Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Burgundian Beauty

Kate's home in Lucenay-l’Évêque in Burgundy

Kate, it has been lovely connecting with you. Thank you for participating in my occasional series, ‘Australians in France.' 

Can you tell us about yourself and your French connection? 

I really discovered France later in life. My first trip to Europe was at 41, with Paris being our first stop. It was definitely love at first sight. Since then, my husband Nathan and I have been lucky enough to spend time exploring many regions of France, especially those noted for their food and wine. As a chef, Nathan looks to France and French cuisine as the foundation of modern cookery, and we have embraced our quest to experience as much of it as possible with great gusto! Our travels throughout France have provided inspiration for multiple hospitality venues that we have been involved in - a tiny laneway wine bar, a French bistro and a neighbourhood café. We love that we have been able to bring a little piece of France back with us to share with others and to help us not miss France as much when we are not there. 

Kate and her husband in their garden

You have bought and are renovating a property in France, do you live in France or spend some of the year there?

We take full advantage of the Schengen visa that allows non-EU passport holders to spend 90 days per 180 in France. That means that we are in France for 6 months of the year and in Geelong for the other half.

Can you tell us how you settled on Burgundy for your French home? 

We love many regions of France and toyed with the idea of buying in Normandy (good proximity to Paris) or in the Jura (fabulous wine) but Burgundy has it all for us. We love its scenery, its easy access to Paris, Dijon and Lyon and of course its iconic food and wine offerings. The weather is idyllic for us too … four very distinct seasons with warm and pleasant summers and crisp, cold winters. 

What advice would you give to other families who dream of buying their own special place in France?

DO IT! It’s incredibly exciting and rewarding and relatively easy. Coming from Australia, where housing prices and the cost of living is high, we found that you can actually achieve your dream of owning your own little piece of France very affordably. 

Have your criteria on size, price, region etc. but be a little open and flexible. Your dream home may be where you least expect it. 

Do you have any practical tips regarding the purchase process? 

Have the patience of a saint. Nothing happens quickly. French real estate agents (Immobiliers) are more relaxed and not always as responsive as ones in Australia. 

Make as many appointments as you can to see properties in person whilst you are in France. We made our purchase online from Australia and had only photos and one video to go on. 

Open a French bank account. This is not necessary for the purchase, but will have you ready to sign up for all your utilities. 

Use a buyer's advocate if the agent for the property doesn’t speak English (and if your French is not up to deciphering legal documents) They will  guide you through the whole process, even negotiating the sale price for you, will hold the key for you until you get to the property, and in our case, help you get your utilities set up. 

The French purchase system we found does not have the big negotiation range that we tend to have in Australia. You may only get a few thousand off the asking price. 

A new roof, electrics and septic are expensive works and a change in ownership may trigger having to bring existing systems up to code. Have your agent or buyer's advocate alert you to any impending costs. 

If you are looking at buying purely a home for holidays, maybe reconsider buying a 5-acre farm or anything with a lot of land involving upkeep. The grass and weeds can grow at a staggering pace. We know this first hand with our property. 

If you are considering buying in a rural area, make sure that your land boundaries and right of access for you and your neighbours are explained to you very clearly. Often plots of land are not adjoining and in many instances, the farmer or neighbour has rights to go through your property. This is to note, particularly, if you’re planning to put a pool or a garage etc.

What do you wish you had known before you signed for your French home?     

Just how patient you have to be!  Especially when you are purchasing remotely. We wish that we had been more aware that when the agent said that the house comes fully furnished (which most do) that he also meant that we inherited the contents of all the outbuildings as well. That in our case included copious amounts of rubbish, old white goods and a gigantic, rust-riddled bulldozer. We were quoted €2000 to remove it all. 

If you can, use tradespeople that are referred to you by people you trust and ideally from your village or town. Usually tradespeople only work in a very small radius from their home base. 

Might there be a renovation story or two that you could share?

SO MANY! One fun one was that we found a secret room at the back of the house that wasn’t on the floor plan that we were given by the agent. The owners had said there was something back there but that they had never entered the sealed and padlocked room. Nathan had grandiose visions of unearthing a priceless collection of vintage pinot noir, but all we found was a dusty small room with two dormant dormice who were not very happy about being disturbed. It has now become a candle-lit cellar lined with wine racks and with a wine cask for a table.  It stays at a perfect cool temperature year round, and is filled with a lovely (although not priceless) selection of local Burgundy wine. 

Is your long-term plan to welcome guests (holiday let, other experiential services)?

We want to have guest accommodation and host cooking classes and food and wine tours as soon as possible. The house and barn are being renovated with that in mind as we are dying to share our little (relatively unknown) part of Burgundy with as many people as possible. 

Do you speak French? I talk frequently with families who feel that their French would not be sufficient for either living in or buying in France. What are your thoughts about the level of language required?

Un peu…..

We have found that you can definitely get by with “Google Translate” BUT negotiations and renovations and friendships can be very challenging to cultivate without knowing some basic  French. At the bare minimum, we feel that a basic knowledge and understanding of pleasantries, numbers and every day conversation is important in becoming a part of your new  French community. Making this effort, coupled with a big smile goes a very long way.

I love to hear of different village traditions and stories. How have you adapted to life in your village and your village to you?

We have happened upon an incredible little village on the edge of the Morvan National Park to call our own. A large number of French people have recently chosen to call Lucenay-l’Évêque home and have made a conscious effort to welcome and embrace all who follow suit. This simple town houses a primary school, a convenience store, a renowned restaurant, a locally designed handbag shop, a hairdresser, an architect's studio, a recording studio, a brocante, a wine bar and soon a patisserie. We have a medieval church that is currently under restoration, a lovely river and a town square that hosts a pizza truck on a Saturday night and a butcher on Wednesdays. 

Our village has accepted us with open arms, and we are humbled to be considered a part of this vibrant community. We are routinely invited to all manner of events and celebrations - birthdays, music sessions, pig roasts, shop openings and weeknight dinners. We, in turn, host couples, families and large groups of new friends to BBQs and dinners at our little house on the outskirts of town. 

Our next door neighbours are incredible. They always ready our house for our visits by opening windows and doors to air it out in summer, or lighting a fire before we arrive in winter. This past Christmas they decorated the whole house with Christmas cheer, and topped it off with a real Christmas tree covered in decorations and lights. I was reduced to tears with their thoughtfulness and generosity. We are very lucky. 

If you can’t live in France, what do you think is the best time of year to visit? 

Oh it’s too hard to choose in our region….

Summer has exceptionally blue skies and endless sunshine. 

Autumn is just stunning with the colour of the leaves in the mountains and on the vines. 

In the colder months, our countryside turns into a stunning, snow-covered winter wonderland. 

We have yet to experience a full spring in Burgundy, and are anxious to see this area come back to life from its sleepy winter. 

We will say from experience that we feel it’s a good idea to avoid Paris in the height of summer as it can be very hot, and many restaurants and small shops are closed for the holidays. We also wouldn’t choose to go to Alsace again in summer, where the wonderfully rich regional food and wine is definitely more suited to snowy winter days than hot summer ones.

Apart from your special region in France, do you have any favourite French places that you would recommend to other families?

Lake Annecy
Annecy and it’s lake. It is staggeringly beautiful and clean and the views will stay with you always. 

Normandy and Brittany. Lovely winding roads with beautiful scenery and stunning coastline (oh and the oysters!).

Jura. Again, beautiful scenery and picture-postcard villages, with really interesting unique regional wine.

And finally, what is your favourite thing about French living?

For us, it is specifically French country living that we love so much. It is the slower pace of life, the scenery, the markets and their magnificent local produce, the affordability of food and wine and the ability to cultivate relationships with those with whom we come in contact.. 

Thanks so much, Kate. I look forward to staying in touch. It has been a pleasure chatting.

If you would like to follow her journey (highly recommended), Kate can be found on Instagram @lapetitemaisonburgundy.

Here again are my three books. Clicking on the links should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

I hope you never write another book

“Well, I hope you never write another book.”

“Thank you.”


Distancing myself momentarily from our conversation, I twisted, tweaked and reassessed the words, touched by his compassion. 


We had had no contact since our university days but, thanks to the vagaries of random social-media connections, we were talking again. And, how exciting it was to feel the power and anticipation of our as-yet-undiscovered futures.


Of course, we exchanged in the usual polite, but curious, way of adults. Where living? Married? Children? Work? Where are you on the life-satisfaction scale? 


Woah, how did we venture so quickly down that path? And, how to answer when, despite my cherished and gratifying choices, I’d rather be young and free?


Traveling, teaching, family, restlessness, adventure, writing … it all came out. 


“I have just published my third book.” It wasn’t bragging nor was it an attempt to impress. I was still in the emotional aftermath of putting my figurative pen down and in awe that my words had come for a third time. “Interestingly, all my books have come about because of sadness and struggle,” I continued. Woah, again. How had I not realised that before? 


I know that if our situations had been reversed, my reply would not have been so quick and probably not as thoughtful.

I don’t know whether I am an oddity in the author world, but I have not re-read or opened “With bare feet and sandy toes,” since I pressed ‘publish’ several months ago. It certainly has not resonated as widely with my readers. After all, it is not set in France. But, today, I noticed another review (below). Despite all the feedback that my books have generated, I am still bewildered that people, actual people, people who do not know me, are interested enough to pick up something that I have written and then take the time to share their thoughts afterwards. But I like it. 

I enjoyed this well-written, easy to read memoir, which is the author's third. I certainly want to check out her previous books.

Catherine tells us about her childhood, growing up in an Adelaide suburb in a strict yet eccentric family and attending a Catholic school. While it's not a particularly exceptional childhood, I liked the way that she wrote about it. The style is quite literary and thoughtful without being overly nostalgic. I'm not sure there was anything that significantly made it a 60s / 70s memoir, because she didn't have a television or know about pop music, due to an upbringing that was both conservative and not wealthy. If it had been set a decade or two earlier, I wouldn't be surprised. The same principle applies to the location, because although there are some elements which are uniquely Australian, the book doesn't dwell on Australia and so again, with a few tweaks to the text, it could be set in Britain or the US. This isn't a disadvantage and actually it helps to make the memoir more relatable. I wasn't so interested in the sports element of the book, but other readers might be.

I liked how the epilogue told us a little about her current life and the events which made her decide to write the memoir. The book overall is charming and heartfelt.

And now, for the sake of completeness, here is another recent review of my first memoir, “But you are in France, Madame.” I don’t mean to offend but, fuck, it made me laugh.


2.0 out of 5 stars nothing special no artwork or photos

Reviewed in the United States on February 8, 2023

Verified Purchase

I was disappointed in this book. the writing is mediocre; as if you are reading someone's journal entries. early in the book, the author relates a song, with a 4 letter [foul language] word in it, why is that even in the book?

Links below to my books. They should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Lucky is the wife whose husband is ...

Carcoar. En route to Adelaide. Note free town library

"I've finished a bit early. Are you free to pick me up?"

"Will come as soon as I can. Just helping to prepare my invoice. I didn't anticipate being here for two hours, but I got what I came for and a bit more," my husband replied.

"No rush. See you when you get here."

I tucked the phone in my handbag and, half closing my eyes, lifted my chin, filling my lungs with the salty air. Images of my last visit overlaid the blue and gold palette in front of me. There they were. My young children. Static and single-framed, like the press-out dolls of a longtime ago birthday present would have been if I had ever dared to destroy the perfection of the pages of two-dimensional paper models and their garments with tiny, hard-to-cut-out, square tabs, and hold them up to the horizon. 

It was one of those days when the insistent screech of the seagulls was unrelenting but not at all annoying, and, like my attempts to master the adjustable focus on my first real camera, the cries succeeded in blurring the past with the present. 

The footpath was bordered by a foot-high cement edge and, checking first that I was not readying myself for inclusion in a giant ant colony, I settled down to wait, my brown dress blending with the beige uniformity of the luxury apartment buildings across the road. 

Our conference chairs had been set to face the sand but between us and the rolling waves a thick blockout blind had been pulled down. Probably a good thing, I surmised, as I had lost the good student habit of sitting, listening and taking notes and was relieved when an early halt had been called to the hot afternoon session.

Photo taken at Victor Harbor. Not at site of conference.

"Do you know how many times a person looks at his or her phone each minute?" 

I smiled as, with my fingers brushing the top edge of the interior of my handbag,  I recalled my daughter's conversation starter over Christmas lunch. Plunging my hand deeper amongst the tangle of earphones, fold-up shopping bag, lip balm and dog-eared conference notes, I retrieved my phone and looked down at my latest message.

Lucky is the wife whose husband is in a bookstore 

With a slight furrowing of my brow, I glanced into the distance and back down again.

Sorry. Still haven't left as Penny, the bookstore owner, is insisting on individually wrapping each of my purchases at the same time as telling me what a lucky lady you are! Can't wait to bring you here.

D.A. Horn Antiquarian Books in Adelaide, Australia

Happy New Year. May your days be filled with the joys of an over-stacked bookstore treasure trove and the stimulating conversation of its 84-year-old owner whose answers to any question were not necessarily predicated on the essential or the related, but were eminently enjoyable (see below).

He would answer to "Hi!" or to any loud cry,

   Such as "Fry me!" or "Fritter my wig!"

To "What-you-may-call-um!" or "What-was-his-name!"

   But especially "Thing-um-a-jig!"

(from The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll)

Finally, a note for my Australian readers, I accepted an offer for a Kindle monthly deal from Amazon for But you are in France, Madame, which means that for the whole month of January, my first memoir is priced at only $1.49. I'm late, I'm late to this very important announcement, but there is still time. And, if you'd like to know the address of Penny's delightful Adelaide bookstore, let me know.

Links below to all my books. They should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.

Friday, 4 November 2022

In need

The aftermath of the flood

"You can take more if you'd like."

I lowered my gaze and continued to stuff my new-to-me purchase and packet of day-old rolls into the plastic supermarket shopping bag that I had just been given. 

My soulful tone was in tune with my sincerity.

"That is really kind of you, but I'm OK, thank you." 

Donald Bradman's birthplace

Ten minutes before, I had walked into the Red Cross Op Shop in Cootamundra and folded down my umbrella, which was acting more as a prop than anything vaguely useful, having cut short my six-kilometre walking tour of the town. It had never been anything more than an optimistic venture and I should have paid due respect to the solid black clouds that were readying to tip their warning buckets on me as I closed the front door of my camping cabin. Half-way around, I had not even stopped to go through Donald Bradman's birth house. No, 'Miss-just-do-the miles-me' had charged on, squinting through dark sunglasses at the directions on the paper brochure from the Tourist Office. Uh-huh, I see your quizzically contorted expression. Trust me, I couldn't wear my reading glasses without trip-trapping as I walked, so sunglasses it was to keep my hair from blowing in the wind and rendering me completely disoriented.

They, the sunglasses, however, were completely ineffective when it had come to re-routing the gale and keeping the rain⎯when it inevitably pelted down⎯from pressing my hair to my scalp, glueing my shirt collar to my neck and soaking silently through the unsealed seams of my boots. Did I look bedraggled? In need of care? Hungry? All of the previous? 

"Can I help you?" 

I was taken aback. Was it pity or suspicion that I detected in the voice of the lady behind the counter as I walked into the Red Cross store?

"Oh. Am I able to have a look around?" Perhaps, this was not a place for sales but a donations drop-off point.


I took that as a sign of warm welcome and headed deep into the store, spying a warm duffle coat from the eighties that had to be trendy again. 

"Am I able to pay with my credit card?"

"No. I'm sorry."

"Is there an ATM nearby?"

"Yes. At the IGA a couple of doors down."

Brandishing the one twenty dollar note that I had withdrawn, I re-positioned myself at the counter.

"How funny, each of my last few sales has been for fifteen dollars. I'm not sure that I can fit your jacket in a plastic bag, but would you like some bread?"

Mid shoving - yes, this jacket would fit - I worked my way slowly through the logic of her words and turned to survey the wrapped baguettes, packets of rolls and loaves of bread that were along the bench from me.

My hesitation lasted long enough to avoid the need to reply.

"It's free."

How could I say 'no'? I picked up the packet closest to me, pushing it in with my jacket and turned to go, refusing the offer of more.

Hours later, in an unfamiliar bed and through the haziness of my freshly found sleep, I detected movement and sound nearby.

The knock on our door came next.

"The river has burst its banks and the campground is flooding. You will need to evacuate." The voice was that of a local policeman.

"Now?" my husband enquired.

"Strongly recommended."

I jack-in-the-boxed up, pulled boots on over my sockless feet and threw as much as I could grab into the car with water lapping dangerously at its doors.

The sun taunted us the next morning as it revealed a damaged town in desperate need of every small financial contribution.  I'd happily wear second-hand every day as a choice, but I'm so glad that I put my discomfort aside and went deep into the Red Cross store.

Before the rain

Australian cricket captain walk

Map of NSW and Vic showing flooded areas in blue

Sunday, 4 September 2022

Conversations from France

I made my selection from the box labelled 'tomate ancienne 5,90 le kg.' Three only, but chosen with care and weighing in heavily at just over a kilo. Plus une aubergine. "Merci beaucoup. Bonne journée." I turned to go. "Attendez." And a huge handful of sweet smelling basil was plucked from a basket behind the market stall and tucked in beside my tomatoes. 


It was early but I had already swum in the lake. The water was languorous with the Chateau de Duingt and a brightly coloured hot air balloon visible through the low-lying cloud as I trawled in one direction with the grassy plains of the mountains from our side of the lake soaring up from my water bubble as I turned. 


We had a few jobs to do in Albertville, 40 km away - but, whoops. How could we have forgotten that French particularity?  Mince alors, the shops were closing for a two-hour pause. But we, too, had a trick up our sleeves.  It would be no hardship to abandon shopping for Coaxial cables at the hardware store in favour of lunch on the terrace of a little out-of-the-way chalet restaurant that we had spied from our backroads mountain passage on the way there.


I had to work a little harder than usual on arrival, as the role of the lady standing on the terrace of the restaurant vaguely near an opening that could have been an entrance was not clear. 

Me: Bonjour, Madame
Lady waiting: Bonjour, Madame.

OK. Where to now? That didn't help me work out who she was and if I should be asking her what I was about to ask her.

Momentary silence.

Me: A table for two, please.
Lady waiting: You haven't booked? (Yes, let's put a negative into the sentence wherever possible...very French) 
Me: Umm. I wasn't sure if you were the owner or a guest ... (slightly awkward smile as my voice trailed off) ...but, no.
Lady waiting: I addressed you with a "bonjour" didn't I?

Ouh là (expression of my surprise - thought, but not uttered)

Lady waiting: En terrasse?
Me: Yes, thank you, that would be lovely.

And, we followed her to a partly shaded table with views up and down the mountain range, Savoyard flags fluttering, the chatter of French voices and the spectre of cheeses roaming amongst the diners. Some could say - and I did - to the best spot.

A beautifully tattooed, smiling lady approached with menus.

"Here are your menus. Oh. Pardon. Firstly, Bonjour Madame, Monsieur." (Ah yes, let us not forget that nothing but nothing should precede that most important of salutations.)
"My husband will have les pieds de cochon (3 half pig's trotters 😨) and I will have the very non-adventurous croûte au fromage. 


"Excuse me for disturbing you, but would you mind if I took a photo of your raclette machine? I asked the  oh-so-French and oh-so-gorgeous couple sitting along from us.

"Not at all. Come this side so you can get the food into the shot," the monsieur answered with a wide smile through his carefully trimmed beard.

Delightful. All of it. 

And home, to close the shutters against the heat of the day and indulge in an afternoon siesta.