Summer’s Lease Hath All Too Short a Date: La Rentrée

SW France summer market stall

Summer sight: the olive stall in our village’s Saturday market

Yesterday, the summer holidays ended in France as children went back to school, people packed away their holiday gear for another year and workers prepared themselves for the routine of métro, boulot, dodo (subway, work, sleep). The eight weeks or so that appeared invitingly long at the beginning of July raced past in reality. In fact, the signs of summer winding down had been apparent in our area for the previous fortnight. Continue reading

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20 Years of la Vie Française

Caylus - view from the hill

Our village

Last weekend marked the 20th anniversary of moving into our house in France. We had arrived in France a few days earlier, but we regard the occupation of the house as the true anniversary. This year I had a long drive home from Charroux in Vienne, where I had been attending a literary festival, while the SF was preparing for a minor medical intervention. So there were no fireworks or bunting, just a symbolic glass (or two). We will make up for it later. Continue reading

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Ma Vie Française #5: Author Olga Swan

Olga’s favourite tree in Gaillac

My latest guest is a somewhat unusual occupant of this slot, in that she had une vie française but doesn’t anymore. More of that below. Olga Swan has had several novels published by Crooked Cat Books, including Vichysoisse, part of which is set in this area of SW France during World War II. Her humorous memoir of her life in France, Pensioners in Paradis, is coming out shortly. Let’s hear from Olga herself. Continue reading

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Bons Voisins – Good Neighbours

Les convives enjoying an apéritif

I’m constantly amazed at French people’s ability to conjure up a social event from unpromising components, whether it’s an apéritif, an improvised barbecue or a full-blown fête. Last night, some neighbours organised a repas de quartier, a neighbourhood meal, which are becoming all the rage. Everyone within a fairly wide radius was invited to bring dishes to share. Continue reading

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Varen: Haven by the River Aveyron

View of the château/deanery

I never cease to be amazed by the new things (to me) I discover in this region, where I have lived for 20 years. We haven’t set foot in Varen for ages and even then we didn’t stop to have a good look around. We rectified that last week when we went for dinner at le Moulin restaurant (more of that below). This small but historic village by the River Aveyron in northeast Tarn-et-Garonne rewards the wanderer with some time to spare. Continue reading

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Un café, s’il vous plaît

Coffee beans, Mark Sweep via Wikimedia Commons

Coffee fuels the French, who have a penchant for strong black espresso-type coffee. Having to use coffee substitutes during World War II must have been a real hardship in that case. A chance remark to that effect during a recent dinner conversation with friends got my blogging antennae going. Continue reading

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French Flavours E and F: Two Aveyronnais Specialities

Villefranche-de-Rouergue market in the shadow of la collégiale. You’ll find both dishes on stalls here

Time for another instalment of my French flavours series. I realise I have only got to ‘E’ and we’ll never get to the end at this rate, so this week I’ll do ‘F’ as well and you get two for the price of one. Both dishes are traditional recipes from Aveyron dating back centuries. You learn a lot about history and culture just by studying what people eat. Continue reading

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Water, Water, Everywhere – But Not a Drop to Drink

Entrance to the Source de Livron, which provides the area’s drinking water. According to local legend, it was once a dragon’s den.

The joys of living in a rural French commune. We currently have to collect our drinking water daily in bottles from the Syndicat des Eaux (local water board), which for us involves a round trip of about 18 kilometres. The tap water is contaminated with cryptosporidium parasites that cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illness, and may not be safe to drink. Because of the drought? Nope. The opposite. Continue reading

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Discovering a Former Railway Line

Former station house at Féneyrols

Do you enjoy travelling by train? I do, except of course when it’s cancelled or held up by the wrong sort of leaves or by vandals removing the copper from the electric cables, as happened to us recently in Sweden. We especially enjoyed travelling on the narrow-gauge, single-track railway in Corsica when we visited once without a car.

Micheline at Ajaccio Station. These trains were still in service when we backpacked in Corsica, but have been replaced by modern rolling stock.

Sorting through my hundreds of photos recently, I came across the one at the top of the post. It’s the station house for Féneyrols, on the River Aveyron. The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed an anomaly: there is no railway track. Continue reading

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Chèque ou Espèces? Cheque or Cash

French cheque book

It often takes a holiday in another country to throw into relief the quirks of the one you live in. We returned recently from 10 days in Sweden (hence the blogging hiatus), where things are a bit different from France. In France, you may well be asked if you want to pay by cheque or cash in a shop or restaurant. In many Swedish establishments, people will look at you as if you have just descended from Mars if you try to pay by either of those methods. Continue reading

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All Fired Up: Bread Ovens

Bread oven in La Piale, near Castanet

Bread oven at Lassalle, near Caylus

You may have seen these small, domed buildings, often tacked onto the back of a house, in French villages. They’re part of le petit patrimoine, not significant enough to merit historic monument status but important vestiges of past times, nonetheless. In the days when popping out to the boulangerie wasn’t feasible, the four à pain (bread oven) was one of the focal points of the local community. Continue reading

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Getting a (Social) Life in France

French gathering

Making friends is difficult when moving to a new country. Twenty years ago, our Brummie removal men asked, “Do you know anyone here?” When we said no, they shook their heads in disbelief. If you move to la France profonde, you’ll find developing a social life is somewhat different from doing it in the UK – the language sometimes being a stumbling block. So here is our experience. Continue reading

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Preparations for the Fête at Teysseroles

Chapelle de Teysseroles by local artist James Burr

I haven’t written much recently about the church at Teysseroles, which we are helping to restore. This is mainly because not a great deal has happened. I have to admit I find the sporadic activity on the restoration frustrating, but this is France and c’est la vie. The wheels of French bureaucracy grind exceeding slow, while Mairie, architects, Bâtiments de France and subsidy providers move forward one step at a time. However, our annual fundraising fête continues and we’ve been preparing the site ahead of time. Continue reading

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Ma Vie Française #4: Janine Marsh and the Good Life

Janine Marsh

Today, I’m excited to welcome someone who not only lives in France, but also has visited every corner of it. Janine Marsh runs a phenomenally successful website, The Good Life France and edits a free ezine, The Good Life France Magazine. She has recently published a book, My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream, which charts her experiences of her unexpected property purchase, eventual move to France and observations on la vie française. I caught up with her between travels this week. Continue reading

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Restoration of the Lavoir in Caylus

Lavoir in Caylus – current restoration project

Lavoirs, or wash-houses, are features of the landscape around here. In times past, this is where the women (naturally…) did their laundry. They were normally constructed by a spring or a stream, so if the women were lucky, there was one in their village or hamlet. If they weren’t, they had to go some distance to the nearest one. This explains why some of them are sited in places far off the beaten track. Continue reading

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French Flavours: D is for Diablotins au Roquefort

I have been continuing my researches to bring you another in my series of recipes of Southwest France. Here’s one you’ve probably never heard of – diablotins au Roquefort. I certainly hadn’t. Easy to make, with readily-available ingredients, they are composed of products that have been made and harvested in this region for centuries. Continue reading

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Finding Our House in France

Moon…and stars

Today is a very special one on La Lune. It’s 20 years ago to the day since we first saw our house. During our five days’ house-hunting in France, among the legion of properties we saw only two fitted the bill. Here’s the story of our adventures. It’s a rather longer post than usual, but that’s because I have edited and stitched together four posts that I wrote some years ago. I thought those of you who are new to the blog since then might like to read about it.  Continue reading

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#Paris in the Springtime #2

Notre-Dame de Paris

Here’s part 2 of the story of our first visit to Paris in 15 years. We had only three days in the capital, and so we were determined to make the most of it. Our shoe leather was definitely more worn by the end, but central Paris is compact enough to make walking the easiest form of transport. As well as things we had done before, we also made a point of trying new experiences. Continue reading

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Paris in the Springtime #1

View of Montmartre

People often say to us, “You must visit Paris all the time!” Actually, we’ve been there only twice as tourists in our 20 years in France, and I’ve been there for the day (!) a couple of times for work. We live more than 600 km from Paris and the train service is currently slow, although that is planned to change from July. Last week, we rectified the situation. Continue reading

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Tree Pests: Pine Processionary Caterpillars

Cocoon of pine processionary caterpillars

I trained my binoculars on the tree and zoomed in. My suspicions were confirmed. There was no doubt that the beginnings of a white cocoon about halfway up were the work of pine processionary caterpillars. If you look closely, you can even see one hanging off the bottom of it. Their tell-tale cocoons can be seen in large numbers in some pinewoods, and they are among the most devastating of tree pests in Europe. Continue reading

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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


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


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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