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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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

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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

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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

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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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Four Famous Frenchwomen

Cistus 2

Today is International Women’s Day. It celebrates women’s achievements and highlights the plight of the millions of women around the world who are oppressed, living in abject poverty and certainly not considered equal to their menfolk.

Fellow blogger Finding Time to Write has written a great post, celebrating five of her heroines. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I thought I’d follow her example and write about four Frenchwomen who particularly interest me. Continue reading

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The Flood of the Century in Southwest France, 3-4 March 1930


Montauban - River Tarn. The marker on the building shows how high the river rose in March 1930

Montauban – River Tarn. The marker on the building shows how high the river rose in March 1930

On Saturday 1st March 1930, 85 years ago, torrential rain started to fall on already saturated ground in Southwest France. Unseasonably high temperatures brought by southerly winds rapidly melted the thick mantle of snow that had fallen in late winter on the mountains. The River Tarn, fed by its swollen tributaries the Agout and the Tescou, began to rise on Sunday 2nd March, but no alarm was raised. Continue reading

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Signs of Spring and Southwest France Weather February 2015

A vivid rainbow I snapped last week

A vivid rainbow I snapped last week

 The SF (Statistics Freak to the uninitiated) tells me that winter runs from November to February. Personally, I feel it’s longer than that, but it’s better not to argue with the expert. Even so, by the end of February, I am usually climbing the walls and longing for spring. This year is no exception.

At least it is going in the right direction. It’s less than a month until the clocks go forward and the cuckoo arrives. And a few signs of change are already in evidence. The daffodils will flower soon, we saw a violet on the lawn (only one and a bit bedraggled, but still…), the evenings are drawing out, the quality of the light is different and the sun has warmth, when it deigns to come out. The birds are more active and vocal, too. I have heard a blackbird singing several mornings running. Buds have appeared on the trees, still tightly furled, but ready to burst.

This month, I’ll provide a roundup for the winter months, November to February inclusive, as well as for February.

Subjective weather assessment

A quick reminder of our subjective weather assessment: we assign each day a plus if it’s fine, a minus if it’s bad and a zero if it’s indifferent or we can’t decide.

From November to February, the proportion of each compared with the average is as follows:

Pluses – 28% (33% average)
Zeros – 29% (32% average)
Minuses – 43% (35% average)

This confirms my feeling that this winter, although not cold, was gloomier than usual. This is borne out by the rainfall stats (see below under Rainfall).

For February, the +/0/- stats are as follows:

Pluses – 10
Zeros – 7
Minuses – 11

This puts February 2015 into the better half of the league table, with 6 better and 10 worse. Although the last week of Feb was pretty dire, we have also had some pleasant sunny days. And it snowed a couple of times as well, although not heavily, so we’ve had just about every kind of weather. The graph shows the percentage of plus days each February for the past 17 years (the line is the trend).

Proportion of plus days each February

Proportion of plus days each February


Our rainfall stats go back to August 2004.

Over the winter months, we had a total of 302.5 mm, a bit less than the average of 307.1 mm. However, it rained more often – on 55 days compared to about 46 – reinforcing the sense that this was a gloomy winter. The mud in places is indescribable, but then this is la France profonde.

In February, which is traditionally a dry month, we had a little more rain than usual – 62.5 mm compared to the average of 57. It rained as frequently as we would expect – the average of 10 days.

Rainfall 2015 to date

Rainfall 2015 to date

Frost nights

Frost nights so far for the winter total 36, 16 of them in February. We can still get frost in March and the occasional frost in April.

March has started wet, but it might as well rain now rather than in the summer. Here’s a dicton (saying), of which French country people are so fond, about March.

En mars, quand le merle a sifflé, l’hiver s’en est allé In March, when the blackbird has sung, winter has gone.

That’s good news, since the blackbird had already started in February. Vivement le printemps!

You might also like:

Seven Signs of Spring in SW France
Nature Comes Back to Life
The first cuckoo

Copyright © 2015 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

Posted in French life, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sunday Promenade Around Félines


Church at Félines

Church at Félines

It was more like a forced march, actually. The SF did military service in the Swedish army and can still do a 20 km yomp bearing a 14 kilo pack with the best of them. Last Sunday morning, the sun shone but the wind was bitter, so a gentle stroll was not an option.

We were determined have some exercise and there are lovely walks around here. But, even though we are geographically in the south of France, the winters can be miserable and it’s not easy to get out unless you force yourself to do it. So we took advantage of the dry weather and did one of our favourite walks.  Continue reading

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How to Queue in France


Crédit Agricole bank: scene of traditional queuing behaviour

Crédit Agricole bank: scene of traditional queuing behaviour

Forming a neat queue is inscribed in we Brits’ DNA. Not so our French counterparts. Our two countries are separated only by a 30-mile stretch of water, but in some respects it might as well be 30 light years. Having lived here for nearly 18 years, I don’t notice some of the cultural differences anymore or have happily embraced them. But there are still aspects of French life and culture that I don’t get. Queuing is one of them. Continue reading

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A Typical Quercy Farmhouse (and an Anniversary)


Bolet and pigeonnier before restoration in the early 1970s

Bolet and pigeonnier before restoration in the early 1970s

In a couple of months it will be 18 years since we first saw our house. A lot of wine has flowed under the bridge in that time. The photo above shows it in the early 1970s just before it was restored and long before we bought it. I have mentioned some of the traditional features of our house in my posts, but I have never looked at them systematically.

Our farmhouse is typical of the prevailing architecture in the former Quercy region, being long and narrow. It was probably built in the 18th century (there is no date on it anywhere) but I have a feeling a house might have been here before that. Continue reading

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