Newletter No. 1
February 26th, 2021
Hello and thank you for signing up to my newsletter. I'll only be sending you important news as it relates to us here and will try not to overwhelm you with too many words. Afterall my motto is "keep it simple."
Basically last night the prime minister Castex (I really find him a bore after the dishy Mr Philippe) announced that things don't seem to be improving much and stricter measures are being considered.
We here in the Var will not be seeing any changes to our 6pm-6am curfew or restaurants opening, but on the 6th of March they will look at the Covid case numbers and if the numbers don't look good and continue to get out of control we'll need to crack down and suffer some stricter measures. Voila.
Restaurants continue to stay shut of course and many businesses that attract people (like cinemas, gyms, concert halls, malls over 20,000 square metres (or in the case of the Alpes Maritime 5,000 sq m) remain closed unless they are outdoors. Our neighbours in Nice and Cannes have confinement all weekends now too, and so I don't feel too bad. Travel is being allowed under very strict control and testing measures but is not recommended. I've been asked if you'll be able to travel to France and visit Cotignac this Summer and I'm sure there will be people coming but honestly I cannot say whether we'll be back to nomal by then since the vaccination process here seems to be very slow. If restaurants, bars and cafés stay closed then even I would think, what's the point? So, to get accurate information please check with your nearest French embassy info or go to the French government site https://www.gouvernement.fr/en/coronavirus-covid-19 (info in English).
Newsletter No. 2
April 1st, 2021
Hello to you all from sunny, warm Cotignac. It has really been a pleasure walking around in the sunshine here the last week but no need to be too jealous as temperatures are due to drop again this weekend, boohoo !
Last night president Macron announced the nationwide lockdown of sorts. I say « sorts » because it's not really a strict lockdown even though schools are closed for 4 weeks and we will technically not be allowed to go more than 10km range from home starting Monday the 5th of April until at least the beginning of May. The reality is that we will need « permission slips » but they are all registered on the #tousanticovid applications on our phones and anyone can use just about any of the excuses to travel further. Even going to pick olives or saying you are caring for a relative or working casually can be used as an excuse. So of course there are people who do not adhere to the rules totally. But in the past, to use last year at this time as a point of reference, this has worked well at curbing the numbers of COVID patients that end up in the hospitals (which are overwhelmed at the moment) so this is what needs to be asked of the French residents.
Currently the British variant is dominant in the cases and 44 per cent of the hospital admissions for COVID are younger than 65 years old. The reason the numbers of elderly patients have dropped is because they have now mostly been vaccinated. For my age group of above 50 years, however, I will need to wait until at least mid-May ; the vaccination programme has been frustratingly slow but we'll get there. The EU is being criticised for not securing enough vaccines earlier on for their citizens. It's such a shame. Although I have heard rumours of elderly in the EHPAD (which is the local Municipal elderly nursing home) dying of COVID here in Cotignac I take the information with a pinch of salt. I feel the situation is ripe for people to say whatever they want to say without any real numbers and facts backing their gossipy statements. France has lost over 100,000 people to the disease and this in itself is, of course, a tragedy. Everyone here still has hopes of restaurants opening before the Summer season begins (mid June).
Many foreigners have already gone ahead and booked their holiday homes so we expect the population here to once again top the 10,000 mark (resident population is 2,330). It will be different but it will be busy once again. The one thing that's really amazing is the number of home owners that are currently renovating or restoring their properties. I personally know over 10 home owners that are doing this here. So of course builders, plumbers, electricians and general workers are very busy and hard to come by. There is little competition here already in this sector so this can lead to scarcity and frustration. I do wonder how long this trend will last but the building industry is experiencing quite a boom at the moment and although the builders seem tired, they are happy to have the extra income.
Now for the happiest of news : Lou Calen has scored big in securing the distinguished chef, Benoit Witz to head the gastronomic restaurant Le Jardin Secret and we could not be more excited. Never heard of him ? Google him and you'll be amazed where he's been and what he's done. Cotignac is VERY lucky. I have tried his cuisine a handful of times now and all I can say is « wow » and « more please ! » When restaurants open along with Lou Calen this Summer, Cotignac will find itself firmly placed on the « world's best tourist destination map » and my dreams of one day seeing our village famous for gastronomy will have taken a big giant step in the right direction. I am so happy.
Well, I'll keep my updates short but if there is something that comes out that I feel is important you know, you'll hear from me again. Have a lovely month of April. If I had felt adventurous and funny I'd have included some silly joke in my message on this April Fool's Day but gosh, the situation is just not funny and I'm feeling a bit tired of trying to even laugh about it anymore. Crossing my fingers for a good, near-normal Summer. Until then, do take care and stay safe everyone.
Yours truly, Susana
Newsletter No. 3
May 6th, 2021
Bonjour from a very sunny and warm Cotignac!
The good news for us here in France is that the restaurants and bars will open back up on the 19th of May and it's so heartwarming to see members of staff start to clean up and prepare their openings. Some have even hired bands to perform for the first lots of clientele. I cannot wait to get my feet over to La Tuf, of course, where I'm sure to see many familiar faces I have not seen in over half a year. They'll also have a concert during the day on the 19th!
The other good news is that over 50s will begin getting vaccinated from the 15th of May and for everyone else it'll be the first week of June. Under 18s will need to wait a bit more. France has been painfully slow with the vaccination process, no doubt due to the bureaucracy that so often gets in the way of efficiency. I tried to chance getting a vaccine in Brignoles the other day only to be turned down for not having had an appointment nor being eligible age wise. The vaccination centre was empty, there was just staff hanging around on their phones...so it was infuriating to say the least. But I have now secured a place in Riez for my first vaccine next week and I'm looking forward to that!
In the last week I have had the privilege of touring the work site of the soon to open Lou Calen. This process has taken over 5 years now so it's really exciting to finally get a feel for what is going on, how many new buildings there will be, how luxurious it will look, what kind of surprising details we will see and how the gardens are coming along. I think the most impressive part of the project is the attention paid to the magnificent gardens, reminiscent of Claude Monet's garden in Giverny and with hints of the topiary gardens of Marqueyssac. A profound passion for nature's beauty as well as the quality building materials and stylish decoration to the interiors is what will make Lou Calen the historic landmark of the Var and without a doubt one of the most sought after places to come and visit in the near future. Cotignac will need to prepare for an influx of tourists but also of those who appreciate authentic Provençale village life combined with gastronomy brought to you by the fine chef Benoit Witz at Le Jardin Secret. I will guarantee a culinary adventure for your senses in everything made by chef Witz, he is extraodinary and will make every Cotignac resident proud to have him. And hey, if gastronomy is not your thing, you can always just stop for a beer or glass of rosé at La Tuf or any other bar here. There will be other new restaurants opening up this season too and I'm just giddy with excitement over this as you know I'm a big foodie, or bonne vivante as they call me here.
The website for Lou Calen is being updated but you can check it out from time to time here www.loucalen.com
It's looking like the beaches here will allow people to take off their masks mostly because it was becoming impossible for police to enforce the law for wearing them when no one abided by the order! C'est ça la France...
Well I do hope you are well and staying safe. Wishing you a wonderful rest of May.
Newletter No. 4
May 23rd 2021
Bonjour from Cotignac, France ! How are you ? I hope my message finds you in good spirits. As you've probably heard by now, all restaurants, bars, and cafés in France are now open, albeit exterior terrace seating only and with the condition that staff and clientele alike wear masks when walking about. This is thanks to the fact that numbers of COVID sufferers, particularly in the hospitals, are going down steadily. For us anyways, it seems the lockdown worked and everyone seems to be in a much happier place. I of course had to go and check out my favourite bar in town, La Tuf, on opening evening and it did not disappoint. It was so heartwarming to see people, locals and expats, again after seven months of keeping low profiles. I was teary-eyed with joy and happiness and just being around people and being social, chatting about who cares what, just being with others, what a difference ! Quel plaisir ! Unfortunately big events may not take place in Cotignac this Summer and if they do they will be very limited in number of guests alowed. I have however noticed many more tourists (French mostly) around and the parking lots filling up on weekends again as the good warm weather attracts so many to just hang out, have lunch on the Cours, or at Le Jardin Secret (which is already becoming extremely popular – book early if you want to come one day as they have been booked up every day so far since opening last Wednesday). But the great news is that Cotignac will be getting another semi-gastronomic restaurant. The old La Terrace restaurant on the Place Neuve has been bought by another Michelin starred chef and wife who will open their new brasserie style restaurant (with an open terrace in the back as some of you may remember), totally renovated with taste and style, on the 9th of June. This is the date for which we will have start being aloud to stay out until 11pm rather than the 9pm curfew we are under now. I will be there to check out the decor and food on the 11th of June so will report back to you on how it was. I can't wait, this is just so exciting. I have long dreamed of seeing Cotignac turn into a little gastronomic capital of the VAR. Some people laugh at me here when I suggest it (probably because most of the restaurants here up until recently have only been so-so) but you know what ? I'm pretty sure one day I'll be the last one laughing. I have been surprised and very happy to see so many of you sign up to my mailing list. Thank you very much.
May I gently remind you that I do this in my own time, without asking for any handouts and will continue to do my best to keep you in the loop of what's going on here. But since I do need to make a living I hope you will do me a little favour in return and share my Places to Stay page on my website with whomever you think is interested in coming to visit Cotignac and is looking for a place to stay. If my places are booked up, I'd still be happy to help find a place that's affordable for anyone:) The link is : https://www.provencelivingcotignac.com/places-to-stay-in-cotignac You'll hear from me again after the 11th June. Have a great rest of your May and hope you are keeping safe and happy wherever you are.
Yours truly, Susana
Newsletter No. 5
June 18th 2021
Greetings from a hot and humid Cotignac ! Sometimes I feel like the climate here is beginning to resemble that of South East Asia ; the days start off sunny and hot, then later in the afternoon you can see storm clouds forming in the direction of the Verdon. The temperatures have surpassed 30 degrees centigrade so dining outside requires copious amounts of cold water.
The French government recently announced we no longer need to wear masks outside (markets and queues excepted) and this has been a huge relief for many. Our curfew also gets thrown out starting this coming Sunday. Travel restrictions overseas though are still in place and although I get a lot of questions about travel to and from the UK my straight answer is that quarantine is still required but I do not know the details of what is considered essential travel (which is allowed) and what isn't. So it's still complicated to travel to France from overseas. I have subscribed to the UK government website that should send me updates but I have yet to receive anything from them. If anything changes I will of course announce it on the Provence Living facebook page. Last weekend my husband and I took some much needed time off and left our teenage kids and cats to fend for themselves. Ha ha ha, no that's not entirely true. I cooked them some chilli and rice pilaf, slow cooked pulled pork and tapioca desserts, placed them in tupperwear and in the fridge so they could just help themselves and do whatever they wanted. My kids were thrilled and so were we.
We drove first to the very clean and charming village of Eygalières with stunning views of the Alpilles, then had a fantastic, three-course, 29 euros lunch at L'Aile ou la Cuisse in Saint Rémy, spent the afternoon strolling around then taking a dip in the hotel pool at Uzès (a beautiful Medieval village with cobbled stone streets), had some local beer at the square there, took cold showers then had dinner at Au Petit Jardin (which was delicious but I found the chairs uncomfortable), then admired the sunset views from the top terrace of the Hotel Entraigues which was very romantic ! I posted photos under Top 20 Places to Stay in provencelivingcotignac.com Speaking of places to stay, I still have availability in August for the village house with swimming pool called The Secret Garden in Cotignac. If you or someone you know might be interested in renting this for a week or two, please send them directly to : https://secret-garden-cotignac.lodgify.com/ I also have some weeks still available (minimum three-night's stay) at my village house, La Halte des Heures which is a total bargain at 120 euros per night or 600 euros per week in August and can comfortably accommodate up to five persons. See : https://www.provencelivingcotignac.com/places-to-stay-in-cotignac Do have a wonderful rest of June. I'll be getting my second Pfizer jab next week in Riez so will stop by to check out the lavender in Valensole after that. Stay tuned for photos on Provence Living.
Yours truly, Susana
Newletter No. 6
July 5th, 2021
Bonjour from a HOT Cotignac ! School kids get out in two days so every working person here (including myself) seems to be going crazy with preparations for the big Summer Holiday tourist wave. All the villas and vacation homes are really filling up now so if you are interested in any last minute rental I may be able to help so do not hesitate to contact me. The big news here is that all the restaurants (except the creperie) are now open and doing some seriously good business, long overdue. I went to the opening of Didier's wine bar last Friday at Lou Calen and was not disappointed. It was filled with local expats and the atmosphere was A++; music in the air, Didier in a good mood serving up the best Sancerre, Chablis – perfectly chilled for the warm air, lots of great aperitifs to fill the tummies (his choice of charcuterie is really top notch), and just a feeling of « wow, we are so lucky to be here. » On Saturday evening I finally got to taste the food at the new Picotte restaurant at the place Neuve. This is the place that took over from La Terrasse. The owner is a lady who comes from the Piper Heidsick (champagne) family and her husband is the Michelin starred chef here. I personally congratulated them ; their beautifully presented food that tasted equally good has now a special place in my heart and I will be sure to bring as many of my personal guests here as possible because they deserve to succeed. The brewery La Tuf too, is undergoing some serious improvements and has expanded with a cool new beach terrace in the back, with new big bar to serve the concert goers from ! If you did not get to see my photos please go to Provence Living's facebook page and scroll down to see them. I had a guest here from England last weekend who fought tooth and nail to travel to the S of France. He told me that even after getting two shots of Astra Zeneka he still had to get PCR tests (2 in total costing 190 euros each) just before arriving and just before departing but that the hardest part was filling out a 10 page document on the way back to England. He was here just four days. This is, in my opinion, not just virus-control related but another slap-in-the-face by BREXIT. The French have no sympathy for the Brits at the moment and are not helping to make it easy to come and go across the channel. At the same time there seems to be no shortage of Scandinavian travellers and every other European national present in the S of France. I just heard on the news today that France is fearful of a 4th wave of Coronavirus infections brought on by the Delta variant. The vaccination process is ongoing but still very slow. I'm dreaming of the end of this insane situation. I remain positive. Have a great, safe Summer, wherever you are.