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The Pyrénées-Orientales in September

by Louise Sayers

73692It’s la rentrée at the beginning of September, and the sound of parents whooping for joy can be heard around the country! It’s great having the children at home and not having to get up at stupid o’clock but after 8 weeks of holiday, everyone is ready to get back into a routine, the children included. La rentrée usually entails procuring a long list of stationery items, dull class meetings where everyone tries to avoid being nominated parent délégué and signing children up for their Wednesday activities. For an insight into schools in France, have a look here.

September sees the start of le vendange – or grape harvest – in France. I’ve been walking the dog in the Vendange_1900vines and I can report that those grapes are fat, juicy and ripe for the picking. In the last few days the pickers can be seen in the fields and tractors are on the roads transporting the grapes ready to be squished and squashed and turned into lovely French wine.

Perpignan is all abuzz at the beginning of the month as photographers from around the world descend on the city for the Visa pour l’Image International Festival of logoPhotojournalism. This year it takes place from 29th August to 13th September every day from 10am to 8pm and it’s all free. I live right in the middle of it and enjoy being able to step outside my front door and have a look at some stunning photographs in some of the city’s most beautiful buildings.


- News stories of the year across the continents: war, crises, politics, unusual and remarkable events, sport, culture, science, the environment etc.

Tribute to Charlie Hebdo

Review of war zones and communities living in them: Syria and Iraq, the Kurds, the Yazidi people, Eastern Christians, Yemen – Libya, ISIS/ISIL

Ukraine, one year later

The Armenian Genocide, 1915

Ebola in Africa

TASS News Agency – 110th anniversary

ELLE magazine – 70th anniversary

Climate change & the environment

Europe & Immigration

Police violence in the United States

Earthquake in Nepal

Stories in Algeria, China, Afghanistan, Greece, South Korea, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Spain, Patagonia, the United Kingdom, Gaza, Haiti, Colombia, Belgium, Australia, Italy, Honduras, Nigeria, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, Malta and Cuba.

- Video books:

The Black Islands: Spirit and War in Melanesia by Ben Bohane (Waka Photos)

Bronx Boys by Stephen Shames (University of Texas Press)

Tomorrow is a Long Time, Tijuana’s Unchecked HIV/AIDS Epidemic by Malcolm Linton & Jon Cohen (Daylight Books)

Dans le ventre de Hara-Kiri by Arnaud Baumann & Xavier Lambours (Editions de La Martinière)

- Photo-Music Sequence: Edith Piaf & Billie Holiday

- Tributes to René Burri, Lucien Clergue, Charles Harbutt, Igor Kostin, Jean-Luc Manaud, Lars Tunbjörk and Michel vanden Eeckhoudt

175 France SOS Corporate Sept15


First take your Frog . . .

by Donella East

Fancy trying cockle curry, frog’s legs or Richard the Lionheart’s favourite dish of  roasted swan? Well, now you can with La Puce’s first cookbook, devised, planned and written by Donella East.

For many years, Donella has been accompanyingGeorge around France, organising and mostly keeping him out of trouble as he gathers material for his books. Early on in their wanderings, she began collecting local and regional recipes from home cooks and cafe and restaurant owners.

After twenty years she found herself with a clutch of carrier bags stuffed with menu cards and recipes jotted down on paper napkins and cigarette packets. ‘Last year,’ says Donella, I was having a clear-out and, going through the bags, realised theywere stuffed with more than a thousand recipes from every part of France.

I asked George if he thought they would make an interesting series of regional cookbooks. He said yes, but only if I tested all the recipes on him before publication.

Real French Food

French Impression -150 Fabulous Foolproof french regional RecipesNow, the first of four regionalised cookbooks is out, and contains 150 recipes from eight northern regions. As well as notes on history and culinary styles and traditions, the ‘menu’ for each region is divided into starters, main courses, puddings, cakes and breads. As Donella explains, the most fertile grounds for her recipe-hunting were the rural cafes and bars which offer an ‘ouvrier’ or workman’s special lunch.

‘As well as really well-cooked and sometimes amazingly cheap meals, by visiting an ouvrier you get to meet local people and find out what they like to eat at home,’ says Donella.

‘What I really wanted to do was give readers a selection of the sort of dishes that French people eat at home or in bars and budget restaurants. I also wanted to help de-mystify French cooking. A lot of people think that French recipes can be over-complicated, demanding and generally too fiddly. In fact, real French rural cookery is as straightforward as it can be inventive and delicious.’

As well as all those recipes, Donella’s cookbook also contains a section on her favourite  French potato  dishes from each region, and a step-by-step guide to the basic types of pastry used in the book.

Try a Taste

For an example of the sort of recipes you will find in Donella’s new cookbook, just click here.

In the garden – September

We have had our typical dry summer in most of the region although some areas had appalling storms and flooding towards the end of August.

Once there is moisture in the soil and temperatures are falling the autumn is the best time for planting  the vast majority of shrubs and perennials – there is warmth and moisture in the soil and the plant starts to develop roots before the cold of winter and in mild winters may keep growing during the winter thus producing a more established plant – better able to withstand dry winds and heat  next summer. 

Miscanthus Saturnio

Miscanthus Saturnio

In general the autumn planting season can start once we have had September rain and can extend until early December.  Remember that when planting it is a good idea to dig a hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the pot, take this soil out and mix some of it with terreau de plantation or compost (organic material) and clean sand or gravel, use this mixture to give your plant a better start in life!

Before planting fill the planting hole with water and allow it to drain away several times, this will ensue that there is moisture at depth for the roots to seek out.  Whenever possible plant small plants rather than large specimens, they are less susceptible to wind

Gaillardia Burgundy

Gaillardia Burgundy

rock, will establish faster and long term will result in healthier plants.  Stake plants if necessary.

Aster oblongifolius

Aster oblongifolius

If you haven’t yet done so now is the time to buy spring flowering bulbs from garden centres (jardineries) or by mail order, there are many online sources.  I have found that anemones (De Caen hybrids and Anemone blanda), native Gladiolus communis and Scilla peruviana (which is a Med native despite the name) do well.  Botanical or species  tulips such as Tulipa greigii, kaufmaniana, saxatilis & fosteriana are particularly successful here as well as other Med natives such as grape hyacinths and Star of Bethlehem.   When buying bulbs make sure that what’s in the

Epilobium Western Hills

Epilobium Western Hills

packet are firm, healthy looking bulbs with no signs of premature sprouting.

During September think also about the following tasks:

 *continue to deadhead perennials to prolong the autumn show of flower

*take cuttings of tender perennials such as geraniums (Pelargoniums strictly speaking)

*prune late summer flowering shrubs after flowering

*trim evergreen hedges

*clip back lavenders after flowering – use hand shears and clip back to just above the old flowering stem, don’t cut back into old wood as the plant may not reshoot.

The end of summer can be a time when there is a lack of colour in gardens but looking around there are also many perennials and shrubs giving colour.  Some of my favourites are perennials that come from dry climate areas of the USA such as Gaillardias, Epilobium Western Hills and Aster oblongifolius.  These perennials associates well with ornamental grasses such as Pennisetum and Miscanthus cultivars and also with grass effect plants such as Nolinas and Dasylirions.


At La Petite Pépinière we are offering two events during September and our two day gardening course in October; see below for more information. 

Sales prices on agaves, yuccas and related plants, 12th & 13th September

Many of us have faced watering restrictions in our gardens this summer and more than ever are looking for truly drought resistant plants. 

One adaptation that plants have made to survive drought is succulence – the ability to store water in leaves, stems and roots.  One group of plants that are succulent are the agaves, yuccas and related plants; we are all familiar with the large, spiky blue Agave americana and the white flowered Yucca gloriosa but there are many other plants in this familiy which are more interesting, less invasive, smaller and much less spiky that suit our local climate very well. 

We have been experimenting with a number of these at La Petite Pépinière over the last few years and now have surplus production so we shall be offering many of these at sale prices over the weekend of 12th & 13th September.  I shall be available to show you our experimental plantings and to discuss how such plants can be used in gardens and in what planting combinations and there will be greatly reduced prices on a range of plants. 

The following plants in 1,4l square pots will be offered at 5€ each instead of 8€:  Calibanus hookeri, Agave toumeyana ssp toumeyana, Dasylirion cedrosanum, Beschorneria septentrionalis, Beschorneria tubiflora, Nolina hibernica, Nolina parviflora, Nolina microcarpa, Hesperaloe funifera and Agave ornithobroma. 

We shall have a number of the gorgeous but slow growing Agave victoria reginae available in 10cm pots at 4€ each and a number of small plants in 8cm godets at 2€ each including Agave filifera schidigera, Agave lechuguilla, Agave striata, Dasylirion wheeleri, and Dasylirion glaucophyllum.  If you are interested in this group of plants come and find out more on the 12th or 13th September and if you want to research before then just copy the Latin name into a google search!  

Ornamental Grasses Day, Sunday 20th September

Imogen Checketts, Kate Dumbleton and I will be available all day to show you the ornamental grasses that are growing in the garden here and to give you advice on designing with grasses and appropriate planting combinations. There will be a demonstration of three planting designs, showing how to plant different grasses together as well as how to combine grasses with sub shrubs and flowering perennials.  A wide selection of grasses for sale will be available on the day.

Gardening Course: Introduction to Gardening in Summer Dry Climates,  Wednesday 14th October (11am – 1, 2 – 5pm) and Thursday 15th October  (10am – 12.30, 1.30 – 4pm)  2015

This is a two day course designed for those who are relatively new to gardening in the Languedoc climate.  The aim is to provide information and promote discussion in a relaxed and informal atmosphere which will help those interested in creating interesting and easy to maintain colourful, ornamental gardens in our summer dry climate. 

We’ll look at the nature of the local climate, the physical problems associated with gardening here (heat, drought, cold, wind, soil) and how to cope with these varied problems particularly dealing with drought and thinking about “waterwise” gardening; recognising plants which are appropriate to this climate; buying plants; planting techniques and maintenance.  We shall also look at design basics and working out planting schemes, succession (planting for year round interest) and plants for particular situations, for example dry shade or slopes. 

Appropriate resources and useful French/English vocabulary will also be included as well as a guided tour of the garden here to illustrate points made.  The course is designed for a group of between six and twelve people to allow time to discuss individual issues and problems.  The timing of the course is designed to assist anyone who may be coming from some distance and wishes to stay overnight on the Tuesday, if you would like suggestions for local accommodation just ask. 

Course fee: 100 euros, including teas & coffees. 

We ask you to bring a packed lunch.  For more information or to book a place please contact


La Petite Pépinière de Caunes (shrubs and perennials, ornamental grasses, unusual plants and plants for dry climates, garden advice and consultation), 21, Avenue de la Montagne Noire, 11160, Caunes-Minervois.



Open from the beginning of September until the end of November every Friday, Saturday & Sunday from 10am until 6pm or by appointment.

Desert Island Discs: This week it’s Vladamir Putin

by Max Bray of the Tab

first broadcast March 2014

The question on everyone’s lips – what are Putin’s Desert Island Discs? The Tab tells all.

Given the possible repercussions of Vlad’s imperialist tendencies we thought it would be a good idea to prepare his Desert Island Discs. Also politics can be super dull and someone needs to make light of the terrifying geopolitical trends emerging at the minute, so here are our thoughts:


The Beatles – Back in the USSR 

It isn’t difficult to imagine Putin standing atop a tank riding into conquered Kiev with a bit of John and Paul blaring from the speakers of helicopters overhead. Especially fitting given Vlad’s apparent wish to recreate some combination of the Russian Empire and USSR.

Justin Timberlake – Cry-me-a River

A lesser known remix of JT’s classic ‘Cry Me a River’, this Black Sea focused B side would fit perfectly in the iTunes of Europe’s favourite megalomaniac.

Boney M – Rasputin

Many of Putin’s policies seem to hark back to a Tsarist Russia, so why can’t his choice of music fit this too? A sing-a-long favourite in the Kremlin.

Electric Six – Gay Bar

When Vlad isn’t plotting world domination you can find him suppressing Russian homosexuals and riding horses with his shirt off. This song seems to fit his latent homosexuality and penchant for bareback riding perfectly (if you get what we mean).

“Let’s start a war, start a nuclear war,
At the gay bar, gay bar, gay bar”

Puttin’ On The Ritz – Harry Richman

Sorry, we couldn’t resist, this one even comes with an accompanying video that is pure genius.

Pussy Riot – Putin will teach you to love the motherland

Secretly Vlad is a massive Pussy Riot fan, regularly arresting and re-imprisoning the group because he doesn’t want the secret to get out, them to go big and him have to stop liking them because they’re ‘just so mainstream’.

One book apart from the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare

Watchmen – A chilling fable charting how Western decadence will ultimately lead to the nuclear decimation of New York, where Americans are the bad guys. Features in the comic book collection of every sociopath, power crazed dictator and world domination enthusiast from Beijing to Boston.

Also, there are lots of pretty pictures.

One luxury item

You Get Out What You Putin – “how Vlad lost his winter weight” DVD

Vlad’s exercise video is a little known treat, chronicling Putin’s progress from dumpy diplomat to toned Tsar. If only it were real.

Yes we made this.. It’s been a slow easter

Suggestions? Email За нашу дружбу!

Weekly market analysis

by Currencies Direct on 24th August 2015

Black Monday hits the markets

Welcome to the Weekly Market Analysis, where we wrap up the week that was and look forward to what the next five days might bring. Today has been hectic, so you may have already forgotten that Alexis Tsipras resigned as Greek prime minister.

But, as Alistair Cotton discussed this morning , it’s absolute mayhem on the markets today, andimage008 it’s not Greece’s fault. (And no, it’s not Black Monday because One Direction have called it quits.) The US dollar has everyone reaching for the smelling salts, as it reacts to the biggest fall in the Chinese market since 2007. The Aussie dollar isn’t looking too flash – it’s having its worst day in six years – and even now news is coming in that European stocks may hit their lowest point since 2009. Are the markets losing faith in the ability of the central banks?

Rate rise speculation helps the pound

The pound moved higher against the dollar last week (17 – 21 August) as an inflation report boosted expectations that the Bank of England is moving towards increasing its base lending rate. GBP/USD advanced slightly and briefly touched its highest point since the start of July, although Sterling failed to make any real inroads against the weaker dollar.

The pound was down more than 1% against the euro, which benefitted from emerging market weakness, but rose by a couple of cents against the embattled Aussie dollar. GBP dropped 1% against the Japanese yen and gave up a couple of centimes versus the Swiss franc to reach its lowest in almost a month as investors sought shelter in safe haven assets.

Mortgage approval figures, due out this Friday (28 August), will help give clues about the health of Britain’s property sector.

Jackson Hole Symposium a focus for the Eurozone

The euro advanced strongly last week (17 – 21 August) as it benefited from the flight from emerging market currencies. Germany’s approval of a third bailout package for Greece further boosted confidence in the currency, which added almost two cents versus the dollar to reach its strongest since late June. The euro was one of the big winners as minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting cast doubt on the bank’s willingness to raise rates soon. EUR/GBP was also up, while the euro lost some ground to the Swiss franc.

It’s another scant week for meaty data releases, but the German Ifo business climate survey is always one to watch – that’s due out tomorrow (25 August). Likewise German inflation figures later in the week should be of note. However, expect plenty of jawboning from Mario Draghi and co later on when the Economic Symposium kicks off in Jackson Hole. Attended by central bankers, finance ministers and economists, it always provides lots of talking points.

US dollar set for a white-knuckle ride

The dollar was on the back foot against its major peers for most of last week after minutes from the July Federal Reserve meeting showed the bank is not racing headlong towards a rate rise in September. Inflation remains stubbornly low and policymakers appeared cautious about raising rates too soon.

Figures showing Chinese manufacturing activity slumped to its worst level in six years fuelled fears about the state of the global economy, further denting appetite for the dollar. The dollar index, which measures the Greenback against its peers, shipped about 1% to reach its lowest in almost two months. This week will not be one of recovery for the Greenback – if this morning’s chaos is any indication, we should brace ourselves for things to get worse before they get better.

There was cold comfort for the dollar last week when it measured its performance against a raft of emerging market currencies, which suffered greatly amid the broad sell-off in riskier assets. The Malaysian ringgit and Indonesian rupiah both fell to their lowest level against the dollar since the 1998 Asian financial crisis. The US dollar hit a multi-month high against the Russian rouble and a 14-year peak against the South African rand.

Wooden spoon award

Special mention this week goes to the Kazakhstan tenge, which shed a quarter of its value against the US dollar as the oil-dependent country abandoned its peg to the US currency. China’s sudden devaluation of the yuan seemed to spark the decision to move to a free float, which steadied course a bit this morning as local companies began converting dollars to tenge in an effort to meet their monthly tax payments. The central bank has taken a calculated risk that the tenge will take only a week or so to stabilise.

Have a fantastic week.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 23.07.27

Your reading for September

Blood on the Water

by David Burton
41P1e66kQ4L__AA160_This book opens with young blood vampire Justine Kroft finally getting her revenge on Bill Service, the man who killed her mother twenty years before, and she is watched over by her friend, and elder vampire Simone Gireaux.
Avenged, the two vampires and their friend Teresa Diaz begin a road trip to discover what has happened to Teresa’s daughter Antonia, who has been abducted. They have been told by the Stephan Sinakov that she has been sold, but is she really still alive? Or has something worse happened to her?
Arriving in Boston they go to Kazza’s Psychic Store, and Simone asks the witch if she will use her magical powers to help them, but Kazza uncovers much more when she discovers that Teresa has magical powers.
As the three women set out on their quest, fuelled by a mother’s love, their kinship, and determination, their journey is a dangerous one which takes them across land and sea.
Desperate, hunted by vampires and tracked by oracles, they must call in favours from friends and use every magical power, sorcery trick, and gift they possess just to keep alive.
Yet their determination never waivers, but do they find her, and if they do, will she be dead, alive, or something else?
If you love vampires then you will love this book, it is an action packed adventure, full of magic, with a sprinkling of romance and plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat right up until the very last page.

The Lazy Cook (Book One): Quick and Easy Meatless Meals

by Susie Kelly
513EZx-hqIL._AA160_Great, simple recipes using fresh ingredients.
Roll over Delia Smith, here comes the next food goddess.
If you’re a normal human who would love to eat good fresh food from around the world which is quick to prepare and packed with flavour, then this is the book for you!
No fussy weighing, no rigid rules just delicious meat free recipes (fish and seafood is included). There are plenty of vegan and gluten free recipes, and the author has also taken the time to put notes on the bottom of others as to how they can be adapted.
What I loved about this book is that it embrace the wonderfully friendly character of this well-known author, making you feel as if you are sitting in her kitchen and she is telling you about each dish and its origins whilst it is being prepared.
Susie Kelly’s memoir’s and travel books have given her fans many insights into her varied life in her own very entertaining way. This new book not only offers a wide range of flavoursome recipes using fresh ingredients, it is also interspersed with interesting stories as we meet the characters who, and situations which have inspired them.
This cook book I know will become one of my all-time favourites. I know this because the recipes kept calling to me to try them as I read it. Well, tonight I will try the first one and I am looking forward to having my taste buds awakened to new flavour combinations and ideas.
Can’t wait until book two….

Soul  Retrievers

by David Burton
51LLih1MS3L__AA160_A journey through the Gates of Hell!
Errors happen every day in life, and in death…
This is why there are Soul Retrievers, special people whose job it is to enter through the gates of Hell and retrieve the souls of those who have been sent there by mistake. The training is rigorous and can take years, and often the ability to be one is passed down through generations.
Getter is a soul retriever, and so was his Father-in-Law. This time his mission is to find the soul of Brittany, a little girl aged ten who was sent into Hell by mistake.
But, what is it like entering the Gates of Hell? What do you find on the other side?
Well, the author of this gripping supernatural thriller takes the reader on a wondrous journey through those gates, into strange lands with mysterious landscapes. Where Getter comes across magical creatures, demons, unbelievable beings, and souls tormented in unimaginable ways.
As Getter travels deep into the very depths of hell on his quest he meets other characters like the jolly Scotsman Gregory who is trapped there, and other Lifers like himself. Soon he finds himself teamed up with Sneaker a vampire who is on her own quest to find a young boy, Little Bobby Johnston.
As they fight for survival in the realms of Hell, they find allies in strange animal and discover that ancient legends are true. Then, to his dismay, Getter discovers through Reech, a strange being called a Flyer, that it is his destiny to fulfil a great prophecy, but what is it?
As the underworld prepares for an epic battle, will the Soul Retrievers manage to find Brittany and Bobby? And, even if they do, will they be able to escape from Mephisto, the Helland Security Chief and enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
Only by travelling this amazing adventure with them, through the pages of this epic tale, will you find the answers to these questions. Will they all survive, and if they do, will it be to live a ‘normal’ life or will they die in Heaven or Hell?
This is a fantastic story with every page being cram packed with adventure and magical creatures. It has an exciting plot, amazing characters, and it kept me spell bound until the last page. I would thoroughly recommend it.

The Treebobs and Air Rena! MP3

by Declan Harney
TreeBobs-300x300A lovely magical story for children.
In this wonderfully magical story, the wicked witch Rotten Rena is up to her evil ways again as she embarks on a new venture. This time, she has decided that she is going to run a passenger airship over the Enchanted Forest, home of the Treebobs’ and fairies to the Dark Woods.
Of course, being her usual nasty self she doesn’t care about other people, and so she disturbs the fairies and Treebobs’ peace and quiet as she flies low over the forest in her noisy machine, making loud announcements. The poor Treebobs’ and fairies are so upset that Bindweed Belle and Treebob Brenda’s decide to visit Brenda’s uncle Mr McCloud, in Sky High Tower, which is actually a huge cloud, to see if he can help them.
You see, Mr McCloud has a very important job, he is a cloud maker. Clouds are very important, they contain water which can fall in many different ways, and Mr McCloud is very aware that his work can help or hinder many thing. He listens to them, and can understands their problem, but will he be able to help them?
Well, he is a kind and helpful man, and the good thing about helping others, is that when you are in trouble, they will help you. After listening to a wonderful idea from kind fairy Bindweed Belle, he calls in assistance from an unusual source!
The next day as the airship begins its maiden voyage, full of noisy cackling witches who are throwing food and rubbish over the side, their plan swings into action, but will it work?
To find out the answer you will have to listen to this enchanting story. Not only is it read beautifully by the very talented narrator Lindsay Abbott who brings all the characters wonderfully to life, but it also contains very important messages for children.
Available from the Tales4All website

Premium French resort announces golf course plans in the Limousin

A new luxury resort in the French ‘lake district’, Halcyon Retreat, has announced that work on its 18-hole golf course has started this week.

505124_num1094401_600x600Set out across the majority of the resort’s 220-acres of countryside grounds, the course will be first landscaped before the greens are laid. The course will enjoy breathtaking views, taking in fishing lakes, meadows and forested areas. The 1st and 18th holes will be just a few metres away from the exclusive clubhouse and the luxury holiday and rental apartments, which are currently being sold both as traditional freehold or fractional ownership.

The plan of the course was created by Weller Designs Ltd., a leading international golf design company. The firm who have been contracted to actually build the course is European Golf Services (EGS), who have a huge amount of experience working on courses all over the continent.

Robin Barrasford, whose company Barrasford and Bird Worldwide is the sales company behind Halcyon Retreat, regards this step as one of the most important as the resort continues to be created.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 11.33.24“Without a doubt the golf course will be one of the leading facilities within Halcyon Retreat once it’s fully playable. Along with the premium spa centre which is currently being constructed inside a 16th century château and other facilities such as an aquatics centre and equine facilities, the course will help make the retreat one of the leading resorts of its kind in France.

“It’s a big moment and we are sure that the sale of the premium studios and suites that are for 505124_num1094399_600x600sale close to the course will continue to increase now this commitment has been made.”

Managing Director of European Golf Services (EGS), Declan O’Malley, is excited to be involved in the project. “We are delighted to have been awarded the contract to build the golf course at Halcyon Retreat. This is a fantastic opportunity and one where we look forward to delivering a spectacular course.

It is such a natural site with a beautiful natural rolling landscape; it is dream location for a fantastic parkland course.  We’ve worked on over 100 courses across Europe yet this one is really special – we expect the resort to be spectacular when it’s completed. Now that golf course construction is underway we are moving yet another step close to realising that dream.

“At Europe Golf Services we are always committed to excellence and as such we take a creative and innovative approach to our projects. I’m sure that the project at Halcyon Retreat will result in one of the best courses of its type in the whole of Europe.”


Halcyon Retreat Golf and Spa Resort:

Located in the Limousin region of central France, the 220-acre resort is under development. Already home to a luxury hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant – Château de la CazineScreen Shot 2015-08-24 at 11.33.06additional facilities at Halcyon Retreat will include: a French spa (situated in a sixteenth century turreted Château), 18-hole manicured golf course, indoor aquatic centre, pools and flumes, children’s adventure zone, laser quest, mountain bike tracks, equestrian centre, two well-stocked fishing lakes, gym, fitness classes, wellness restaurant, boulangerie, delicatessen, boutiques, manicured gardens and grounds and expert culinary classes.

Luxury holiday properties are for sale in an area called ‘Le Village’, located close to the spa and 505124_num1094402_600x600golf course. This includes studios, 1 and 2 bedroom apartments. They are available to own from £130,000. 1/13th fractional properties are also available from £11,500.

Selling a House | Asbestos, Termites & Lead

PART ONE by John Marshall


As you may already have discovered, you have to be licensed in France to practice many trades and professions. This is not to give the bureaucracy more work, but to protect us, the consumers. My favourites, which I discovered when attending a training course to get a gun permit, are mole catchers who are also entitled to wear a very smart uniform reminiscent of a WW2 German army officer.

Before you sign for your property you should get several reports from a licensed “diagnostiquer”. Their report will come with a copious number of pages which not only describe what they have found but will also advise you upon the implications.

Reports upon septic tanks are provided in the name of a government organization called the SPANC and the Compromis de Vente (sales contract) can include information about swimming pools and merules (dry rot). Nothing can be as a good as a translation of the entire report, by a licensed translator of course, but here are a few basics.

Asbestos (Amiante)

Within fibre cement products such as drainage pipes, flues and corrugated sheeting is quite safe in situ provided that it is not degraded.

Canalite 2

Eternite – Fibre cement roof sheeting

The report will clearly state whether or not it is safe or degraded. Depending upon their exposure to the elements, fibre cement products should have a very long safe life, one should expect at least 30 years and often they last for much more. Signs of degrading are reasonably obvious – such as crumbling and dust.

It is rare but possible still to find asbestos used as insulation, this is more dangerous as it is not “hard” but fibrous so particles can enter the air around and be breathed in or ingested. If this is found in a property it should be removed by a licensed contractor!

Fibre cement roof sheeting is water and weather proof in its own right and is often used to cover agricultural and industrial buildings.

The common trade name that has entered the general vocabulary in the same way as “hoover” is “Eternite”. There is also a product designed especially to support canal roof tiles over dwellings. The contour is a perfect fit for canal tiles, so they tend to slip less and if they do, for example during high winds, water does not penetrate into the roof space. This unsurprisingly is called “Canalite”.

Asbestos has not been used in building products since 1997. Canalite is sometimes dyed red but be wary, some was similarly dyed before 1997. The diagnostiqueur will do a visual inspection and rarely sends a sample for analysis. So if they are unsure of the date of the fibre cement, they will err on the side of caution.

Even if the fibre cement is in good order there are two important points that you should keep in mind, and bring to the attention of anyone who works on your property. The dust created when sanding or sawing it should not be ingested, that is swallowed or inhaled.

Safe working practice is to wear a proper mask (and I don’t mean one of those cheap throwaway paper ones) and to wet the fibre cement where it is to be worked to reduce the creation of dust. Secondly waste fibre cement should not be taken to a general waste disposal site but to one licensed to handle it. The Mairie will advise you as to the location of the nearest one, and sometimes will even arrange for it to be taken there.



Considerable evidence of termites !

Not found in all départements and therefore a survey for them is not compulsory throughout France. Within some departments, such as the Vaucluse a report is not required in all Communes. I understand that they arrived in France on ships bringing timber for barrels into Bordeaux from the Southern States of the US and spread out from there. Whilst they are winged insects they usually only swarm and change location once a year. They burrow underground from the nest seeking food to return and feed the others, they can do this for several hundred metres and can burrow through stone and concrete.

If found by the diagnostiqueur in a property, they are obliged to report it to the Mairie. They should be killed, the wood removed or burned and new wood should be treated against further attack. In some circumstances the remedy may include fitting termite traps. These are boxes that contain paper soaked with a chemical. Visiting termites eat from the poisoned chalice, return to the nest and pass it on to others. There should be an annual contract to maintain the traps.

Generally termites don’t like the cold and draughts, so they burrow up and into the ends of wood from the ground or walls. You may have seen timber building uprights raised off the ground on metal posts and plates, it is not just to stop the ends rotting. Logs stacked on the ground will act like magnets for termites, so wood stored out of doors should be raised off the ground with air beneath by stacking it on a frame of stone, blocks or metal.


Termites burrow into the ends of beams

Termites burrow into the ends of beams etc. and eat the interior, so the diagnostiqueur will tap each timber to listen for a hollow sound. They may then hack off the weak exterior to expose the amount of the damage. Timber beams are often larger than needed so the loss of some wood does not necessarily mean that the beam has become structurally unsafe. This is particularly relevant where there has been damage caused by woodworm (vrillettes) who are surface browsers, a thin layer of a large beam eaten by them can often be hacked down to the good timber and remain adequate for its purpose. Some diagnostiqueurs will also report the presence of other insect attack such as woodworm and capricorn beetles but they will not offer advice on the significance of the damage caused.

Lead (Plombe)

Lead was in most gloss type paint up to 1948 and is still in some specialist paints for use in special situations. Children and animals have been known to die from gnawing lead painted woodwork such as in cots and stables.


The colours may be beautiful, but it’s lead paint . . .

The diagnostiqueur uses a detector on all painted surfaces that determines the depth and stability of lead. The report will identify the exact location and grade the risk 1, 2 or 3. If no lead is present it is shown as 0. Grade 1 is well covered, but you need to know it is there in case you work on the paintwork. Grade 3 is on the surface and degraded or flaking off and is a high risk as it could be easily ingested.

The risk is rather like asbestos, in that when it is worked upon by burning off or sanding the fumes & dust are toxic. An appropriate mask, not a cheap paper one should be worn and you are obliged to warn anyone working at the property that there is lead in the paint so they can take the proper precautions.

My understanding of current law is that where there is paint containing lead near the surface (Grade 3), the vendor must have flaking and loose parts removed and the surface covered with new layers of non lead paint so that the lead paint is at a safe depth, before the property can be sold.

 NEXT MONTH - Risk Assessment, DPE Reports, Gas & Electricity

© John Marshall 2015

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is back . . .

Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time.

Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one.

More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker.

It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

Published in 40 Countries on 27th August this novel continues the series that began with ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ that started a publishing sensation. The three books in the ‘Millennium’ series have sold more than 80 million copies and made Stieg Larsson, or rather his estate, very rich.

In case you didn’t follow it Larsson died without making a will so his estate and the revenues from the publishing and film success went to his family; his father and brothers and not his partner of 30 years Eva Gabrielsson who was his confidant and support as he wrote.  Which means that any reader who has not made a will and put your affairs ‘in order’, whatever your age . . . should do so now.

Anyway, back to the book . . . the author David Lagercrantz did not altogether receive the blessing of Gabrielsson! She was scathing about the choice, but then he was commissioned by Larsson’s father and brothers . . . Profits this time will go to ‘Expo’ the investigative magazine that Larsson founded (much the same character as Blomkvist and Millennium). It is believed that Gabrielsson handed Larsson’s last and incomplete manuscript on his computer to Expo . . . the plot thickens . . .

You can buy The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium Series) here . . .



Choosing the right wine in French Restaurants

Ian Blackshaw offers some suggestions

One of the delights of France is going out to eat, with such a wide choice of places to suit every taste and every pocket, ranging from the humble Estaminet (the French equivalent of a Pub) to Michelin Starred Restaurants. In fact, someone one said there’re three decisions to make each day: where to eat; what to eat; and what to drink!

When it comes to drink, France is particularly well-known for its wines. Choosing wine in a restaurant need not be such an intimidating task. Of course, one can always rely on the recommendations of the sommelier, who, if he or she – and there are some well-trained, knowledgeable and experienced female sommeliers around – is worth their salt, they will not, generally speaking, rip you off! After all, they – and their bosses – will want you to enjoy their choice and for you to come back to their restaurant. Don’t, however, be intimidated by them. Some can be quite pushy and condescending. Also, they are usually in a hurry rushing from table to table, advising, tasting and serving. Get their attention and keep it until your questions have been answered and a good choice of wine made!

Take your time looking at the wine list (la carte des vins). Depending on the establishment, this will Red_White_Winebe well laid out and informative. In some places, it is voluminous and known as ‘la Bible’! If you like wine from a particular region, say, Burgundy, then look at what’s on offer. If, by chance, there is no vintage indicated, ask the sommelier to bring you a bottle and check the year for yourself. Remember, generally speaking, with reds the older the better; with whites the younger the better. Remember the acronym ‘dya’ – drink the youngest available. Never be rushed into making the final selection.

Again, if you’re not sure of a particular wine that takes your fancy on the wine list, ask the sommelier to tell you about its particular characteristics. Will it go well with what you have chosen to eat? Matching the wine with the food is so important, if the culinary experience will be a satisfying and memorable one! This is particularly true of regional cooking, where a local wine is often the best bet.

Don’t go, necessarily, for the cheapest bottle in the category selected. For example, with a Burgundy, French Wine Corksa ‘Passe-Tout-Grains’ may well be the cheapest, but it’s usually pretty horrible compared, for example, with a ‘Gevrey-Chambertin’! Also, ask about the year to compare prices. Why is one bottle more expensive than its counterpart? There will be a reason for this and you will need to find out to make an informed choice! Incidentally, when the French dine out, they generally tend to choose the best wines irrespective of the price. They are out to enjoy themselves! Perhaps we Brits should follow their example and leave ‘Scrooge’ behind!

Whilst on the subject of vintages, you will need to appreciate a couple of abbreviations often used on French wine lists: NV and VV. The former stands for non-vintage, meaning that the wine is a blend (cuvee) of different years – this will apply especially to champagne. The latter is for a vintage-dated wine but without the year being specified. So, you’ll need to ask the year; the restaurateur may not wish to change the wine list when the vintage of the particular wine changes!

In some restaurants, they feature ‘wines of the month’, usually offered at reasonable prices. Again, find out about them before choosing one of them. But also, don’t be guided solely by price.

WSRI-4400-28As for an aperitif, a glass (coupe) of the house Champagne is often a good bet! And talking of ‘house wines’, again depending on the standard of the establishment, these often represent good value for money and should not, necessarily, be shunned! Again, ask about them and don’t be embarrassed in doing so and choosing one of them.

As for dessert wines, which can be expensive, make sure they’re available by the glass. Depending on the number of takers, compare the price of a glass with that of the bottle. But also note that the normal desert wine bottle offered is a half-bottle (37.5 cl).

In some French Restaurants, the practice is growing of bringing your own wines to drink with the meal. Known in the trade as ‘BYOB’ – bring your own bottle! There is always a small fee (corkage) for this privilege. Find out in advance whether this is permitted and the charge. Alternatively, bring two bottles of the same wine, a good one, of course: one for the restaurateur, the other for your own consumption and avoid any corkage!

So, enjoy choosing your French wines and quaffing them!


Ian Blackshaw



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