Summer in Southwest France

Villefranche market - market stalls
Summer market stalls at Villefranche

Summer is here, les grandes vacances have begun and the foreign number plates in the area have multiplied. And to go with them, a little present from the French government: a drop in the speed limit on secondary roads from 90kph to 80kph. The exceptions are roads with a central reservation and stretches with two lanes on the same side.

Drive carefully

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says the aim is to prevent 400 deaths on the French roads every year. It’s a moot point whether it will achieve this or not. The move has raised a chorus of protest in France. Some believe that impatient drivers will become even more so and cause just as many accidents. I personally believe that teaching people to drive better wouldn’t go amiss, but that might just be an unattainable ideal.

So, if you are driving in France this summer, beware. The new limits came in on Sunday 1st July. No doubt the police will be lenient during the transition period. At least, I hope so. Driving to Villefranche-de-Rouergue today, I suddenly realised that I was merrily rolling along at 90, having forgotten all about the change. It was only when I approached the speed trap that I woke up. Mind you, that radar is usually out of action, having been successively covered in paint, gaffer tape, manure and old tractor tyres.

Summer world

SW France summer market stall
Olive sellers

Summer also brings new life to our area. The number of market stalls burgeons and the variety of products increases. Colourful stalls pop up like mushrooms, selling olives and spices, brightly-coloured fabrics, hand-woven baskets and edible-looking soaps. The regular market stalls, too, carry a wider range, with tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and even colours, aubergines sheened like a starling’s wing, jolly red and yellow peppers and luscious peaches and nectarines.

The weather has obligingly followed suit with a seamless transition from early spring chill to summer heat about a fortnight ago. This is just as well, since many events are held outdoors and it’s not always possible to fall back on a Plan B.

Fêtes and festivities

Caylus lavoir restored
Newly-restored lavoir

This has meant that the inauguration of the newly-restored lavoir (wash-house) in our village could be held without the audience having to huddle underneath it. Although not built as a market hall, it now houses some of the stalls on a Saturday. Speeches from the president of the association, monsieur le Maire, la député (Member of Parliament) and the departmental representative were followed by an apéritif and some very tasty eats. The French are good at that.

The weather gods smiled on us the following weekend, too. Around 40 people attended an auberge espagnole (everyone brings a dish) to celebrate the lavoir’s new lease of life.

Les convives enjoying an apero beforehand
Les convives enjoying an apero beforehand

Even more important, since it’s held under the trees, the weather was perfect for our annual fête at Teysseroles, the 15th-century chapel we are helping to restore. Although the restoration work continues at a snail’s pace, much to my frustration, the journée festive is always a convivial event. Around 160 people came and consumed local specialities prepared by a traiteur (caterer), including magret de canard and pastis (a local apple pastry). I hope that next year we’ll have more progress to show them.

Teysseroles - lunchtime
160 fête-goers sit down for lunch

I wish you all a bon été and I’ll be back soon with more aperçus of French life.

You might also like:

5 Seasonal Summer Road Hazards in SW France
Five signs of summer in SW France
Villefranche-de-Rouergue Market
Restoration of the Lavoir in Caylus

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  1. Vanessa, the speed limit is actually quite necessary and having just returned from a 1400km trip to Switzerland and back, I can say that it is easy to forget the new speed limits. Luckily, they are only valid when there is NO CENTRAL DIVIDE and therefore many of the quite safely fast lanes are still accessible at 90km/h. The number of times we have been overtaken though couldn’t be counted. AND crawling for some 30km behind a CONVOY of blinking ‘forerunners’ and followed by 3 super long transporters which all made it impossible to even think of passing them by, didn’t help our moral either 🙂 But it’s all for a good purpose and I hope that even the bickering and complaining French drivers will eventually realise that it’s for their own best to go slightly slower…..
    Wishing you a good summer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s very easy to forget the new speed limits, as I did the other day, although I’m now getting used to it. I agree with the principle of them, but I can’t help thinking that drivers who are already impatient and drive too fast will continue to be dangerous – and possibly even more so when they find themselves behind someone who is driving at the new speed limit. Time will tell and I sincerely hope it does have the desired effect of reducing road deaths. Thankfully they have reduced considerably since my husband first lived in France in the 1970s, but there is still some way to go.

      Have a good – and safe – summer.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoy your summer. I love your lavoir too. Last weekend we had our first fete de la musique repas for several years in our village. The sun shone and all ages in the village were represented. It was a great start to the summer after weeks of soggy and unreliable weather. A bientot xx

    Liked by 1 person

      • Happily we have a new fete comite after several years without one (always the same small group working their socks off all summer) made up of les jeunes, most of whom have happy memories of their parents being comite members and all the events they organised. I was always deputed for facepainting. 🙂 So they are eager to create the same events. Bon courage to them all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s nice to see les jeunes taking up the reins. It does tend to be the same people who volunteer and do things. Our team at the chapel we’re helping to restore is not getting any younger, but we lack younger people to take it on.


  3. I’m absolutely terrified that by the time I get back for a visit I will have entirely forgotten the new speed limit (which I remember being announced in January) and the Gendarmes will be less lenient than they might be (just might be) now. I am wholly with you on your postulation that teaching better driving is the answer to the issue of road carnage in France. Impatience and impetuosity are the two main bugbears but, that said, speed is undoubtedly a problem. I’m glad summer is being kind weather-wise in your gorgeous corner and that the fêtes and celebrations have so far gone so well. I must say that I was transfixed with admiration for the lady taking an apéro in one of your pictures whose top is exactly what I have been trying and failing to find here. She looks coolly elegant in her loose powder pink tunic 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dangerous driving is clearly a combination of a number of factors – speed being one of them. The jury is out on whether the new restrictions will make any difference. I must ask my friend where she got her tunic – she might have made it herself.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I generally latch onto things that are impossible to find either because they are the result of a clever seamstress or have been owned for 1,000 years! In the end you can restrict all you like but if people are minded they will continue merrily on. My own view for many many years has been that there should be compulsory re-testing throughout a driving lifetime. It should start with small increments and stretch out and then when a driver reaches a certain age the incidence should become more frequent again. Many years ago, I trained as a driving instructor (and then examiner) and as part of that you have to do an advanced driving exam. All of us basically had to learn to drive again because all of us had bad habits. We all pick those habits up and retesting from time to time would be a revenue earner and would perhaps make people more aware of certain faults. However, in all three of the territories I drive in regularly (England, France and the USA) I know that the suggestion would be received with a volley of reasons why not from pretty much everyone so it will remain pie in the sky as an idea in my head!!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I can’t help agreeing with you that reducing speed limits etc., while an important tool in the road safety armoury, is dealing with the symptoms and not the causes of bad driving. I learned to drive 43 years ago and have not been tested since. While I don’t count myself as a bad driver, I have no doubt that I have fallen into bad habits that I don’t even realise. Some kind of re-testing regime seems to be called for. The use of indicators (or lack of) is one of my bugbears in France. There are plenty of others – and no doubt I am guilty of some of them.

          Liked by 1 person

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