveyron and once commanded a strategically important crossroads.

Continue reading

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