The Story of Notre-Dame des Grâces

Notre-Dame des Grâces 1

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

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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


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”

Winter 005

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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Eight Years On…


Najac 2012 - fortress

Château de Najac with the Seneschal’s House to the left. One of my favourite shots.

A little celebration is in order. Life on La Lune will be eight years old on Wednesday, which just happens to coincide with Valentine’s Day. Since February 2010, I’ve published some 586 posts, learned an awful lot about France in the process and, most important of all, been in contact with readers from around the world. One of the great things about blogging is that it opens up a cyber universe of new people. I love our interaction in the comments, which has resulted in some wonderful meetings in person. Thank you for reading my jottings and for making time to communicate. Continue reading

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Neither Resisters Nor Collaborators: Returning French STO Workers in 1945


Certain aspects of World War II remain taboo subjects in France, even among people who were not around at the time. For those of us whose country has not been occupied for hundreds of years, it’s difficult to imagine how divisive the German Occupation was. Communities and families were riven by different loyalties, by self-interest and by the desire simply to keep your head down and survive. These divisions continued long after the fighting was over, and led to often violent recriminations. Continue reading

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The Pros and Cons of Brits in France


Peter Mayle’s trio of books about life in Provence

Peter Mayle, the doyen of writers about the good life in France, died recently at the age of 78. His book, A Year in Provence (1989), describes how he restored an 18th-century farmhouse near Ménerbes in the Luberon with the erratic help of local artisans, while enjoying the cuisine, wine and culture of Provence. The book became an unexpected bestseller and spawned many imitations. Continue reading

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That Which Should Accompany Old Age

Espinas - Hamlet of Flouquet

Few hamlets like this are fully occupied these days, but a few elderly folk may cling on

Yesterday, we visited our elderly neighbour, whose wife died nearly two years ago. We often feel guilty that we don’t visit more often, but Monsieur F is almost 90 and now rather frail. He is very difficult to understand, even after 20 years’ acquaintance: the combination of the local accent and his absence of teeth don’t help. He is also hard of hearing and we have to converse through my husband, since our neighbour can’t hear my lighter voice. Continue reading

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When Should You Use Tu or Vous?

Salers Cow

Tu? Definitely.

Teysseroles 2014 - singers

Vous? Well, it depends.

Today, I revisit a topic that I covered when I first started this blog nearly eight years ago. It’s an aspect of French society and culture that perplexes Brits no end and whatever you do, there’s a fair chance that it’s wrong. Yes, the thorny issue of when to use “tu” or “vous”. A report this week on the TF1 news revealed that even the French are finding this less than simple these days and it’s changing fast. Continue reading

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5 Things to do in SW France in 2018

flute de champagne

None for us this Jan. 😦

Meilleurs vœux pour l’an 2018 à tous mes lecteurs. I will still be writing 2017 on cheques until the end of February. Have you made New Year’s Resolutions? I find those lofty aspirations are all too easily broken. However, the SF and I are having a dry January, as we did last year. We feel better, sleep better, but Mon Dieu! is it miserable. So, to distract myself, I will tell you some of the top things I plan to do this year. Look out for them on the blog later on. Continue reading

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2017: the Answers


Mistletoe – abundant in our area

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that le Père Noël was generous to you. How did you get on with the quiz? No cheating, I hope. Without further ado, here are the answers. See how well you did.

Continue reading

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2017

Copy of Love from Vanessa and Per xx

First, let me wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas. Thank you for reading the blog this year. I always enjoy reading your comments and emails. Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz, 7th Edition. My little Christmas present to my faithful readers and something for you to mull over over the mulled wine, or whatever tipple you prefer during the Festive Season.

Continue reading

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French Flavours: P is for Petits Fours


Petits Fours

Petits fours © smalljude, Wellington, New Zealand

As Christmas is approaching, this week’s post is a frivolous look at a mainstay of the French apéritif, le petit four. At a party recently, someone challenged me to investigate the origins of the name, and Life on La Lune can’t resist a challenge (but please don’t ask me to try bungee jumping or potholing). For those of you who thought petits fours were simply post-prandial sweets to be nibbled with coffee, think again. Continue reading

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French Stereotypes: the French Don’t Speak English

Beret museum

Typical French people? Courtesy of the Musée du Beret, Nay

Every nation is afflicted by stereotypes that other nations love to perpetuate. Englishmen wear bowler hats, drink tea all day, eat overdone roast beef and sport a stiff upper lip. Frenchmen wear berets, drink wine all day, eat garlic and carry their hearts on their sleeves. There’s sometimes a grain of truth in these caricatures, but only a grain. Having lived here for 20 years, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of these myths about France in an occasional series. Continue reading

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Absinthe Friends

Degas - L'Absinthe

L’Absinthe (1876) by Edgar Degas, in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Public domain.

It’s the drink that symbolised the Bohemian culture of la Belle Epoque in late 19th  to early 20th-century Paris. It was consumed by Toulouse-Lautrec, Baudelaire and Satie, painted by Degas and Manet and immortalised in early silent films. This beverage had a harmless-sounding nickname, la fée verte (the green fairy), but came to be demonised for its supposedly harmful effects. What is it? Absinthe. Continue reading

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S.O.S. French Towns

Villefrance - Collegiale de Notre Dame

Collégiale de Notre-Dame in Villefranche-de-Rouergue.

A few days ago, I had coffee with two friends in the centre of Villefranche-de-Rouergue. This Aveyron town, some 25 km from us, is one of my favourite towns in the region. It’s an attractive place, steeped in history and occupying a magnificent site on a hill stretching down to the River Aveyron. The 13th-14th– century collégiale (cathedral) towers over the town centre. But something is very wrong there. Continue reading

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French Flavours: Poule Farcie, a Classic French Dish


This one’s not for stuffing

The ubiquitous roadside posters advertising French fêtes and other social events very often have “poule farcie” emblazoned across the centre. This dish has a number of advantages for large gatherings. It can feed a lot of people and much of it can be done in advance. Chicken is no longer the luxury item it once was, although a Bresse chicken might set you back a bit. And it has the virtue of providing the starter as well as the main course. Continue reading

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A Film Record of an Aveyron Family Post-WWII


Belcastel (Aveyron), not far from Farrebique

Just after WWII, Aveyron was a different country from much of France. It took a long time to get there from anywhere else, people spoke a different language and the way of life had existed for centuries. Change was happening, but it was slow, and age-old customs and traditions clung on. Georges Rouquier, a documentary-maker, captured this world in his film Farrebique, shot in 1946. We saw it at the cinema in Saint-Antonin recently. Continue reading

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