Tag Archives: Moving to France

Life in Montolieu

30 Jan

We’re just beginning our ninth year in Montolieu. It feels like we’ve always lived here and yet it doesn’t seem possible that eight years have passed since we left the UK. Life here has been and continues to be interesting although now it’s a little quiet with COVID and not so much happening except through the internet. Let me introduce you to our village.

It’s a small rural village on the tourist trail. Consequently it’s very quiet in winter but very busy in the summer. It’s in the department of the Aude and boasts many attractions. We have thousands of visitors from across the world and many nationalities have settled here. The village dates back to the twelfth century and is included in the history of the Cathars. In fact the region now focuses its tourism on Cathar country. The earliest evidence of its age that I’ve seen in the village are the dates which are etched on some of the houses, 1700 is the oldest. It was a walled village and some of the walls still exist but I don’t know how far back it dates. The houses on les Ramparts have very interesting gardens which are built on several levels from the river Alzeau up to where the old wall used to be. On the other side of the village the houses rise up from the river Dure with terraces for their gardens.

We live in the Old Tannery which is situated just outside the wall next to the river Dure. Ours was one of five mills around this village and was used for preparing the leather for making leather goods. Other mills, as I understand from locals who used to work here, were for making the clothes. The village was surrounded by not only a wall but two rivers either side of the hill, the Dure and the Alzeau. This made it a secure village in medieval times. There is still a paper mill further up the Black Mountain which still produces paper 📝 and is open to the public.

Today it is called the village of books. There are 18 bookshops and 29 art galleries and artist workshops including a large old mill which has been converted into an exhibition centre and currently houses a collection called the Cerés Franco Museum and there is a museum with exhibits of printing machines and other items which relate to the area. Our church is a National Monument in the centre of the village. There are around 850 inhabitants of 28 different nationalities who live here all year round and we have gîtes, hôtels and B&Bs and five restaurants and cafes.

Alas we have lost one our restaurants, les Ange au Plafond during the COVID-19 crisis. We also have two food shops now. Our well established mini supermarket which is run by Nelly and was run by her mother and father before her and a small shop of local products which opened last year during the crisis called l’Abeille noire.

We are so lucky to have two automatic food dispensers in the village also. One selling organic vegetables from a local farm and the second local goods. This one is sited with our farm shop which opens every Monday and Thursday evening. Unfortunately all the shops have had to change their hours at the moment due to the curfew which means we have be be in our homes by six o’clock until six in the morning. However most French people buy their vegetables at the local markets and there are markets on different days in all the surrounding villages. Our wine merchant Adrian is open almost everyday and is well known and respected by the French for his knowledge and choice of wines from the region. The post office is run by our town hall and is open every weekday morning. Unfortunately there’s still two things missing from our village, a cash dispenser, which means we have to drive up to Saissac up the mountain or down to Carcassonne and a boulangerie as ours closed down a few years ago and we haven’t found a new baker yet to take it on.

The walled city of Carcassonne

Our health care needs are well provided for with a pharmacy, two doctors (a third one starting in June), two physiotherapists, one podologue, one speech therapist, two osteopaths, one naturopath and other therapists. We also have two schools and a care home which is a convent for retired nuns and is now open to members of the village. Before Covid-19 the children at our schools used to be able to have their lunch in the convent in their refectory. But the convent has been closed to visitors during the crisis. So the children now have their lunch in the village hall where the cooked meals are brought in for them. We are also well catered for with hospitals with two in Carcassonne, three in Toulouse, one in Narbonne and one in Perpignan.

Whichever direction we look there are places of interest for everyone. Up the Black mountain there are lakes and rivers and forests and the incredible Rigole which feeds water from the reservoirs into the Canal du Midi which winds across the plain between the Black mountain and the Pyrenees and stretches from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

Or we can go south to the Pyrenees and across to Spain or Andorra. If we go west there are the cities of Toulouse or slightly further north are Castres and Albi or the Atlantic coast. Going east we can visit the Mediterranean or the Camargue and a little further on to Narbonne, Montpellier and Marseille and onto Cannes and eventually into Italy.

Whatever your interests we can provide for most of your wishes from mountain climbing and skiing to sailing, swimming and parasailing 🪂 in the Mediterranean or hill walking in the National forests or visiting the huge caves with stalagmites and stalactites. There is a flying school at Carcassonne airport and a go kart circuit. From pony trekking to walking with llamas or water skiing on a lake. Many cyclists love the challenge of the routes which were taken a few years ago by the Tour de France up through St Denis. A route which is also favoured by motorcyclists along its winding roads up through the forests and down into the valleys.

Not forgetting the castles and chateaux of which there are numerous which you cannot get to without passing vineyards and olive groves or during July and August huge fields of sunflowers 🌻. A feast to the senses as well as great food. I almost forgot to mention that as in most villages we have a group of regular pétanque players who welcome visitors to join in. Who wouldn’t want to live here?!

How lives have changed

12 Jun

This year has been very different for almost everyone around the world. Life as we knew it became untenable. It was necessary to change the way we live our everyday lives to protect ourselves and those around us from a very virulent virus which has killed so many across the globe.

Richard and I are both OK although Richard’s rheumatoid arthritis is flaring up frequently, and he has tendinitis in his wrist. These problems make it difficult for him to perform some simple tasks sometimes. I have had a painful knee which has reduced my walking, as well as the regulations to protect us from COVID-19. With a new puppy, it is necessary to give the dogs as much exercise as possible so Louise has helped by taking them out on long walks in the countryside.

We are in advance of the UK inasmuch as we have been released from confinement in stages and in different parts of France. Our region was one of the first to be able to relax restrictions due to the lower mortality rate. Our restaurants and cafés were allowed to open again two weeks ago but have very strict rules to follow. Such as the person cooking the food is not allowed to come in contact with the customers and the use of credit and debit cards and contactless are strongly encouraged. Everyone must wear a mask and only remove it while eating. Our distance is one metre between people and all shops are marked out with a one-way flow and one-metre markers at all tills.

Many people are still working from home where they can and only last week have we been allowed to meet in small groups in private homes. So we had our first English class last week for Montolieu in our flat. Some schools are open & others aren’t. The library in the village is closed but many of the bookshops are now open. Visitors are still not allowed inside our care home in the village. There are many more rules which are being monitored by the police and gendarmes and the majority of people are following them. Before we were released we were allowed to go out singly or with the person we live with for food shopping, for medical visits or for exercise within one kilometre or for work for essential workers only, and we had to complete a self-certification stating what we do at what date and time we left and for a maximum of one hour.

Some of our families have been ill and had to visit the hospital. My cousin’s husband died of cancer as he was my cousin’s carer, and she is very susceptible to infection life is very difficult for her and her family. So it was difficult with a funeral to cope with. One of my sisters-in-law had a coronary last week & had to have stents put in. She’s now home in confinement but will have to return to the hospital for another stent later. Richard’s cousin’s wife had appendicitis and had to go into hospital for an operation. She then tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be confined separately from her husband at home. During the crisis, my niece had her second child and grandma and grandad had to wait to go and meet him. A friend of ours also had her first baby born in this period.

We were lucky here to have 2 volunteers staying with us before the lockdown, and they had to stay with us longer than expected, so we managed to get a lot more tasks done. They have both left now, so I can relax a bit.

Now confinement has ended here (although sports and other social functions are still not allowed) many businesses are reopening. One such business is Le Boat on the Canal du MIDI and around other parts of France. This has had a direct impact on our lives as Richard has been offered a job with them as an assistant customer service helpline operator for the whole of France. He started working this week and will be working 30 hours a week on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and all day Sunday at home taking emergency calls from customers. He will also work at the canal basin at Castelnaudary on Friday mornings. He’s so happy as it fulfils many of his passions, engineering, boats, water and helping people.

Now confinement has ended here (although sports and other social functions are still not allowed) many businesses are reopening. One such business is Le Boat on the Canal du MIDI and around other parts of France. This has had a direct impact on our lives as Richard has been offered a job with them as an assistant customer service helpline operator for the whole of France. He started working this week and will be working 30 hours a week on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and all day Sunday at home taking emergency calls from customers. He will also work at the canal basin at Castelnaudary on Friday mornings. He’s very happy as it fulfils many of his passions, engineering, boats, water and helping people.

Also, this week my Mazda car passed its MOT which we thought maybe a problem as it is an old car but I love it because it’s so flexible and can be used for towing the trailer and taking passengers and dogs which are things we do frequently here.

I’ve also had success with my bees and hope I’ll be able to take some honey from them this year. I need to learn how to use a centrifuge first which I can hire from our local Apicop which is an association of beekeepers which sells all the equipment necessary and gives advice on the management of hives.

That dreaded B***it word

16 Feb

Well I have avoided it up to now, but now is the time for me to express my feelings about the UK leaving the EU.

I have been using a forum called Quora which is a place to gain and share knowledge. It’s a platform to ask questions and connect with people who contribute unique insights and quality answers.

Someone asked me the question “What do the older generation in England feel about Brexit?” So I thought I would reproduce below my response.

I’m 69 years old and lived in Britain until I moved to France in 2013. The referendum result was a shock to me and a lot of my contemporaries. I got the impression that people were expressing a profound dissatisfaction with a lot of things, and at the same time not really understanding the implications of their decision to leave.

I’ve been involved in trading with Europe since before the opening of the European market in 1992. I was chair of the 1992 committee in my home town, when our mission was to explain to businesses the implications of the open borders. It helped a lot of small businesses to trade into Europe (and particularly France) and it was an exciting time. No border controls for goods, no tariffs, no long queues at Dover, no barriers at all. If it had the EU mark then any product could be sold throughout the EU.


I also studied how the EU worked, as a lot of my clients needed to know this. I formed the view that it was accountable although unwieldy and that it had the interests of all the citizens at its heart. It provided dispute resolution between countries – a much better way to resolve issues than the USA’s current trade wars. And I was proud of the role the UK played in the EU. My European friends often said, ”we need the UK, to control our excesses)”!


So I’m sad that all this is changing. I’m sad for my fellow citizens in the UK as they will be going through a profound change over the next ten years. No aspect of life will be untouched, I predict. They will change what they eat, what cars they buy, where they go on holiday, how they work, etc. And if j know Brits at all, they hate change and this is too much change all at once!

Images of a chaotic process

I have also been cutting and pasting images that either amuse me or reflect my view about leaving and I’d like to share these with you as well:

Brits abroad

I think the hardest thing of all for us British people who have taken advantage of the freedom to live and work in another EU country, is the almost complete lack of empathy (or even compassion) shown by those in the UK that support leaving the EU. I won’t reproduce here the many nasty comments that I have received after I have posted a comment or a question about Britain leaving the EU.

I can probably sum up the responses as either being “You chose to leave so hard luck” or “You are no longer in Britain so you have no right to complain” to those that basically tell me that it will be alright on the night. So just in case you are amongst the latter, who think it will be OK no matter what version of Brexit is put in place, let me tell you that having one’s life turned upside down is very difficult indeed. For the moment, I suspect most of you in the UK will not have noticed much change personally (apart from all the media publicity and ferocious arguments).

Those of us living in Europe have had to completely change our plans. Some have already returned home – there are many British people leaving our area, selling up and coming home because they are fearful that they won’t be able to afford the healthcare in France. That’s going to be a terrible problem for the NHS since you are now having a lot of relatively health migrants leaving the UK, to be replaced by a bunch of mainly older and sicker people!

Those of us who cannot return home (similar to us in that they have sold up and moved everything to France where the cost of living is lower and therefore much harder to return to the relatively high cost of the UK), and have decided to tough it out.

We are applying for permanent residency in France (called a “Carte de Séjour”). This involves quite a lot of work, assembling all the evidence required to prove we have lived over here for at least five years and that we have the means to support ourselves and not be a drain on the French social security system. Since we had no idea that we would have to apply for this when we moved here at the beginning of 2013, we had not kept much paperwork. So you can imaging the pain of having to get hold of utility bills and bank statements going back nearly six years.

Next, we will be applying for French citizenship. This is a more convoluted process which will entail several interviews and answering questions about our understanding of France and how life works here. Fortunately I have had a good grounding in this provided by my French teacher with whom I have had weekly lessons via Skype. I also can communicate quite well in French (for a foreigner) and, because I am over 60 years old, I am exempt from proving my competence by examination. But others are less fortunate.

All in all, it is an extremely worrying and stressful time for British people living in Europe. Just so you know!!!

Well that’s Christmas over with!

7 Jan

It’s all quietened down here after Christmas and the New Year. To be honest, it never got into gear! It’s one of the differences we noticed when moving over here – Christmas is not a big deal. Firstly, only 25th December and 1st January are public holidays (and only if they do not fall on a weekend). Secondly, as the holiday break is so short, there is not the frenzied rush to go shopping beforehand. So we quite enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere.

The ice skating rink – Place Carnot, Carcassonne

It can get quite cold over here, says Trish!


Les Gilets Jaune

The astonishing site of people protesting in yellow high visibility jackets (“les Gilets Jaunes”) has created quite a stir in France. It has certainly shocked the French government. The demonstrators have intermittently blocked roundabouts, commercial centres and motorways over the last eight weeks. They have caused chaos – and many firms are laying off people, complaining of drop in sales (up to 30% has been reported which is bad news just before Christmas, especially when many seasonal businesses get about 40% of their sales in the run-up to Christmas). They have also caused an immense amount of damage – in Carcassonne they have defaced the Prefecture and the Town Hall, vandalised nearly 30 cash dispensers and burnt part of the toll booth at Carcassonne East exit.

It has to be explained that this type of protest is perfectly normal in France – the police or gendarmes will only intervene if the protest or assembly is illegal (all protests have to be notified to the Prefecture three days in advance). In general. French people see this type of protest as perfectly acceptable; it is the right of the people to demonstrate. I know I found this hard to understand before I moved to France but now I see it is part of the culture here. And it often works.

However, the level of violence and damage is much higher than usual. And in part this is due to the average person feeling unrepresented by the authorities. The price of fuel (which has risen by 15% in the last 12 months) was the last straw. But many feel isolated, under-rewarded and forgotten. So they are making their feelings known. And it has worked in part.

Each mayor has opened up an official book in which any citizen can write what they want to see changed. It is based on six main themes, so as to give the result some cohesion. The results will be fed back to the elected people and from this the government will set out their revised programme.

Protesters in action

But now public sentiment is turning against the protestors as the mindless violence and damage continues. In Toulouse, there have been groups of female protestors, marching to say it’s not them that is causing the damage.

A New Venture

6 Oct

Since we moved to France we have learnt new skills, a new language and a different way of life. Probably one of the biggest and most difficult transitions being learning to be retired. Fortunately we moved to a place which requires a lot of labour, creativity and interpersonal skills while living and working in an international, frequently changing community. Besides learning French (Richard has had a shorter journey than me with this), we’ve also learnt about Nonviolent Communication (NVC). I prefer to call it compassionate communication as this better describes what it is about. This is also a long journey and a transition because it questions our habits and thought processes. I’m not about to go into describing this in any detail as this is not the purpose of this blog but necessary to understand why we are doing what we are doing.

During this journey Richard continued to improve his French by having weekly Skype calls with his teacher Pam Bel. As I started from a much lower level, I used the internet and a program called Memrise. I’m also teaching English to the French in Montolieu and in Carcassonne.  We’ve both attended several workshops in NVC. Recently Pam decided to retire after having written several short books on France and the French and asked Richard if he would like to sell off her stock of books at much reduced prices.

Meanwhile during this year’s European Intensive Course (EIC) in NVC, one of the trainers Liv Larsson brought several of her NVC books with her to sell during the course. These books are written in English and she asked me if I would like to help her to sell them during the 10 day course. I sold most of her stock. The course is in English due to the wide variety of nationalities present and uses interpreters to translate into French.

As many of the NVC trainers have written books it was decided to begin promoting NVC books in French on the NVC Peace Factory website. So we were also given a stock of NVC books in French, quite a few of which we sold during the course.  We live in the village of Montolieu, which is known as the village of books, so can you guess what our new venture might be?

Yes, we are going to sell books through the internet!!  At present we have stocks of very useful English books about living in or visiting France and books in French about NVC. We also have books in German which are currently being translated into English and French.

As this blog is written in English we are promoting the books on France and the French first. We think they will appeal to people who have homes in France or travel to France frequently for holidays or work or for students learning French or even the teachers who teach French to English speakers.

We have read many of them and will finish reading them all during our stay in the UK and have found them to be very readable and interesting even though we live in France and have done so now for five and a half years.

Here is a link to the synopsis of each book.

Is winter over, over here?

2 Mar

It’s not been that cold in the south west of France this winter. So far, we’ve had two separate snowfalls, each lasting just two days. So, merely a dusting in comparison with what the UK has been receiving this week. And we’ve only had two nights since the beginning of the year where the temperatures dropped below freezing.

I took Nettles for a walk this morning and shot these views of our village from down below where the residential home is.

In the top photograph you can see our church, which is an ancient monument, built between the 13th and 15th centuries.

But it is not all good news – for the last two months we’ve had exceptional rainfall. In one weekend in January it rained the equivalent of one month’s precipitation. The river which passes by our garden is running in full spate (and is very noisy at night).

Anyway, now that spring has arrived, the gardeners are active again. Soil has been carefully prepared and marked out. A garden plan has been drawn up by Trish. And she and several volunteers have already dug-in the compost, ready for the seeds be planted. In fact, Trish has already planted broad beans and peas. There are also seedlings growing in the greenhouse.

Later, we drove into Carcassonne and visited a place where they sell everything that is required for watering a garden automatically. As we jokingly explained to the man behind the counter, coming from England meant that we had little or no experience of automatic watering systems, since it usually rained a lot where we lived in Kent. He understood completely what we were saying! The next step is to go back to see him and show him the plan of the garden and then he’ll be able to calculate precisely the components that we need.

Below is a shot of la Montagne Noire that I took on our return to Montolieu whilst Nettles playing in the field nearby.

Keep warm out there!

The Garage

18 Nov

Today we started to sort out our garage. We had three boxes:

Recycle
Leave
Take

Plus we junked loads of stuff into the black waste bin as it could not be recycled.

It was amazingly easy to decide what to do with each item! Easier than I’d imagined. No attachment or hoarding issues, which bodes well for the actual move.