Category: Living in France

living in the south of france

Living in the South of France

There’s nothing ordinary about living in the South of France. Especially in the spring. There’s always a festival , a brocante, a party or something extraordinary going on.

Here are a few snippets on “living in the South of France” in the month of May.

Lunch with friends

Now that everyone who has been away from Uzès for the winter is back, meeting friends for lunch is a must for catching up. Even though there were eight of us, the little backstreet cafe, La Boca, was perfect for our Saturday get together.

Ever eaten couteaux? They’re razor clams that were featured at La Boca.

Living in the South of France

Couteaux – Razor Clams

Roman Games in Nimes 

Each May in nearby NImes, there is a historic reenactment staged in the ancient arena. It’s world class. The Great Roman Games are presented just as they were 2000 years ago — chariot races, gladiators, Roman dignitaries and all.

This year the theme was “Barbarian Kings.” Romans and barbarian battles that raged throughout this area from 113 to 101 BC were brilliantly recreated during the 2+ hour show. The production crew that moved seemingly effortless on the arena floor constructed a near-lifesize fortress, a village market, and a realistic representation of the port in Marseille. For a snippet, view the video below.

Shopping at IKEA

My new apartment in Uzès is far from furnished as I’d like it. Moving from “Rapunzel’s Tower” to my ground-level flat was harder than I thought. In just five years, I accumulated a lot of stuff that’s not going to fit. Yet, I’m still shopping.

Living in the south of France, I’ve learned the French love IKEA. I haven’t checked IKEA in the US lately, but the store in Avignon is different and better than any I’ve seen. Right now shelving and storage for my kitchen is my priority.

Interestingly, when you rent an apartment in France, it doesn’t always come equipped with a complete kitchen. Sometimes there’s just a sink. Occasionally, there’s not even a sink. So renters have to create their own “cuisines.” You can take whatever you’ve bought with you to your next rental.

The kitchen in my first apartment was tiny. It had a sink, a cooktop and little or no storage. The new kitchen has bottom cabinets, a cooktop and an exhaust fan. Anything else that I want in the space, I have to purchase and have installed. Fortunately IKEA has good designs and affordable prices on kitchen fittings. Now to find the time to get it done.

What do you think of this?

living in the south of france

Renewing my Carte de Sejour

Yes, it’s that time of year … again. My appointment at the Prefecture in NImes to renew my carte de sejour was this week. Thank goodness for Renestance! Jennifer is so familiar with the people and the process at the Prefecture that it’s getting to be a breeze. That is, if you call pulling together a snapshot of your life and finances to present for your card simple.

This was my fifth year going through the French requirement for my 12-month visa. My compliments to the Nimes Prefecture this go round. They’ve figured out how to move people through the system. Perhaps it’s because of the number of Brits coming through the system due to Brexit.

Note: Tell Renestance the Barefoot Blogger sent you for a 10% discount! 

Best Steak in Town

Dining out at one of the restaurants in town is one of my favorite pastimes. I prefer not to eat alone. Ordering steak is something I’ve learned not to do. Generally, the beef that’s served is tasteless and chewy. Now there’s a new place in town for a really good steak — Paul and Cow. It’s so new it’s not on Tripadvisor. Don’t ask me why it’s not called Paul and Vache? Whatever … I don’t have to wait to go back to Atlanta for a good steak.

living in the south of france

 

Market Day in Uzès

What’s a week in Uzès without a visit to the Saturday Market? Just getting there is half the thrill. Yes, I do love living in the south of France.

Hope you had a great week too!

living in the south of france

Dordogne's Plus Beaux Villages

Dordogne’s Plus Beaux Villages: Beynac-et-Cazenac and Castlenaud-la-Chapelle

Recently I challenged myself to visit all the “Plus Beaux Villages de France” — France’s most beautiful villages. Perhaps I should have done a bit more research before making such a statement. There are 156 official villages with the “Plus Beaux” distinction. Even though France is only the size of Texas, it’s a big place!

Dordogne's Plus Beaux Villages

Now that I’m a bit more realistic about the “task” (albeit, a pleasure) it’s more feasible for me to do one region at a time.

Plus Beaux Villages by Region

There are 13 regions in France. The region where I’ve visited the most beaux villages in Aquitaine. It’s also where there are the most “official” Plus Beaux Villages in France — in Dordogne.

 Dordogne’s Plus Beaux Villages

Three years ago a hometown friend that I hadn’t seen in 40 years came to visit me in France. While here we entertained ourselves by driving from Uzès to Dordogne. Like typical tourists we focused on the area around the Dordogne river: the “classic” Dordogne: picturesque villages, medieval castles, limestone cliffs and caves with prehistoric drawings. The French call it “le Pèrigord.”

During our week-long tour we stopped at two of the most well known beaux villages in Dordogne — Domme and La Roque-Gageac. To learn about these villages read on here…

On the way back from my recent visit to the States, I intentionally stopped in Dordogne to see four of the beaux villages on my list: Beynac-et-Cazenac, Castlenaud-la-Chapelle, Monpazier, and St. Jean-de-Côle.

A Day in Beynac-et-Cazenac and Castlenaud-la-Chapelle

Because they’re so close together, you can visit both of these villages in a day. Admittedly, I lingered over lunch in Beynac so I didn’t see as much as I could have. But then, relaxing to enjoy your surroundings is part of the journey, too.

Beynac-et-Cazenac

If you dream about France, like I do, you’ve seen Beynac-et-Cazenac in your dreams. It’s a fairytale French villages perched above the Dordogne river, complete with narrow cobblestone streets, storybook houses and a stately castle at the top. You would expect Cinderella and her prince to appear at any moment.

Like all Plus Beaux Villages de France, Beynac is tiny. The max population for beaux villages is 2000. In 2015 Beynac had 552 residents.

It takes only a few hours to walk around town and through the castle. If you’re driving you can find parking at several levels on the way up to the castle. It’s a pretty steep climb if you stop at the bottom and you only want to visit the castle.

I strongly advise you plan to spend enough time in Beynac to stroll the streets and enjoy the medieval architecture. There are not many places that are as original and as well maintained.

They say the castle, “Château de Beynac”, is the most authentic example of a feudal fortress in the Pèrigord. Towering above the river and valley, it is a reminder of legendary conquerors like King Richard “the Lionhearted” who walked this very courtyard and within the stone walls.  Likewise, it is a shrine to wars that raged through Dordogne for over nine centuries.

If you visit Beynac on I sunny day like I did, enjoy a lovely meal with a “to die for” view of the river at La Terrasse des Chateaux.

Castlenaud-la-Chapelle

Literally down the road from Beynac-et-Cazenac is the plus beaux village Castlenaud-la-Chapelle. The magnificent castle, Château de Castelnaud, soars above the Céou River valley as if to announce “Look at me!”

Dordogne's Plus Beaux Villages

The proud castle, like its neighbor in Beynac, was the site of numerous wars and confrontations, including the Hundred Years War. It changed occupants between the French and the English seven times. During its history, the castle was burned to the ground, rebuilt, abandoned during the French Revolution, then used as a stone quarry. During WWII the fortress gave shelter to French resistance groups. Between 1974 and 2005 it was restored to its near-original state.

Dordogne's Plus Beaux Villages

Today the castle is one of the most visited spots in Dordogne, especially by families with children. A museum features medieval weapons from all over Europe. In the village perigordine style houses with high-pitched roofs are tightly terraced along narrow streets.

Dordogne's Plus Beaux Villages

When visiting Castlenaud-la-Chapelle there’s a large parking lot at the top. You can walk directly to the castle from there. That view alone will make your day!

Dordogne's Plus Beaux Villages

Stay tuned for photos and an overview of the visit to Monpazier and St. Jean du Côle. To read about the earlier tour of Domme and La Roque-Gageac, click here

Want to see more photos? Join the Barefoot Blogger on Pinterest

Dordogne's Plus Beaux Villages

 

 

 

Marseille, Resilient After All

Admittedly, my old view of Marseille came from mob and war stories in books, on TV and movies.

Now after visiting the city, I’m impressed. To me Marseille’s story is one of resilience. It shows how perseverance conquers adversity.

Marseille’s Story: Prehistory and Ancient Massalia

Marseille’s StoryThe earliest settlements in the area, now know as Marseille, date back to the Paleolithic period (60,000 BC). Residents lived along the Marseille basin which was about the size of the current city. The location was ideal for all types of sea activities. It was protected on the opposite side from the strong northerly wind, Les Mistral, by a range of tall mountains.

Around 600 BC the Phocaeans, Greeks from Asia Minor, arrived in the area to be close to their trading partner, Gaul. They named the city “Massalia.”

Marseille’s Story

Remains of Greek temple

A popular legend is that Massalia was a wedding gift from the Gallic king, Nannos, to his daughter upon her marriage to a Greek sailor. The story supports the belief that the nations were peaceful at that time. We do know the blending of the two cultures resulted in the introduction of olive oil, wine, ceramics and Grecian gods into the Gaelic world.

Marseille’s Story

From 600 BC to 49 BC the independent Greek city of Massalia grew into a prestigious seaport. Its sea trade, its infrastructure and its political system dominated the trade routes. They distributed goods along the coasts of Gaul to Iberia.

Marseille’s Story

Model of early Massalia

Marseille’s Story: The Roman City

Caesar captured Massalia in 49 BC. Artifacts unearthed at a site where the History Museum now stands attest to the Roman influence on the town. Massalia’s habits and customs, however, remained strongly Greek. Even the language.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: Sacked, Ravaged, Back on Track

From the Roman age through medieval times, the city that became Marseille saw great prosperity and near-total destruction. The Visigoths captured Marseille and the Franks sacked it. In the early 10th century, Marseille experienced a revival as part of a Provençal territory which was divided in two. Arles and Marseille were the capitals.

During the twelfth century, Marseille was an independent republic with strong trade relations and naval prowess. A currency of its own boosted the city’s stature as well.

Marseille’s Story: A French Center of Commerce

Marseille’s StoryMarseille maintained political autonomy until it was absorbed into the Kingdom of France in 1481 along with Provence. Through years of religious wars and changes in French rulers, Marseille maintained its role as a major center of commerce and a vital port for defense. The city had an arsenal and fleets of warships.

Marseille’s Story

Fort Saint John

Under Louis XIV, Marseille was given “free port” status. To affirm his political power, the king ordered a new urban plan for the city. The size of Marseille went from 65 hectares to 195. Straight streets lined with mansions appeared, including the Canebière that leads to the Old Port. The new city had a fort and a new town hall.

The Great Plague

Thought to be carried from Central Asia through ship crews, the Great Plague of 1720 devastated Marseille. Over 30,000 out of the city’s population of 90,000 died from the outbreak.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: The Revolution

The people of Marseille supported the Revolution sending hundreds of men north to Paris to fight. Along the way the rebellious marchers sang a song that is now the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

Marseille’s Story

Troops from Marseille as depicted on the Arch de Triomphe in Paris

Marseille’s Story: Boom Time and Gangs

The middle of the nineteenth century was a “boom” time for Marseille. The port became a maritime hub for the rest of the world. Trade with the Far East and major shipping lines boosted the creation of a modern culture. At the same time, prosperity cut a deep wedge between the already divided city. The rich against the working class.

Marseille’s Story

Refugees, expelled or fleeing from their countries after WWI, brought droves of Italians, Corsicans, Germans, Armenians and Spaniards to Marseille in search of work. The world of gangsters and the underground grew under leaders such as Carbone and Spirito.

Marseille’s Story

Paul Carbone (top) and François Spirito

Marseille’s Story: Modern War and Destruction

The image of Marseille as a den of violence, drugs and crime is persistent in the eyes of many. Big screen movies and TV series, still today, such as “Marseille” help perpetuate the city’s reputation. Marseille is the second largest city in France today, so an element of such activity can be expected.

It’s how Marseille survived the apocalypse during World War II that is nearly incomprehensible.

Marseilles’ Story

German troops seal off the Old Port quarter of Marseille, the harbour side community.

The Old Port and surrounding districts were bombed and destroyed. The Germans, the Vichy government, the Militia and the French Popular Party actively suppressed the people. In January, 1943, more than 2,000 Marseillais were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. 

Like a phoenix, Marseille thrives. 

Marseille has an enduring charm. The metropolitan area of 1.5 million people consists of a melange of people of all races, creeds and nationalities. It is a place of huge economic, social and cultural significance to France. Marseille is proud and it shows.

Marseille’s Story

For more about Marseille:

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

Moving to France: Patience

I’m not a very patient person. Never have been. When I moved to France, I knew it would try my patience.

Moving is one thing. Learning a new way to deal with bureaucracy and red tape takes frustration to a whole new dimension.

It takes patience

My move to a new apartment in Uzès, on top of recovering from my September 18th nightmare, has brought back to mind how difficult it is to do simple things in my new country… like having WiFi and telephone installed, or expecting dependable heating and hot water. You know, the essentials. I’m now two weeks in my new place and I’m still struggling with all of the above.

When I recently complained in an email to a new friend and blog follower, she reminded me of a post published five years ago. “You sound just as frustrated as you did when you first landed in Uzès,” she said.

Yep.

I must say, it’s worth a bit of agony to be here. I’m literally one step off street level. Three steps from my front door into the living area.

France takes patience

While the magnificent view of the Duché is no longer outside my office window, and the Medieval Garden is missing from my bedroom view, I’ve gained a regal courtyard and easy access. The latter is a godsend.

France takes patience

A new perspective

The September 18th nightmare wasn’t supposed to happen for at least five years. Five years from now I would have said “it’s time to go back to the States.” My whirlwind adventure in France would have ended with a big grand finale. 

That’s not how it’s going to end now. I haven’t had my fill of France.

Instead, I’m looking forward to stepping out this street-level door to spend more time with French neighbors and friends. After five years of watching the French enjoy their special kind of lifestyle, I’m going to try to participate. 

Yes, I’m going to be out there and I’m going to be speaking in French!

Stay tuned for next week’s news and another great adventure. A French language school in Aix-en-Provence. I’m so excited and you’ll be coming along, too! 

France takes patience

Memories Tour Day 12: A Wine Harvest Finale

How do you cap off an unforgettable twelve day tour of the South of France? By taking part in a wine harvest done the old fashion way, of course.

To make the day extra special, Nick Martin of A Wine Affair arranged for the “sensational sixteen” to visit a fifteenth century Mas and vineyard to experience grape picking and stomping.

Patricia Sands, author and tour leader, tells about the final day which ends with a spectacular dinner party in Arles.

And what a day this was! Have you dreamed of a mas in the south of France like this? Everyone in our merry band of travellers agreed they had.  This was a dream come true (Click here to read more)

Memories Tour Finale

Provencal lifestyle

Big Life Changes Ahead? Consider A Provençal Lifestyle

What does the Barefoot Blogger think about the Provençal lifestyle after moving to the south of France?

Perfectly Provence‘s Carolyne Kause-Abbott asked questions you’ll want answered if you’re considering a big change in your life after retirement. 

Choosing the Provencal Lifestyle to Embark on a Retirement Adventure

Deborah Bine spent her childhood in Charlotte, North Carolina dreaming of “faraway places” (her words). Her early travels included visiting her Aunt Rose in exhilarating Manhattan. “Aunt Rose owned New York — or so this sixteen-year-old ingénue from the Carolinas assumed.” On this voyage, Deborah learned some travel lessons that she continues to follow today:

#1 Take a guided tour of the new place you’re visiting (ideally the first day).
#2 Wear comfortable shoes
#3 Life is an adventure

Since those early days in New York City, Deborah’s thirst for travel has taken her to Asia, West Africa, Central America and well beyond. Newly retired from her corporate marketing job and recently divorced, Deborah followed a dream and moved from South Carolina to Uzès in France.

Deborah Bine Barefoot Blogger Provencal Lifestyle Retirement Adventure

The Barefoot Blogger is Deborah’s blog, which she launched as the reservoir for her travel stories. The blog posts are records of her approach to life and adventure as a solo, female traveller – a dose of humour, a quest for discovery and mostly lots of fun.

We asked The Barefoot Blogger to answer some questions related to the lifestyle in Provence and her experiences as an expat living in the South of France.


What is Provençal Lifestyle?

How would you describe the lifestyle in Provence to someone who has not visited?

To me the lifestyle in Provence is like life was in the 1940’s and 50’s, or as it was portrayed in movies and images. In the small towns and villages of Provence, shopkeepers know you by name. You can walk to most of the places you want to go. People are generally friendly and smiling. No one seems to be in a particular hurry, unless you’re driving on the roads. That’s an entirely different experience anywhere in France!

When you think of Provence what are the words that pop into your head?

History, flowers, wine, olives, and blue skies.

To some degree, Provence lives on its clichés in photos – scenes of lavender, sunflower fields, and boules players. Is this your Provence?

Yes, the clichés work for me, but, of course, Provence is so much more than cliché. Most important is the fact that Provence changes with the weather. Summers in Provence are busy, bustling with tourists and holiday vacationers who fill the cafes and markets. There’s a constant buzz of noise and activities.

During Autumn and Spring, the rhythm of life in Provence is calmer, cooler and less frantic. Everyone and everything slows down to a pleasant pace so you can enjoy the beauty of the villages and the countryside.

Provence Autumn Provencal Lifestyle Retirement Adventure Deborah Bine Barefoot Blogger

In Winter Provence is asleep. It’s a peaceful time of year that’s perfect for cocooning, for taking stock of your life and for planning your year ahead. Only a few of the cafes and shops are open during winter, and that’s OK. The atmosphere is warm there and oh, so French. It’s like a scene from an old French movie.

What does Mediterranean climate mean to you?

Mediterranean climate means “warm” to me. I’m from the southern part of the United States, so the weather in Provence is much like it is back in the Carolinas. It’s hot in the Summer and not too cold in the Winter. It rarely, if ever, snows. The most significant difference in the weather to me is the wind. Le Mistral is ferocious and seems to last for days if not for months.

What is your favourite season in Provence?

My favourite season in Provence is Autumn. There’s something unique about the colours of Autumn here. Perhaps it’s the way the shades of brown, beige and yellow meld into the stonework of the houses and buildings. When the leaves of grape vines are turning red and gold, it’s magical to drive through the countryside where vineyards stretch out as far as you can see along the roadway.

What is your favourite activity in Provence?

I love to go to Sète in the Summer, to eat all the seafood I can possibly hold, and sit under an umbrella at the beach — attended to by handsome and lovely young bar staffers who are serving icy, tall drinks, of course!

Sète Seashore Provencal Lifestyle Retirement Adventure Deborah Bine Barefoot Blogger

When you first return to Provence what aroma “says” I have arrived?

I know when I’m back in Provence when I smell the fresh, clean air. There’s no pollution where I live in France because there are no large industries, only a candy factory – Haribo. Highways are far away, and streets are mostly one-way with speed limits of 30 kph. So, no smelly gas fumes. Vineyards and olive groves surround the old town of Uzès.

When you leave Provence what is the thing you miss the most and wish you could take with you?

When I’ve gone back to the States to visit family in the past, I’ve tried to take some of my favourite foods from France with me – tapenades, truffle oil, sea salts and the like. For some reason, the things I love in France don’t transfer to my life outside France.

When you hear or see the term “Provence-style” what is your first thought?

The term “Provence-style” stirs thoughts of brightly colored things in my mind – bright yellows and reds, blue shutters on stone houses and rows of stately white and green plane trees.

Provence and the Cote d’Azur appear to evoke a decorative (home decor, restaurants, hotels) style – how might you describe this trend?

To me, Provence decorative style is ageless. The decorations and colour scheme of a simple farmhouse can easily adapt to the living spaces of a country estate or the veranda of a seaside resort.

Antibes Doors Windows

What about fashion style in Provence?

I never realised how much my fashion style has changed since moving to France until I posted photos of myself and friends say I look “so French.” To me, my style here is simply practical and suits the climate and my activities. Yes, I do wear lots of skirts and slippers instead of jeans and sneakers, but that may have more to do with my age than a fashion statement. Hats are a “must” nearly year-round. Read French Fashion: Bobo Style.

BFBlogger Bobo Fashion

The Provence that many imagine today is relatively “new” thanks to the likes of Peter Mayle and others. What is “Authentic Provence” to you?

If I could label anything or anyplace in Provence as “authentic,” it would be Arles. The tiny town with its Roman arena and amphitheatre, the shops with brightly decorated linens and gift items, the outdoor cafes, the festivals, the food – it’s all so Provençal. To me, Arles seems the way it has always been and how Provence is meant to be.

Arles Roman Arena Explore Provence @PerfProvence

Food in Provence

Life in Provence seems to revolve to a degree around food. How would you describe the food in the region to someone who has not visited?

The foods of Provence are influenced by geography and by the cultures of its bordering countries. From one end of Provence to the other you see, experience and taste foods that originated in Spain or Italy. The diet is influenced by the Mediterranean, featuring fish, poultry, fresh fruits, vegetables, goat and sheep cheeses and lots of olives and olive oil.

Sète Seafood Provencal Lifestyle Retirement Adventure Deborah Bine Barefoot Blogger

What are your favourite things to eat in Provence?

I could eat fish every day. The easy access to fresh fish, along with local, seasonal produce, makes me love to dine and cook in Provence.

Sète Seafood Provencal Lifestyle Retirement Adventure Deborah Bine Barefoot Blogger

Is there a food or ingredient that you wish you could find outside of Provence?

I crave anchovy tapenade! There’s nothing like a dollop of “tapenade d’anchois” on a thin cracker and a “verre de vin rosé.”

Expat Living in Provence

How important do you feel it is to have a decent level of French comprehension and speaking skills in Provence?

Those who follow the Barefoot Blogger know that I have a love/hate relationship with learning the French language. I know how important it is to be able to communicate in the language of the place I live. However, I continuously resist the discipline that comes with learning the language. Fortunately, I’ve been here long enough now that a bit of the language is rubbing off on me. I can hold my own ordering food in a restaurant and, with the help of sign language, I can pretty much make myself understood when I need to.

What resources might you recommend to others to improve their language skills?

I discovered the audio tapes of Michel Thomas this year through a friend. Thomas’s approach to teaching and learning French is unique. It speaks to me. Now I’m hoping to get the nerve to enrol in a French immersion class.

What resources might you recommend to expats and those considering a move to Provence?

There are lots of blogs written by expats like myself who have gone through the experience of moving to France. Check them out. Don’t hesitate to write the author for suggestions and information. When you relocate to France (or anywhere), be open to your new home and environment. Don’t try to make it like the place you left. Embrace the new, enjoy the differences and get out and travel as much and as often as you can.

Behind French Garden Walls: A Bit of Silk Mill History

When driving down the backroads of France near Uzés, it’s a common sight to ride alongside tall stone walls. You know these beautifully laid stones must conceal something amazing. Perhaps behind French garden walls there’s a story to be told.

Behind French Garden Walls

Not too long ago I was privileged to be invited to visit inside the stone walls of a property I’d passed by often. I was given a tour through the magnificent seventeenth century home and the gardens, as well.

It was everything I’d imagined. And more.

Behind French garden walls

The home is owned by a charming Belgian woman whom I’ve been privileged to know over the last two years. She bought the property in 1992.

Behind French garden walls

Built in 1684, the house was part of a farm that later was devoted to the production of silk worms. A “Magnanerie” to the French.

Behind French Garden Walls

My friend was unsure of the dates the property was used for silk worm farming, but during a period of time after the house was built, the silk industry in France was heavily supported by the government. “There were 2000 mulberry trees planted on the property at one time,” she said.

Behind French Garden Walls

History shows that under Louis IV, grants, free water usage, interest-free mortgages and more were offered to encourage silk production.

Behind French garden walls

By 1815 the French were dominant suppliers of silk traded around the world. There were over 2300 communes in France that cultivated mulberry trees and milled silk, employing up to 350,000 people. More than half of them were in and around the Cevennes.

In 1809, the Prefect of the Gard counted 1,140,680 mulberry trees and 4,713,000 in 1831.

Silks from France experienced a blow in the mid-nineteenth century when an epidemic fatal to silkworms hit the region. Never fully recovered from the setback, the Franco-Prussian War, the opening of the Suez Canal, and the introduction of nylon, were the final death knell to the silk industry France had known.

Behind French garden walls

Behind French Garden Walls

A vineyard of 1200 apple trees replaced the chestnut trees behind the garden wall sometime during the twentieth century, my friend said. She removed most of them to install an array of gardens, filled largely with roses.

Behind French garden walls

Today the garden and house are open only to invited friends and visitors. I visited in the Fall then asked for photos taking of the gardens during the summer. So you can see how the seasons change so beautifully around the Magnanerie.

Behind French garden walls

The interior of the home is arranged and decorated just as artistically as the massive property.

Behind French garden walls

I hope you have enjoyed this visit behind one of the garden walls of France. For any who might be more than intrigued, the home and property are for sale.

Behind French garden walls

Perhaps it’s your turn to live the “dream.”

Behind French garden walls

French Thermal spa tour

A French Thermal Spa Tour: Autumn in the Pyrenees

The second day of the French Thermal Spa Tour started with a drive through the Pyrenees to the “beaux village” of Saint-Bertrand-De-Comminges.

The road trip from our overnight at L’hostellerie des Cédres to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was a brilliant plan, thanks to my trip guide extraordinaire, Nevenka. She knew the view from Villeneuve-de-Rivière along the autoroute would be breathtaking. All along the way autumn colors unfolded before us. One turn in the road was more beautiful than the last. The snow-covered mountains of the Pyrenees were always at our side.

Even the brief time we stopped at a roadway “aire” (rest area) to fill up the gas tank was an adventure. Imagine finding a full-service cafeteria with lovely French cuisine on an interstate highway!

 

French Spa Tour and a Cure: Saint-Bertrand-De-Comminges

When the French designate a town a “Beaux Village” they mean it. The petite town of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges and its famous Cathedral are truly sights to behold. What is now a UNESCO cited medieval village of only a few hundred inhabitants was once where 30,000 Romans lived.

The colony was founded by General Pompey during the Roman campaign in Spain. By the fourth century the thriving town had its own diocese. Destroyed by the Vandals and again by the Germans, “Comminges” lay deserted for five centuries. The bishopric, nevertheless, was preserved so in the early twelfth century construction of a cathedral was ordered. From that time since the cathedral town has been a stage on the route to Santiago de Compostela.

 

Arriving on a Sunday during a church service at the Cathedral of Saint-Mary was, perhaps, not the best idea… or maybe it was. The church was closed for Mass. While waiting for the service to end, we had plenty of time to stroll through the courtyard and garden … accompanied by the most beautiful organ music.

 

As soon as Mass ended we scampered into the sanctuary to view the famous organ inside. The massive organ, considered one of the best classical organs in France and the only one of its kind in Europe, stands over 53 feet tall in a corner beside the entrance. The organ has three keyboards and forty-one pipes — twelve pipes are original from 1523. Across from the organ is a wooden wall that divides the entranceway and organ from the sanctuary. Since the service was just ending, the door on the dividing wall was open to let parishioners depart. We dashed through the door to see what we could before the next service.

 

Oh, that I could have stayed to discover more. Yet less time in the cathedral left more time to walk through the town.

 

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Our brief visit to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was a small preview of what lay ahead in our journey towards the Basque Country of France. Some houses had exteriors with wood and brick facings, others were decorated with strings of red peppers around doors and windows.

 

Before we knew it, we were running late. Our check-in with the doctor at the spa was at four o’clock. We were off… but not before one last photo.

French Spa Tour

Next stop the “cure”…stay tuned

(Part one: Visiting A French Thermal Spa)

French Spa Tour

Golden Girls’ Tour of France and Italy

Friends contact me for thoughts on where to travel around the south of France on “girl trips.” Let me share the adventures of my buddies, the Golden Girls, from our tour of France and Italy.  Perhaps you’ll get some ideas. 

Two of my long-time friends from work days in North Carolina asked if I’d like to join them on a tour of France and Italy. With the chance to see unfamiliar parts of France and Italy, plus the prospect of traveling with Arlene and Linda, how could I resist?

Tour of France and Italy Itinerary

Tour of France and Italy

Day 1-4 Uzès
Day 5 Pont du Gard, Nimes and Avignon
Day 6-7 Sete, Bezier and Bouzigues
Day 8-9 Pont Vendres and Collioure, France to Pisa, Italy
Day 10-12 Florence, Italy and surroundings
Day 13-16 Rome and surroundings
Day 17-20 Akiris Nova Siri, Italy (a resort along the “arch of Italy’s boot”)

So it begins…

Tour of France and Italy: Day 1-4 Uzès

My two guests from the Carolinas arrived in Uzès a day late after missing the flight to Marseilles from Paris due to an airline strike. They were dead tired. Showing them the 55 steps to climb to my apartment in the tower was not the best way to welcome them, but the excitement of it all gave them the adrenaline they needed to get to the top. Photos below are borrowed from each of my friends.

Tour of France and Italy

The “tower”

Tour of France and Italy

Just a few of the 55 steps

Tour of France and Italy

Top of the “tower”

The guest room was ready and waiting, along with the view — the home of the Duke of Uzès.

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

After a night’s rest they were ready to take in the sights and meet some of the locals in my new “hometown”, Uzès.

Tour of France and Italy

The shops along the plazas

Tour of France and Italy

Hen party at Le Provençal

 

Saturday Market in Uzès

No visit to Uzès is complete without a visit to the Saturday Market. If you’re planning to come this way, be sure to plan to be here on Saturday. It’s the reason I fell in love with this place. It’s still one of my favorite ways to spend a day.

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

 

Tour of France and Italy
A Golden Girl’s View of Uzès

One of the best parts of entertaining friends new to Uzès is to see their reaction to the surroundings.

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

 

 

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

 

Stay tuned!

 Day 5-6 Nimes, Pont Du Gard, Avignon

Chariot races

 

For more about visiting Uzès, check our About Uzès

 

 

 

 

Time to Renew the French Expat Visa

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to renew the French Expat Visa. It’s a gift from France that keeps on giving.

Wish I could say that everything about living in France is wonderful. But when it comes to dealing with French bureaucracy, frankly, it can be a nightmare.

As an American expat, I’m required to renew my long-stay visa yearly.  It allows me to stay in France 12 months. When renewing a visa you have to make an appointment at the local Prefector. You have to make the appointment online no earlier than two months before your visa expires. You can’t submit documents online. Most aggravating, the information you have to provide is the same your gave them the year before. You can’t just update it. You have to start all over again.

Here’s the list of items I have to produce this year. Mind you, not all regions of France have the same requirements. Wherever you are, however, materials except for your passport must be translated to French — including bank statements and proof of revenue.

  • Current carte de séjour
  • Passport
  • Birth certificate and translation
  • Proof of address (less than 3 months old)
  • 3 ID photos
  • Proof of revenue (proof that you have at least 1149 EUR per month)
  • Written statement (in French) that you will not work in France

Once your card is ready to pick up, you pay €269 in fiscal stamps. 

Renewing a French Expat Visa

Renewing my visa last year was a real pain. It was to expire in August. So I went to the website of the Prefecture in Nimes in June, two months in advance, as instructed, to set up an appointment.

“No appointments available. Try again,” it said in French, of course.

French Expat Visa

I tried the website again the next day. Same response. And the next day. And the day after that. The same screen appeared each time. “No appointment available. Try again.”

By the end of July, with no appointment, I was beginning to worry. I was told by others they were having the same problem.

“No need going to Nimes in person to ask for an appointment,” they said. Online only.

French expat visaOh, what to do? Visions of gendarmes at my door were running through my head. Worse yet, what if I finally got an appointment, and it was in September?!  I had plans to be in the Dordogne! How could I be in two places at one time? All those non-refundable reservations! Panic!

I started asking around for help. That’s when I heard about a company that helps expats cut through French red tape. Renestance. They literally came to my rescue.

The Renestance office is in Montpelier.  They can help expats wherever they live in France. Jennifer, whom I got to know quite well, lives in Nimes. We met more than once. She could easily go with me to the Prefecture in Nimes. Whenever we could get an appointment.

Renestance was having the same problem with the Nimes website with all their clients. Nevertheless, we persisted.

Renewing a French Expat Visa…finally

Finally, after sending a registered letter to the Prefecture explaining my carte de séjour had expired, I had an appointment. November 29th at noon. By that time I’d spent a vacation in the Dordogne agonizing that I might miss an appointment date. And I’d cancelled my plans to spend the holidays with my family in the States. Oh, the frustration!

During all the waiting, Renestance was busy working on my case. They were online multiple times each day and night checking to see if the website was accepting appointments. They were managing the translation of my documents. Most of all, they were dealing with me!

For example, the “original copy” of the birth certificate that I ordered from the courthouse in North Carolina, where I was born, the one my son hand carried to France when he visited, was lost. Bless his heart, my dear son went to the county courthouse, in person, picked up another “original” birth certificate for me, and sent it by FedEx to France.

By the time November 29th rolled around, everything was ready for the appointment in Nimes. Jennifer met me at the train station, guided me to the Prefector’s office, which had moved sometime over the past year, and she walked me through the whole process. Which, by the way, would have been impossible for me without speaking the language. Yes, American Jennifer speaks perfect French. It was another three months before I actually had a new carte de séjour in hand, but I had a signed government document that served the purpose.

So now, when anyone asks me if there’s anyone in France who can help Americans or other English-speaking expats through the French bureaucracy, the answer is “Yes!” Renestance. They help with visas, drivers’ licences, relocation issues and more. Jennifer is helping me again this year. She’s already made an appointment at the Prefector on March 5th. It’s all under control.

Thank you Renestance!

 

Read about the first experience with a French Visa

 

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