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 novelist, freelance writer and journalist. My 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 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.

To see my full profile, please click here.

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Bonne continuation!  

One of the fantastic sunsets we enjoy here

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Cattle Country

Salers cow in the upper pastures

Considering we are surrounded by them, I’m surprised I haven’t written more about these mainstays of local agriculture. Perhaps it’s because I have a love-hate relationship with them, especially when marauding herds have trampled down our garden. What am I talking about? Cows, naturally, which greatly outnumber human inhabitants around here. Continue reading

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Can Spring be far Behind?

Violets carpeting our lawn

The literary-minded will notice that the title is a quotation from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’, written in 1819 while the poet was staying in Florence. The poem can be interpreted in various ways, the most simplistic reading being simply a commentary on the weather. Spring isn’t officially here yet, but it has been flirting with us: sometimes revealing its radiant glory while at other times coyly hiding its face. Continue reading

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French Flavours #3: C is for Cassoulet

Cassoulet: Photo - Guilhem06 Wikimedia Commons

Cassoulet: Photo – Guilhem06 Wikimedia Commons

I can’t allow the letter C to pass by without writing about cassoulet, the signature dish of southwest France. It’s been around for a long time and the correct recipe is the subject of controversy. What is it? A stew of white haricot beans and different meats. They vary according to where you eat your cassoulet and include confit de canard (duck) or oie (goose), belly pork, mutton and Toulouse sausage. Continue reading

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Ma Vie Française #3: Author Angela Wren

The Tarn at Le Pont-de-Montvert during Angela's first Cévennes visit in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson

The Tarn at Le Pont-de-Montvert during Angela’s first Cévennes visit in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson

Today, I continue my occasional interview series with people who have made their life in France or who have a particular attachment to it. Author Angela Wren is in the latter category. Let’s find out why she finds France so captivating. Continue reading

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Puylaroque: Tranquil Village with a Turbulent History

Puylaroque dominating the surrounding countryside

Puylaroque dominating the surrounding countryside

The panorama from the viewpoint at Puylaroque is magnificent. Beneath the rocky outcrop on which the village stands, the plains of southwest France roll away towards the Pyrénées. On a clear day, you can see the mountains, but that is a presage of rain. You can understand why Puylaroque occupied an important defensive position on one of the last ramparts of the Massif Central.

View southwards from Puylaroque on a hazy day

View southwards from Puylaroque on a hazy day

Continue reading

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Forgotten Love Letter Saved for Posterity

corsica-original-letters

Not the love letter mentioned in the post, but one that was also hidden and found many years later, in Corsica

I couldn’t let today pass without celebrating, but not for the reasons you think. By sheer coincidence I started this blog seven years ago today. Well over 500 posts, thousands of comments and many friendships later, I still find plenty to write about. But as a nod to Valentine’s Day, I have resurrected and updated a post from the archives that is almost seven years old, about a wonderful local discovery. Continue reading

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French Flavours #2: B is for lou Bajanac

Chestnuts in the wild

Chestnuts in the wild

In my A-Z of traditional French recipes, I’m trying to focus on those that originated in southwest France, where we live. So I’ve eschewed boeuf à la Bourgignonne or blanquette de veau, delicious though they are. Surprisingly, I found a dearth of Bs down here, until I came across an ancient Aveyronnais recipe that is comfortingly easy to make. But what is lou Bajanac? A clue is in the photo above.

Continue reading

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Beyond Time: A Journey Back to Prehistory Part 2

lascaux_horse

Horse at Lascaux, Dordogne (replica) Wikimedia Commons

Giant deer at Lascaux, Dordogne (replica) Wikimedia Commons

Giant deer at Lascaux, Dordogne (replica) Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I started a journey back in time to look at some of the many prehistoric relics left in this region by our ancestors. This week, we’re dropping in on the artists who used cave walls as their canvas 30,000 years ago, and then travelling even further back to meet their predecessors, Neanderthal hominids. A recent local discovery may transform our thinking about them. Continue reading

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Beyond Time: A Journey Back to Prehistory Part 1

Dolmen du Lac d'Aurié - front - near Limogne

Dolmen du Lac d’Aurié – front – near Limogne

Ours is one of the more rural French regions, but transport networks criss-cross the countryside and commercial suburbs mushroom around its historic towns. And yet this part of France is peppered with the works of prehistoric artists and builders. They endure almost in defiance of our modern concerns. So I’m taking a journey back in time in the next two posts via some remarkable sites, the vestiges of prehistoric life in this area. Continue reading

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French Flavours #1: A is for Aligot

Making Aligot

Making Aligot

 

The temperature was approaching -10C when I went downstairs this morning – outside, I hasten to add. This is the coldest spell we’ve had for five years. In this weather you want rib-sticking food; nouvelle cuisine doesn’t hit the spot. What better way to start my series about French dishes than with a look at one that warms you from the inside out: aligot? Continue reading

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2017 Preview and 2016 Weather Roundup

bonne-annee-2017

Bonne année, Meilleurs Vœux. Wishing you a happy and peaceful year and a better one for the world in general. Welcome to Life on La Lune 2017. This is a particularly special year for me and the SF (Statistics Freak to the uninitiated; you’ll see why below). August marks 20 years at La Lune and I’ve no doubt we’ll be raising a glass or three. Continue reading

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2016: the Answers

Bonne fin d'année

I hope you had a great Christmas. How did you get on with the quiz? I promised you the answers today and here they are – a little late because I got engrossed in writing my next novel. Don’t forget that for some of the questions more than one answer of the three possibilities given is correct, and I did warn you about trick questions, too. Some answers are open to interpretation, but I spent a lot of time checking and double-checking. No prizes, just a bit of fun.

So, here we go. Explanations are given below the answers where necessary.  Continue reading

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2016

xmas-card-1

First, let me wish all my readers Season’s Greetings. Thank you for following my blog this year and for your stimulating comments and emails, which I always enjoy reading. Thank you also for the many Tweets and shares on Facebook.

Here’s my annual Christmas gift to you. The 6th edition of the Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz, something for your intellect to feast on after the Christmas feast: 20 questions on aspects of French culture, politics, history, gastronomy, geography, etc. Three multiple choice answers are given for each question – but beware, there are some trick questions and more than one answer might be correct.  Continue reading

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10 French Christmas Traditions

Christmas wreath made by our friend Daan.

Christmas wreath made by our friend Marjo

Like every country in Christendom, France has a range of Christmas traditions, local and nationwide. I explore a few in this post. Christmas used to be lower key, less commercialised and of shorter duration than in the UK. During our 20 years here, this has changed somewhat. Christmas decorations, toys and boxes of chocolates are creeping into the shops earlier each year. And I’m afraid I couldn’t bring myself to take a photo of the 10-metre high Père Noël that appeared outside our local Leclerc supermarket in November. He does have a function, though, more of which below. Continue reading

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A Cut Above the Rest: Laguiole Knives

Laguiole knife I gave the SF one Christmas

Laguiole knife I gave the SF one Christmas

The Aveyron town of Laguiole sits at the edge of the stark and empty but stunningly beautiful Aubrac plateau. We passed through there several years ago on our way to the Aubrac cattle transhumance, which takes place every year in late May. It was 1 degree C and snowed the following day. Continue reading

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A Walk Around Castanet

Village square in Castanet - church spire in the background

Church in Castanet at the top of the square

Last week, the weather here was truly appalling, especially on Wednesday and Thursday, with high winds and torrential rain. And other parts of southern France suffered much more than we did. This November has been particularly wet, although not cold. We’ve already attained 150% of the average rainfall for the month. The past few Novembers have been unusually dry and sunny, so this retour à la normale was not welcome. Knowing that October’s fine weather wouldn’t last, we took the opportunity on 1st November to do a walk that we haven’t done for some years. Continue reading

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French Telephone Etiquette

autumn-colours-at-la-lune

Autumn colours behind our house – no relevance to the post but a shot in rare sunshine this Nov

Even after more than 19 years in France, I lift the receiver with apprehension when the phone rings. This is partly because it’s invariably a cold caller. It’s also because dealing with people on the phone in French is damn difficult. I must admit that I have never been a great lover of the phone and use it only when absolutely necessary. But my phone phobia has reached new heights (or depths) in France.

Continue reading

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Appetising Return to Belcastel

Belcastel

Belcastel

Last time, I wrote about a ghostly story linked to the château de Belcastel. This week, we had the opportunity to make a return visit to this plus beau village in Aveyron. Not only does it occupy a delightful setting beside the River Aveyron and boast a well-restored château, but it also has a Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Vieux Pont. Since the SF had an important birthday, we felt this was sufficient justification. Continue reading

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Halloween Traditions, Ghosts and Witches in France

Plenty of these around today

Plenty of these around today

I don’t need to tell you what today is. Halloween has become more commercialised in recent years in France and traditions such as trick-or-treating have taken root. I hope we live far enough off the beaten track not to encounter costumed children demanding friandises (sweets) tonight.  Continue reading

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Walnut Time

Our walnut haul so far

Our walnut haul so far

The walnuts start to fall here in SW France around the end of September. By mid-October, it’s positively raining nuts. This year, we were afraid that our crop would be minimal. Many walnuts fell early and were blackened and mummified, presumably because the wet spring and the very dry summer didn’t suit them. However, we needn’t have worried. We have almost filled two boxes already and plenty more nuts are still on the trees.

Blackened walnut

Blackened walnut

Continue reading

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2016 Summer Weather in SW France: the Verdict

Château de Labro façade

Château de Labro façade

Yesterday, we did one of our favourite walks. It takes in the ruined Château de Labro, and goes up and down the wooded slopes of the secluded Seye Valley. We walked under luminous blue skies with barely a cloud. There was a slight nip in the air, but it was perfect rambling weather. Autumn here is, in my view, the best season for walks: warm, but not too hot, and dry underfoot. Continue reading

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Cantal le Beau

Monts de Cantal glimpsed from one of our walks. The conical mountain in the middle is the Puy Griou

Monts du Cantal glimpsed on a hazy day. The conical mountain in the middle is the Puy Griou

I’m never quite sure which destination appeals to me more: Cantal or Corsica. They are both mountainous and beautiful in their own way, but very different. Cantal, of course, is easier to get to, being only just over two hours’ drive away. Since we first discovered it in the early 1990s, we must have visited at least 15 times. This year, we’ve been fortunate enough to go twice: once in May and then last weekend. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #14: Le Château des Bordes, Lot

 

Le Château des Bordes

Le Château des Bordes

When I started this series about the châteaux in our area, I had no idea that so many of them exist. There are the obvious ones – Najac, Saint-Projet, Belcastel – but also less obvious ones. Some are just ruined shells, others are restored and inhabited. Many are more like fortified houses than the traditional image of a castle with moats and battlements. The Château des Bordes at Promilhanes, just over the border in the Lot Département, is one of the former. Continue reading

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5 More Hidden Gems in Southwest France

 

Château de Cas

Château de Cas, Espinas

This coming weekend the annual Journées du Patrimoine take place throughout France. You can visit historic buildings and monuments, some of which are not normally open to the public, and many of them offer free entrance. I have already noted several places I’d like to see. This link takes you to the official website. Clicking on ‘Programme’ opens an interactive map, which is annoying, since you have to know where you want to go to start with. However, you can also download and browse regional brochures. Continue reading

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Drought in Southwest France

Our front lawn

Our front lawn

 

We spent the first six months of this year complaining that we had too much rain. Now we’re complaining that we are having too little. It has barely rained for about six weeks and the weather has been dry, hot, sunny and windy. The picture above shows our lawn, which crackles when you walk across it. Even the weeds aren’t growing. I haven’t mown for well over a month. Continue reading

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19 Years in France

A little something to celebrate with

A little something to celebrate with

Time for a little celebration. Nineteen years ago today, we moved into our house, but we had arrived in France a few days earlier. The time has passed quickly, although much wine has flowed under the bridge since then. A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts about the adventures we experienced during our search for a house in France. Today, I revisit our arrival. Continue reading

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Calvignac, Lot: Untold Stories?

Calvignac taken from the Château de Cénevières on a hazy day

Calvignac taken from the Château de Cénevières on a hazy day

 I often find the smaller places in rural France more interesting than the big cities or the real tourist honeypots. They have their own intriguing histories, their hidden features, and to me these are more satisfying than the roads much travelled. A month ago the writing group I belong to visited the Château de Cénevières overlooking the River Lot. After that, we went upriver to the perched village of Calvignac, where I stumbled upon what may be an untold story. Continue reading

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5 Hidden Gems in Southwest France

Pont du Parayre over the River Audierne below Peyrusse-le-Roc  - an ancient mule and pilgrim track

Pont du Parayre over the River Audierne below Peyrusse-le-Roc – an ancient mule and pilgrim track

This region contains so much to see and do that it’s easy to visit only the obvious places, those that get the most publicity: the plus beaux villages, the Viaduc de Millau, the better-known markets, the famous festivals. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find hidden gems that are well worth a visit. I’d like to share with you a handful of them, about which I’ve written on this blog. Continue reading

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Caylus Car Rally Revived

 

Lavoir in Caylus - current restoration project

Lavoir in Caylus – current restoration project

Our village formerly held an annual car rally. This wasn’t a race with souped-up vehicles – fortunately – but a “rallye touristique”, i.e. following a circuit between checkpoints around the commune. The event faded, as these things do, but a local association, Caylus Notre Village, revived it this year. The rally was in support of their project to restore the village’s unique lavoir (wash-house). Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #13: Le Château de Cénevières, Lot

Château de Cénevières gatehouse

Château de Cénevières gatehouse

The Château de Cénevières towers over its village and the River Lot, which meanders far beneath. The castle commanded a formerly important strategic position and the river, which was once well-plied trade route. My local writing group went on an outing there last week. One member has a particular interest in the château, but I won’t say more since I don’t want to steal her thunder. Continue reading

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