Sunday 17 September 2023

Yes. Italy.


Yes. Italy.

There, I said it. You are my witnesses.


Many of you know our story: that of a young Australian family with three school-aged children who went to France for a year, stayed for much longer than that, and brought France forever more into their hearts. There, we learned to live with passion and joy - savouring moments differently; appreciating tastes and sounds more intensely; developing new seasonal routines that somehow embraced flexibility; and resisting, before acknowledging, an unfamiliarity that ultimately became who we were.


Then we returned to Australia.

Please don’t be angry or judge me as I know that there is plenty of beauty in Australia too with daily opportunities for fulfilment, and a sweet and generous quality of life, but for me, that largely indefinable thing that fires my senses is elsewhere.


To backtrack a little, I went to France as a French speaker, a teacher of French with decades of language study behind me. It was still challenging but at least I had some certainty that I could get by in the language, and that that skill would facilitate my family’s integration.


I don’t speak Italian.

I am learning, though, and motivated to make fast progress. It helps that there are similarities both with French grammar and vocabulary. Not so, pronunciation. Will I, am I contorting the French language currently as a result of the incursion of a new sound system into my subconscious? ‘Fraid so. In minor ways. They still make me cringe.


My husband’s roots are Italian. He can sound Italian, after all his mother’s voice has been with him his whole life. But he doesn’t speak Italian. He grew up in an era when children of newly arrived Australian immigrants were ‘sheltered’ from the ‘inconvenience’ of having non-English-speaking parents. Mind you, no such restraint was practiced when preparing his pickle and salami school-lunchbox sandwiches. They succeeded in marking his difference just as effectively.

So, why not just return to France? Why Italy?


Growth, challenge, desire, anticipation …


Growth. I cannot exclaim proudly that we grew linearly as a result of our French living. Frequently, I shrank, struggled and hid, but something beautiful eventually came from periods of incomprehension and darkness.

Challenge. Our family adventure in France was filled with challenges. I expect that this new direction will provide even more but, perhaps obtusely, challenge drives us.

Desire. Does that even need an explanation?

Anticipation. Can we do this again? What awaits? Who will be a part of our journey? Do we know these people yet?

On a practical level, our Italian experience cannot be a duplicate of our French one. I have no easy European access as I did then. Brexit took that privilege away from me. So, amongst other constraints, we have time limitations. Plus, our children are no longer living with us, so we will not have the regularity of a school year and the immediacy of a school family to lean on. Plus, we don’t know where in Italy. A random opening of the Lonely Planet guidebook led us to Annecy. What will decide our destination this time?


There, I have put it out there. You are all my witnesses.


After all, if not soon, when?

Catherine's books (including her books celebrating her French-Australian life) below.

The links should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.

Merci mille fois

But you are in France, Madame: One family, three children, five bags and the promise of adventure living in the French Alps

Weaving a French Life: An Australian story

Love, fear and a return to France: A family memoir

With bare feet and sandy toes: Growing up in Australia in the 1960s & 70s

Thursday 24 August 2023

Love, fear and motherhood

Stormy days. Stormy nights 

‘I need help,’ the text message read.

We had chatted on the phone not long before and my daughter’s weary voice had clearly conveyed the pain that she was in and the effort that walking the few steps in the heat uphill to her room in Corfu would require. Signing off, she had promised that she would remain where she was until she felt that she had the necessary strength to do so safely.


Her ordeal had started several nights before.

“Perhaps the effects of partying too hard?” her boat captain had suggested.

“I don’t drink, so that is not it.”

“Sun stroke?”

“No. I take precautions against the heat.”


In her disorientation and needing full-time access to a bathroom, she had cut short her sailing trip, forgone a pre-paid bed in a hostel and booked a room in a guesthouse, not realising that it was on the other side of the island.


Still, there, she had no support, no easy access to medical help and the sliding door on her balcony, which adjoined that of other apartments, did not lock, giving her an additional preoccupation as a single, female traveller.


Receiving the above text message from her not long after our call came as no surprise. The content however punched with the full force of being seventeen thousand kilometres from her side.

“I’ll ring reception for you,” I said, simultaneously wondering how I was going to manage that conversation with my non-existent Greek and Googling to see if there was a local ambulance service.


“Take little sips of water and check in with us every fifteen minutes,” my husband texted independently, aware that dehydration could sneak up insidiously.


I got no response at reception, there was neither local doctor or chemist available and any chance of getting an ambulance on the island was slim.


Assistance finally came hours later in the form of an observant cleaning lady.


It was hard, so hard, to be on the other side of the world, feel my daughter’s distress and be unable to help.


But would I want to curtail her wanderings in order to minimise the likelihood of such events?




Did I consider jumping on the next flight to Greece?




Does this make me want to continue encouraging my children to seek adventure?


Yes again, as I believe in their desire to travel and their openness to encounters and rejoice in the beauty of their discoveries.


PS I’m nonetheless extremely relieved that she is now on the mend. 

Back to the beginning

Catherine's books (including her books celebrating her French-Australian life) below.

The links should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.

Merci mille fois

But you are in France, Madame: One family, three children, five bags and the promise of adventure living in the French Alps

Weaving a French Life: An Australian story

Love, fear and a return to France: A family memoir

With bare feet and sandy toes: Growing up in Australia in the 1960s & 70s

Tuesday 8 August 2023

Dancing in the dining room

We bought our French village house (Le Cormoran) the year after we returned to Australia from our family’s first French adventure - about which I wrote in ‘But you are in France, Madame.’ It was a heart decision, of that there is no doubt, based on the belief that our French journey was meant to continue. At the time, my passion was such that I brushed aside the implications of inheritance rules, tax declarations, mortgage repayments, changeable home owner obligations and the not insignificant 17000 km separating us from our French home, and flung myself into a new future.


To complicate matters (and to help with the above-mentioned mortgage), we decided to share our home with travellers. Easy? No. Rewarding? Yes. Alongside weekly summer and winter rentals, we have introduced families to our village who have gone on to become permanent Talloiriens; we have welcomed back guests several years running; we have facilitated long-service leave opportunities for couples to ‘live French’ and we have witnessed the joy of multi-generational groups sharing our home.


With permission, I am sharing with you some of the email and photos that I received from recent guests, Alan and Heidi:


 … the house, the location, and the environment are just the perfect antidote to the stresses of life. Staying in Le Cormoran gave us the authentic feel of life in the heart of a French village. We loved the ambience of the house, a classic French townhouse that allows you to step out of the front door and onto Rue André Theuriet, while at the same time providing a peaceful haven both on the first floor living area and on the rear terrace with its private garden and amazing views of the Dents de Lanfon. The house itself was just what we had wanted: authentically French, with its thick walls, shuttered windows and tiled floors, tastefully furnished, and with cosy attic bedrooms (along with the ground floor bedroom). We slept in the main bedroom on the top/attic floor. This presented us with the daily reward of opening the shutters and looking down Rue André Theuriet and seeing the bottom of the lake, the mountains beyond, and the occasional hot air balloon drifting above the lake. The heating in the house in the cool early spring and the hot water supply in the ground floor shower room made for very comfortable living. We loved the easy access to the lake - just a short walk out of the garage with paddleboard under the arm. Breakfast was invariably al fresco on the terrace. We spent our evenings, when not out and about, with an evening meal and a glass or two of wine at the dining table, catching up on Netflix or – wait for it – dancing in the dining room.

And for cyclists, Alan offers some superb options:

I cycled extensively, and would strongly recommend your house to any keen cyclists. Having a Category 1 climb (the Col de la Forclaz) on the exit from the village was a treat and of course you can try out both sides. I could not quite decide which was the more severe. And there is much more within easy reach. My personal favourite is any ride that goes beyond the Col de Leschaux into the Massif des Bauges. While the lake, with all of its many viewpoints, is naturally the most spectacular feature of the region, for me the Massif des Bauges pushes it close. The road from Leschaux to Bellecombe-en-Bauges has some great views once you emerge from the trees. Other favourties include the Col de la Croix Fry, the tarte myrtle at the Col des Aravis (Restaurant les Rhodos), Le Bon Wagon bike café on the bike path at Duingt, and of course Le Semnoz.  My top tip for cycling visitors who choose the circular route around La Tournette (Talloires - Faverges – Saint- Ferreol – Col du Marais – Thones – Alex – Bluffy – and home) is to take the back road back to Bluffy from Thones. So many cyclists trudge up the main road from Thones past Alex and up the hill, but there is a fabulous backroad from Thones via Thuy (Route de Thuy) through La Balme-de-Thuy and Dingy-Saint-Clair. There is then another backroad up to the Col de Bluffy. It avoids all of the traffic. Best coffee stop in Thones? Mountains Coffee Thones, 4 Rue Blanche. Lovely people.

Not forgetting the drawcard which is the lake:

Of course, the lake is the big feature. We took Heidi’s paddleboard to Talloires and it got plenty of use – usually from “Heidi’s launch point” down the lane (Chemin de Quoex). You quickly learn that the wind always blows down the lake, so paddling down the lake first gives you quite a tough trip back. By the end of our stay, we were swimming each morning before breakfast. The water had been cold on our arrival (we had wetsuits, but didn’t use them) but by early June it was perfect.

And some practical tips for getting around:

Surprisingly, we did not make many visits into Annecy. Most of our visits were to show guests the sights or, on one occasion, to meet some friends who were camping on the other side of the lake. We cycled in a couple of times on our own bikes, but also made use of the Velonecy e-bikes. The first 30 minutes are free, and the cost rises to just €1.50 for up to an hour, although you get severely stung if you keep the bike for over an hour. But one hour is easily enough to get into Annecy. The other method of getting into Annecy is the bus – Ligne 60. Again, for a bargain €1.50 each way, you can get in and back with no hassle. We drove in a couple of times but parking is either costly or difficult and, of course, there is traffic. I certainly would avoid driving into Annecy on a Saturday or Sunday in July or August (or June, or May, for that matter).

As for supermarkets, we tried the new Carrefour at Sevrier and the Intermarche in Annecy, but settled on Carrefour at Thones as the preferred option.

... and eating out in the village:

We did not push the boat out and visit Jean Sulpice (the Michelin-starred restaurant), but we did have a very nice meal (sorry, that is understating it – a fantastic meal) at Le Cottage Bise. It is from previous stays in Le Cottage Bise that we came to know all about Talloires and why we were so delighted to find your house available to rent. We also dined a few times at the Café de la Place. Several early evenings were spent with a beer/gin and tonic on the veranda at the Beau Site Hotel across the road, again taking in views of the lake as the sun began to disappear. It is a very good spot, and the hotel looks pretty good too.

The day after we left, I started to miss my daily visits to Le Fournil de mon Père.

And this is why, despite the challenges, we continue to offer our French home for your holidays. 


For bookings, either send me an email at or visit one of the major advertising platforms, VRBO or AirBnB.

Look forward to helping your dream of a French holiday become a reality.

Catherine's books (including her books celebrating her French-Australian life) below.

The links should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.

Merci mille fois

But you are in France, Madame: One family, three children, five bags and the promise of adventure living in the French Alps

Weaving a French Life: An Australian story

Love, fear and a return to France: A family memoir

With bare feet and sandy toes: Growing up in Australia in the 1960s & 70s

Thursday 27 July 2023

La Providence in Provence ... discover the good life


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

Can you tell us about yourself and your French connection? 

I spent most of my life until now living in Australia but took a big mid-life leap last year to come and live permanently in France. In my own defence, there was some logic to the decision. For the previous few years, I had been working for the Alliance Française (a French language and culture centre) and my husband is French. But the real decider was that I fell utterly in love with a crumbling farmhouse in Provence. It was La Santonne that signed the deal for me.


You have bought and are renovating a property (La Santonne) in France:


·      Do you live in France or spend some of the year there?

I live there…or to be more exact, right now I live in a mobile home in front of our house La Santonne.


·      For many, choosing to buy in Provence would need no explanation, but why did you choose Revest-du-Bion? 

If you are someone who believes in the power of the stars, then I would answer that I was led there by them. But the more rational answer is that a real estate ad landed in my inbox, I took one look at the photo of the property, was lovestruck and found myself on a plane three days later headed for France. In the meantime, I had discovered that La Santonne is actually in the town where my father-in-law was born. Some would say it “was meant to be.” My husband calls it “la Providence.” It does read like a fairy tale and I’ve written the whole story in my blog that I’ve just launched. 


·      What advice would you give to other families who dream of buying their own special place in France? Do you have any practical tips regarding the purchase process? What do you wish you had known before you signed for your French home?

It’s really important to be in contact with a notaire – a French conveyancing lawyer – before starting the purchase process. There are English speaking notaires in Australia who specialise in helping Australians buy in France. So I highly recommend tracking one down in Australia and making contact before going to look at property in France. I also organised a surveyor to check the structural integrity of the building before I made an offer. He was quite some guy … I’ve written about Monsieur Pierre in my blog.


·      Was your intention always to renovate in France? 

Kind of…but not to this scale! The house hasn’t been lived in for 26 years. It is officially uninhabitable and we are undergoing a huge renovation to bring La Santonne back to life again. Frankly, it’s much more than I expected to take on. But I fell in love at first sight and threw caution to the wind! That said, we had always intended to buy a property large enough for us and to set up an AirBnB to welcome guests to the region, so we had known there would be some renovation required…just not this much! It is quite a project and you can follow the unfolding renovation on the La Santonne Instagram account.


·      You plan to welcome guests to enjoy your French life. Can you tell us what they can expect?

The motto of La Santonne’s logo is “Discover the good life in Provence!” and that is exactly what we offer. We can show you where to go for good food, good wine and good company as you relax in the stunning surroundings of La Santonne. Guests will be staying in the old Shepherds House, which is at the West end of the La Santonne looking out to the Mont Ventoux, often with our ponies grazing in the foreground. This fully self-contained space will have a woodburning stove to cuddle up in front of in the winter months and a fully equipped kitchen so you can cook with the regional organic produce we can arrange to be delivered to your door. 


Our part of Provence – high on the Plateau d’Albion and in the midst of lavender fields – is off the beaten tourist track. We offer a more authentic experience of Provence life where farming is still the predominant activity and tourism hasn’t overtaken the landscape. The local markets are a riot of colourful produce and the surrounding countryside is incredibly diverse – everything from rocky mountain ranges to gorges with aqua blue rivers running through. My husband Patrice grew up in Provence and knows all the hidden spots only the locals know. We can share these with guests through our bespoke itinerary service where I put together a program based on clients’ interests. These can either be self-drive itineraries or guests can take advantage of the fully guided service. This is where I act as chauffeur and interpreter meaning that guests experience the real Provence by being able to chat with the locals and truly relax by not having to drive on the winding roads of the region. An extra glass of wine at lunch won’t be a problem! This is the real way to safely get off the beaten track and discover the real Provence.


To give you an idea of what the experience is like, here is a testimonial from one of my recent full-service tours:


“The beauty and history of Sisteron, the majesty of the Gorges de la Méouge, the richness of Valley de Touleronc, markets in Banon, a picnic, morning tea in an organic bakery known only to the locals (I can’t give it away), exploring perched villages and walking in the shadow of Mont Ventoux are what I chose and only some of what Nancy’s tours offer. It was an unforgettable day and I would never have discovered half of these perfect places without Nancy’s guidance. A magical experience!



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?

Yes, I speak French close to fluently…although the gender of all the nouns is still a weak point! It has definitely helped having a level of French enabling me to talk easily with the locals and make friends. That said, I don’t think my level is necessary for people not living permanently in France. For those intending to buy a holiday house and spend chunks of time there, basic French is enough to get by, especially if you are in areas where many people speak English (not mine!). But for a truly authentic experience, I do feel the more French you have, the more you can engage with the world around you and truly connect with the culture and people. And as someone who used to run a French language school, you can’t expect me not to encourage people to learn the beautiful language of French!  



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

I live opposite a tiny village of just 400 people and have become known as the Australienne with the huge black dog. Standard poodles are surprisingly uncommon in France and so the pair of us make quite an impression apparently! At the same time, given my father-in-law was born in the village, I often get told by locals “I knew your father-in-law”…even the mayor mentioned this to me when I went in for the official visit that is customary when one moves into a village. He then added that they used to hunt regularly together and gave me a big smile. So it’s like I’m half an alien and half a local. 


One little thing that I love in village life is the clock bell that rings at every hour and half hour from 5am to 11pm. I feel it accompanies me throughout the day. It’s a steady presence that reassures by its regularity and tradition. It’s probably been ringing for centuries.



If you can’t live in France, what do you think is the best time of year to visit? Apart from your wonderful place in France, do you have any favourite French villages or towns that you would recommend to other families?

I would definitely say May and June are my favourite months where I live. The beginning of spring sees the wild flowers blooming all through the fields and the previously bare tree trunks and branches push forth an amazingly rich array of shades of green. Everything seems to glow. The word stunning seems hardly to suffice.


Although Provence is home, there is another region of France that remains close to my heart: Alsace. In the north east and on the border with Germany, this area has a very different architecture and culture to the rest of France. It’s famous for its Christmas markets resplendent with colourful decorations, mixed spice Christmas treats and little wooden cabins selling all things perfect for the festive season. I spent 3 months living there with my children and we all have such happy memories of our winter in Alsace.


Can you tell us just one thing that makes your life in France special?

The feeling that life is beautiful here. When I wake up to the pink glow behind the Mont Ventoux, or sit with a coffee in the bustling market at my local town, banter with a stall-holder, or put the world to rights with the farmer I buy my hay from, then at the end of the day gaze out across the lavender fields with a glass of wine in hand …I feel there could be no more beautiful way to live than here.



Thanks so much, Nancy. Your comment "the feeling that life is beautiful here" resonates completely with me and I'm sure it does too with my readers.

If you would like to follow Nancy's journey, discuss a tour or enquire about one of her two apartments for rental (beginning in 2024) Nancy can be found on Instagram. Her blog, more photos and details can be found here

I look forward to staying in touch and thanks again for sharing your French life with us.

Catherine's books (including her books celebrating her French-Australian life) below.

The links should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.

Merci mille fois

But you are in France, Madame: One family, three children, five bags and the promise of adventure living in the French Alps

Weaving a French Life: An Australian story

Love, fear and a return to France: A family memoir

With bare feet and sandy toes: Growing up in Australia in the 1960s & 70s

Friday 14 July 2023

To clean or not to clean your number plates. Plus book 4 now out.

July 14. 

Today is a special day. France's national day? Yes. 

Publication day for my latest book? Also yes. 

I had actually intended to have book three in my series celebrating my French-Australian life out to you a couple of weeks ago, but ... life ... including a little run in with the police and a very expensive breakdown. 

The flashing lights and siren were clearly meant for my husband, Alex, as his was the only car on the road way out west in our very large state. Ah, I do a lot of kilometres each week for work, it was inevitable that at some point an incident would befall me, he surmised, as he put on his indicator and pulled off the road, remaining in the car as the policeman did the same before sauntering over to do a slow round of inspection.

"Your lights, sir."

Alex complied. All were working.

"Your indicators, sir."

Again, he complied with no issue.

"Do you know why I've pulled you over?"

"No," he answered politely.

"Could you please get out of the car and follow me."

Alex did as he was told, stopping at the back of the car alongside the policeman and waiting.

"Your number plates, sir, are dirty."

"Oh, I do a lot of kilometres on the dusty, open road, but I do have some water. I'll wipe them down."

"That will not be sufficient. I'd like you to head to the nearest town and replace them, plus I will need to issue you with a fine."

If the nearly five-hundred-dollar fine were not enough, they also came with three demerit points. Tough to swallow when a quick check revealed that driving whilst using the telephone - a whole lot more dangerous, I would have thought - was considered a less severe offence with a commensurately smaller fine.

A scant few days later, after an early start and a six-hundred-kilometre day-with very clean number plates-Alex lost power to the car just after nightfall, still 120 km from home. His luck was in, though, as he could capture a weak telephone signal and had just enough battery power to make a few phone calls. I was the first. 

"I'll come and get you," I said, "and we can leave your car until it is daylight."

"No. It'll be stripped bare by then. I'll see if I can get a tow truck."

The first three companies that he tried were not keen and declined Alex's request for help. The fourth agreed. 

Five hours later than expected, and another five-hundred dollars out of pocket, he arrived home.

The morals of the stories? 

You've understood the first already - go out now and check your number plates. The second? Always carry a spare tin of sardines. It will come in handy when you are cold and hungry waiting roadside in the dark - although a blanket, torch and water would have been useful too. 

And, with my community service announcement over, I wish you a happy July 14. 

If you'd like to check out my newest book, Love, fear and a return to France, here is a link, with my most sincere thanks.

À bientôt.

Books 1- 3 below.

The links should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.

Merci mille fois

But you are in France, Madame: One family, three children, five bags and the promise of adventure living in the French Alps

Weaving a French Life: An Australian story

With bare feet and sandy toes: Growing up in Australia in the 1960s & 70s

Monday 19 June 2023

Trusting in not knowing: Book 4 is on its way

“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 hope you never write another book,” he said.

(Excerpts from February '23 blog post after the release of Book 3 With bare feet and sandy toes)

But I have. 


Was it different this time? 


Yes and no.


As for most, the last few years have tested me. A wise soul in a deep, and deeply appreciated, conversation challenged me to look inwards.


“Truthfully, when searching for your ‘next’ are you moving towards something or are you constantly running away?” she asked me.


With that question hanging, 2023 arrived. My words started bubbling up again and my husband was a complicit sounding board. He recognised the drill. I talked and departed to cogitate. Repeatedly.


At some point, my daughter rang to discuss her trip abroad. I listened, we chatted and then I described to her how sitting at my desk to write produced the strangest directions. 

“I think I am going to go in one way, but I end up travelling along a completely different path,” I mused.


“Like this conversation. Yeah, I wouldn’t know,” she answered. 


Here. Here. You took the wrong turn at Opelika,” said Daisy.


Well, now, you took it with me, Miss Daisy, and you got the map,” replied Hoke. (Beresford, B. (Director). (1989). Driving Miss Daisy [Film])


Funny how trusting in not knowing keeps leading somewhere worth going, and thankfully my Hoke is along for the ride. 


I guess that is the yes.

Love, fear and a return to France out soon.