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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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!  

One of the fantastic sunsets we enjoy here

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Millau: Towers, Markets and Bridges – Guest Post by Angela Wren

 

Viaduc de Millau 2

Millau Bridge

I’m thrilled to welcome back to the blog Angela Wren, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting at an authors’ event in Carcassonne in September. Angela is a Francophile, who has visited many more corners of France than I have, and stayed in most of the campsites! She’s also the very accomplished author of a series of murder mysteries set in the Cévennes centred on gendarme-turned-investigator Jacques Forêt. Today, she’s taking us on a tour to a town in the region which I don’t know very well: Millau. The photo above is mine; the others are Angela’s. Continue reading

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France’s Flower of the Dead

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A pot of chrysanthemums decorating a family grave

For a fortnight or so before 1st November (Toussaint; All Saints’ Day) pavements outside French florists’ shops and undertakers, and whole marquees at supermarkets, are heaving with chrysanthemums in pots. But don’t be tempted to offer a pot as a gift; you’ll likely sour a budding friendship. Why? The chrysanthemum is the flower of the dead in France.  Continue reading

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Ça Sent la Rose

 

Roses

Roses in our garden during a happier year for them

Roses must have one of the loveliest scents of all flowers. They have been cultivated for more than 5,000 years and thousands of varieties now exist. Unfortunately, they don’t do well here in our poor soil and they didn’t like this year’s late summer drought in particular. However, a garden close by once had a roseraie (rose garden) known for its contribution to the perfume industry. Continue reading

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French Flavours: Pounti, Traditional Auvergnat Dish

Pounti

Pounti

During our recent visit to Cantal, we had the opportunity to taste again a dish that is traditional to northern Aveyron/southern Cantal: pounti. Before we first visited that area, 25 years ago, I had never come across this dish, not even in other parts of France. But, like many other traditional French recipes, it excites no small controversy among devotees, who argue about the correct way of making it. Continue reading

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Villeneuve d’Aveyron: Ancient Paths and a Historic Gem

Toulongergues - rear

What do you think this building is? A small château or fortified house? A barn? All will be revealed below. Autumn is the best time for walking in this area. The days are warm and sunny, it’s usually dry underfoot (a little too dry until last night) and the leaves are turning to tawny brown. Knowing that the weather was planning to change, we decided to follow a walk that I have wanted to do for some time. Continue reading

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Ma Vie Française # 7: Elizabeth Moore, Fulfilling a Long-Held Dream

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Some of Elizabeth’s memories of France

This week, I’m delighted to welcome in my series of interviews another Francophile, who has a long-standing attachment to France. Elizabeth Moore, who writes as EJ Bauer, turned the distressing experience of illness into an opportunity by travelling from her native Australia to explore France. I normally ask people to provide a few images to illustrate their answers. Elizabeth has done us proud with a fabulous selection of photos from her trips. Continue reading

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Coming Back to Cantal

Cantal - Jordanne Valley

The Jordanne Valley with the Puy Mary in the distance

We have lost count of the number of visits we have made to the Auvergne, the mountainous region in south-central France. It’s not so spectacular as the Alps or the Pyrénées, but it has a charm and a character all its own. Last week, I recounted the detour we took to visit Marcolès, a delightful town in the southern Cantal, en route to our habitual destination, the village of Thiézac in the Cère Valley. Continue reading

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A Mystery Tour on the Way to Cantal

Thiezac - Sept 11 Puy Griou

Le Puy Griou, one of the Monts de Cantal

Revisiting old haunts can be tinged with disappointment. I once returned to a place where I had lived 30 years before and was saddened to see how much it had changed. Happily, Cantal has never fallen into that category. This mountainous, formerly volcanic, area of the Massif Central draws us back as often as we can get there, although our last visit was two years ago. Continue reading

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Rentrée Time

Parisot - autumn view

Autumn view

Here we are in September again. How did that happen? Surely Easter was only last week. Actually, I don’t mind. This is my favourite month of the year, perhaps because I was born in September (cards and presents welcome). We have found it to be one of the most pleasant months here weather-wise. An early morning nip in the air is often followed by mellow, even hot, sunshine, but the heat has lost the fierceness of high summer. For many people, September spells la Rentrée, a particularly French institution. Continue reading

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Return to Cahors

Cahors - across river 3

The riverside town of Cahors

I do like Cahors, an ancient city and capital of the Lot Département. Why is it, then, that we visit so infrequently? It’s more appealing than our own Préfecture, Montauban, and it doesn’t take much longer to get there. The town centre is more vibrant, has an array of tempting shops and offers a variety of things to see and do. I suppose it is a question of habit. Continue reading

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Ma Vie Française #6: Author Jane Dunning

Jane Dunning

Jane Dunning

Today, I continue my occasional series of interviews with people who have made their life in France or who have a particular attachment to it. Jane Dunning’s love affair with France began in earnest in the 1990s and she has since stayed in 100 different locations around the country, often on house-sitting assignments. I think you can say she’s a Francophile! Jane is also the author of two novels set in Provence: more about those below. Continue reading

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British, French or Irish? Or all Three?

Caylus - from above

The village near which we have lived for 21 years

I don’t write about politics on this blog. Of course, I have my views, but I generally keep them to myself. So I haven’t mentioned the ‘B’ word (okay, Brexit) in my posts so far. However, I can’t ignore it – and haven’t. With the increasing likelihood of a hard Brexit after 29th March next year, those of us who live permanently in France have some choices to make, even though the implications are far from clear. Continue reading

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A Local WWII Resistance Group: Update

Ornano sign 

Today, the causse above the riverside village of Cazals is a tranquil place with superb views of the Gorges de l’Aveyron. It’s covered with juniper and scrub oak and the only sounds are birdsong or the occasional whirr of a chainsaw. In 1943, it was even more remote and it was here that a group of Résistants, le Maquis d’Ornano, was established to further the cause and to receive parachute drops of equipment and agents. Last week, under a burning sun, our walking group visited the monument erected to mark a skirmish between Nazi soldiers and the Resistance group in March 1944. Continue reading

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Canicule: the Dog Days of Summer

Stones - barn before

How it was in August 2003

It’s either a famine or a feast. We spent the winter and most of the spring grumbling about all the rain; now we’re taking refuge from the heat. Much of the northern hemisphere is experiencing unprecedented levels of heatwave: notably the UK and Sweden, where forest fires have raged out of control. The technical explanation is that the jet stream has risen too far northwards – having come too far southwards over the winter and got stuck. This is drawing up hot air from the Sahara. Here in France, la canicule has arrived and looks set to continue for the next week at least. Continue reading

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The Story of Notre-Dame des Grâces

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Notre-Dame des Grâces

Set at the edge of a grassy plateau overlooking the verdant Bonnette Valley, this little chapel is visible for miles around. It commands a magnificent view of the countryside, with the ancient province of Quercy on one side and the Rouergue on the other. The River Bonnette is the dividing line between them. Not far away is the village of Lacapelle-Livron, the site of an important former Templar commandery. Continue reading

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Summer in Southwest France

Villefranche market - market stalls

Summer market stalls at Villefranche

Summer is here, les grandes vacances have begun and the foreign number plates in the area have multiplied. And to go with them, a little present from the French government: a drop in the speed limit on secondary roads from 90kph to 80kph. The exceptions are roads with a central reservation and stretches with two lanes on the same side. Continue reading

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Saint John’s Day Customs in France

Albi - Nuit Pastel Fireworks

Yesterday marked la Fête de la Saint-Jean, which occurs on 24th June each year, although the festivities normally take place the night before. It’s a not uncommon example of a pagan celebration taken over by the Catholic Church to commemorate the birth date of John the Baptist. The origins go back to the ancient Phoenicians and Syrians, who celebrated the summer solstice. Revellers lit a ritual bonfire, symbolising purification and rebirth, and invoked fertility and abundance for the coming year. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #16: le Château de Saint-Michel de Vax

Saint-Michel de V chateau

Château de Saint-Michel de Vax (sorry about the cables)

What a boon the internet can be – in small doses. And we’ve had only a small dose of it recently. More about that in a later post. I can find out almost anything, without moving from my computer in la France profonde. Sometimes, even the internet doesn’t provide the immediate answer; but persistence pays off. So it was in the case of le château de Saint-Michel-de-Vax. Continue reading

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Buried Treasure at Teysseroles Chapel

Teysseroles - marking out the allée

Chapelle de Teysseroles

I’ve written before about the visit of the departmental archaeologists to Teysseroles, where we are helping to restore the 15th-century chapel. This is a requirement when works are planned at a historic monument, to ensure that nothing of significance is damaged or lost. Their test dig took place three years ago. Recently, a surprise was in store for our team. Continue reading

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A French Country Wedding

La Denterie - tiny chapel

Tiny chapel at la Denterie in Cantal

                    

Weddings were in the air a fortnight ago, with the latest royal event. As is often the case, my historical research appetite was whetted. So let’s go back a century or so and see how a wedding would have been celebrated in the French countryside. Continue reading

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Whitsun Walk on the Wild Side

Caylus - from above

Caylus from the hilltop above

Pentecôte (Whitsun) is the time for our village’s annual fête. It’s become a tradition for Caylus Notre Village (CNV), an association that promotes and protects local monuments, to organise a series of guided walks around the commune as part of the festivities. We duly turned up at the former lavoir (wash house), one of CNV’s projects, and put our best foot forward. Three walks were billed: 18 km, 12 km and 6 km. The SF and I opted for the middle one, feeling that the longest one would be a bridge too far. Continue reading

Posted in Places, Walking in France | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Loze: a Tiny Village on the Causse

Loze - glycine

Magnificent wisteria in Loze

Sometimes life takes you over. I’ve brought out two books in the space of a month and sung in two concerts, in Gaillac and a tiny hamlet near Puycelsi, in the past 10 days. I’m notorious for trying to do everything at once, but this is not always a recipe for success. So Life on La Lune has suffered a little as a result. Time for a little TLC.

This area is peppered with attractive and historic villages. It’s a pleasure for me to visit them and then to indulge my love of history by writing about them here. I hope I can give you some ideas for places to visit if you are planning to visit, or even if you already live here. Continue reading

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Orchids in SW France

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Orchis mascula. Early purple orchid

If my memory is correct, we first saw our house here in SW France 21 years ago today. The weather was glorious, as it has been recently – very welcome after a gloomy few months. In 1997, we noticed in particular the virtuoso song of the nightingales, the clarity of the night sky and the abundance of wild flowers in the fields and by the roadsides. Among these, wild orchids grow particularly well in our region at this time of year. Continue reading

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Getting the Garden Back in Trim

 

Orchids to mow around

Orchids grow abundantly on our lawn and have to be mown around carefully

What a lovely time of year this is when the weather is fine! At last, after months of gloom and damp, the past few days have been not just spring like, but summery. It’s forecast to continue for the rest of the week. It can go from freezing cold to blisteringly hot in the blink of an eye here. Yesterday we were in shorts and shirtsleeves – inconceivable last week. This can mean only one thing: time to get the garden back on track. Continue reading

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Cuckoos and Winter Weather 2017-18

Daffodils - spring

Daffodils in full bloom

If you live almost anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, you don’t need me to tell you that it has been a dismal, gloomy winter. The technical reason, apparently, is a “heatwave” in the Arctic, which has pushed the Arctic Jet Stream further south than normal and resulted in an uninterrupted wave of depressions. Thankfully, the signs of spring are appearing, more of which below, but I thought I’d share with you a summary of the statistics about the weather that we have kept for 20 years. Continue reading

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A Little-Known World War II Incident: the Croat Mutiny in Villefranche-de-Rouergue

Villefranche - Pont des Consuls

The tranquil riverside town of Villefranche, scene of pitched battles in September 1943

Our local Médiathèque (library) is a hive of literary activity. In addition to the literary festival that takes place every October, there’s a series of author talks throughout the year. On Saturday, we heard Adrian Weale, a former UK army officer turned military historian, talk about his researches into the German SS (Schutzstaffel). His session was particularly interesting because it included insights into a piece of local history: the mutiny by Croatian and Bosnian SS conscripts in Villefranche-de-Rouergue in September 1943. Continue reading

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On the Carpet: the Tapestries of Montpezat-de-Quercy

Montpezat - Collégiale de Saint-Martin

Collégiale Saint-Martin in Montpezat

I’m pleased to say that I have done one of the five items I listed in my January post of things to do in 2018. It’s now getting a bit late for the truffle market at Lalbenque, but that will resume in the late autumn, so all is not lost. Instead, we drove down to Montpezat-de-Quercy yesterday to see the restored tapestries in the Collégiale Saint-Martin and they are certainly worth the visit. Continue reading

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Five Museums in SW France You Must Visit

Albi - Cathedral dominates

Albi – Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile

If you read Life on La Lune regularly, you’ll know I’m a history girl. And there’s plenty of it around in our part of France if you just scratch the surface. Also, many museums in France open for free on the first Sunday of every month, like today. This is a good way to fill a damp winter’s afternoon. I find the giants like the Louvre a bit hard to get my head around, but the French are rather good at small, quirky museums. So here’s my selection of favourite museums in SW France. Continue reading

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All Aboard le “Moscou-Paris”

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Frozen sunset, February 2012

It sounds rather like a jolly luxury express, doesn’t it? A competitor, perhaps, to the Orient Express, with starched white tablecloths, gleaming silverware and sycophantic stewards. If only it were. In fact, le “Moscou-Paris” is the meteorologists’ nickname for a wave of glacial air straight from Siberia, rendered even colder by a sustained wind, and it’s heading for us now. From Russia with love, indeed. Continue reading

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Shaken, and Probably Stirred: Earthquakes in France

Viaduc de Millau 2

Ethereal but durable: what magnitude of earthquake would the Millau Bridge withstand?

Have you ever been in an earthquake? I have, when we lived in Birmingham, and it was a very odd experience. I must admit that it wasn’t a very big one and there was no danger of the house collapsing, although it did shake a bit. However, I can imagine the panic that a more powerful tremor would cause, not to mention the damage and the aftermath. France is not generally associated with earthquakes, but we do have them. This week, seismic activity in Europe has been unusually evident. Continue reading

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