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.

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Bonne continuation!  

One of the fantastic sunsets we enjoy here

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Le Drapeau Tricolore: How France Got its Flag

French tricolore

French drapeau tricolore

Today, in homage to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13th November, President Hollande has asked people to hang the French national flag, le drapeau tricolore, from their homes. We don’t have one and, where we live, few people would see it, but I can do it symbolically via this post. And, as often happens, this spurred me to find out more about the origins of a national emblem that we tend to take for granted. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story: #9 Le Château de Mayragues

Château de Mayragues façade

Château de Mayragues façade

Time for another château. This time it’s one that has been brought back from oblivion by its current owners and in my view is an absolute gem. Le Château de Mayragues is not in our immediate neighbourhood; in fact, it’s almost an hour’s drive from us near Castelnau-de-Montmiral in the Tarn. But I have a particular fondness for this château, which we have known for some years. Continue reading

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When the Weather is Springlike in Autumn

Najac in the mist

Najac in the mist

I’m in the throes of the literary lunacy called National Novel Writing Month, and creating my second Corsica novel. This is not an easy task and it is made doubly difficult by the phenomenally warm weather we have experienced during the past few weeks. I just want to be outside all the time. This astonishing weather has brought out all sorts of beasts that would otherwise be hibernating or dead. Continue reading

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Autumn Colours

Autumn leaves

Autumn leaves

This autumn the colours are magnificent, made all the more vivid and luminous by the exceptionally warm weather for the end of October. A brisk, but warm, wind from the south has chased away the clouds and polished the sky to an improbable blue. We felt we had to make the most of it and so, wearing shorts, we set off on a favourite walk around the area. Continue reading

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Door Knockers in Southern France

Common style of door knocker in SW France

Common style of door knocker in SW France

Everyday sources often provide inspiration for my blog. Yesterday, strolling down the main street in our local village after visiting the market, I noticed the wide variety of ornate door knockers (heurtoirs in French) in a short space. I returned today with my camera. Continue reading

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The Wheels Turn at Teysseroles

Chapel front

Chapel front

As we know, the wheels of French bureaucracy grind exceedingly slowly. Try restoring an historic monument, as we are doing at the nearby chapel of Teysseroles, and they go at a snail’s pace. But now things appear to be moving, or so we hope. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story # 8: Le Château de Labro

Labro façade detail

Château de Labro façade detail

Yesterday was one of those luminous, mellow days that you get only in early autumn. The trees were turning and it was warm, but not hot. So we decided to take advantage of it to go for a walk and explore another château, that of Labro. The building is within walking distance from us in a remote spot overlooking the lovely Seye Valley. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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

Posted in Nature, Rants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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

Posted in Places, Teysseroles chapel, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

Posted in French life, Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments


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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