So what’s it really like to LIVE here in Cotignac all year long? I get a lot of questions like “how cold is it, what is there to do in the off-seasons, what are the locals really like when you aren’t a tourist and are living right next to them?
Having lived in Cotignac for six years (and in the region for 13) I have noticed patterns in the local events throughout the seasons. Have no illusions: the South of France is not always warm and dreamy and it can feel darn cold in the winter unless your home is properly equipped. It also takes a lot of effort to get to know the locals to the point where you feel like they trust you. But what’s unusual about the little village of Cotignac is that the locals really do try and make it a year-long haven where something interesting is brewing, even in the dead of winter (when even rosé seems out of place on terraces no longer comfortable to sit out in). Here’s what you can expect in terms of events and activities in the village of Cotignac month by month starting with the busy Summer season:
July: lots of outdoor markets, brocantes, Bastille day celebration parties, live music on the terraces of restaurants, theatre and concerts, film festivals, and others celebrating centuries of local traditions. Art expositions, flee markets, night markets, and river swimming!
August: More of the same – but a little more calm after mid-August when temperatures usually dip a little. Figs are bursting with flavour this time of year and you can pick them right off of any tree that’s dangling on the side of the roads. Wild blackberries and apricots also start to ripen.
September: Kids go back to school and a whole new set of tourists (older couples mostly) spend their holidays here. If the vendange (grape harvest) did not take place late in August it will surely take place this month and so wine growers and domaines face their most active weeks this time of year. The locals make the best of the last days of the warm evenings by having bbq parties. If you are living here and will depend on wood to heat your house, now is a good time to order those logs. FYI: a typical house uses about 300 euros worth in the cold season!
October: Autumn food festival, Quince (Coing) festival mid-month, more theatre performances, brocantes, and Halloween is celebrated by local children who trick-or-treat around the village in the afternoon.
November: I call this month “Beaujolais” because there isnt much to do except to wait impatiently for the Beaujolais and Primeurs to hit the shops with charcuterie parties on the streets (usually at the expense of our local Spar). There will most likely be a few rainy dyas this month. The build up to Christmas begins too and many other villages have their special markets selling Christmas presents from mid-month. Chateau de Berne (in Lorgues) always has wonderful country-themed markets in November and into December. A chill is in the air and most people start to turn their indoor heating on this month. I spend the month stocking up on Champagne for Christmas; every weekend there is a sale or promotion at one of the many supermarkets for champagnes.
December: the month of Christmas is always warm and cozy with lots of markets selling mulled wine and snacks for next to nothing! Lots of fun Provençale Christmas markets everywhere, including big ones in Aix-en-Provence and Toulon, Draguignan, Cannes and Nice. There is always lots of fun (like rides, bouncy castles, and horse rides) organised for children and goodies for all aged people to enjoy. It’s really nice to be here this time of year; non-stop action and excitement in the air (with a slight chill so stay well bundled)! Christmas parties see lots of foie gras, smoked salmon, chocolate, and the best quality wines. It’s also a popular time to get sick, so keep your hands clean.
January: After the fun of New Year’s eve (the French call it St Sylvestre) where not much actually goes on in terms of national celebration in the streets (locals like to spend Christmas with family but New Year’s with friends), it’s best to be invited to a locals’ dinner party followed by kissing at midnight 🙂 The mayor however always presents his new year’s greetings’ speech at the Grainage in the first week and goes over what we can expect in the coming year. The rest of the month is completely dead (unless you have enough money to hit the sales) but when one has lived here long enough and made the efforts to win the hearts and loyalties of the locals, one has a very good time being invited to their homes for fantastic meals pretty much every weekend (but of course one must reciprocate!!). It’s common to see fireplaces being used as grills for marinated duck breasts, hunting your own mushrooms and truffles, and drinking copious amounts of red wine while dreaming about Summer. It can get very cold here, like on average, eight degrees colder than the coastal towns nearer the sea. Children on the other hand get to have their choice in weekly bingo games (with big prizes to be won) at the local Grainage (town hall ballroom) organised by local associations and charities. The annual truffle festival is a must-do in Aups this month.
February: Unless it snows (which is certainly has in the past but not in 2015), not much happens this month and the village goes quiet but fear not, as restaurants do stay open and Valentine’s evening is always busy! We locals do our best to keep them in business because there are VERY few tourists around this month. The temperatures can dip below zero so the most comfortable people live in well insulated houses (not too many of them here). But children love this time of year because the Winter vacation comes around mid month until beginning of March and ski holidays are made affordable by the town hall and the parents’ association that heavily subsidise them. The nearest ski resorts are only a couple of hours’ drive away (think Isola 2000, Auron, etc). The Savoie resorts are around 4 – 5 hours away.
March: Signs of Spring are everywhere in the form of irises, almond and plum blossoms. Pretty wild weed flowers also sprout up and it’s a fabulous time to take lots of walks around the region. The lake (St Croix) is a great place to challenge yourself on a 4 hour circuit hike. River picnics and climbing is a popular sport. Lots of tennis playing too. Everyone begins to start dining (lunch) outdoors when it’s sunny as it starts to get warmer (you will likely still need your heating on in the house, however). Some shops that spent the previous months closed will open this month and Carnival is usually celebrated by the school children on a Saturday with colourful costumes and lots of freshly made crêpes. March is also the best month to go skiing as prices go down and the snow and weather conditions are ideal.
April: Easter artists’-open-door events, theatre productions, and outdoor diners begin to fill the cafés and restaurants during the day. The Tuesday markets begin to get bigger and more interesting (gardening is a big thing here so lots of pretty flowers and plants suddenly appear) and tourists begin to clutter around during the Spring holidays (school holidays usually in mid April). If the year 2016 is anything like 2015, you can expect children to not resist the temptation of swimming in the swimming pools or rivers from end of April. Water temperatures are still cold (19 or 20 degrees) but that never bothered an active kid! Tulips and roses begin to bloom and Spring is celebrated by an array of events and more and more people are added to the population that is, off-season, just 2,330. By Summer this figure goes up to above 10,000!
May: Summer is already in the air and outdoor flee markets and brocantes begin to flood the streets on weekends. English, Scandinavian and European visitors begin to spend their term breaks and weekends here to enjoy what is usually very pleasant weather with temperatures ranging between 15 in the evenings and 24 in the day. The Cannes Film Festival takes place in the 2nd week of May and although it almost always rains at least once during the festival, last year was one of the hottest on record and everyone enjoyed an early Summer! Barbecue parties, outdoor evening dining, and early pool dipping was had by all in 2015 so I’m pretty sure this will start to become “normal” if Global warming is here to stay.
June: Lavender is here! The smell is intoxicating and the fields are alive… But, almost intolerably hot temperatures were felt in 2015 for the first time in decades. Temperatures hovered over mid-30 degrees centigrade during the day and most of us locals (who do not have air conditioning) suffered. The best way to combat this kind of heat is simply to drink lots of liquids (stay clear of alcohol!!), and take frequent cold showers or dips in cold water (or douse yourself in the local fountains, there are plenty of them). End-of-school year events are organised (always with displays of chips/crisps and chilled rosé served in plastic cups), and the Summer events begin with the kick off of the Music Festival on the Summer Solstice evening (21st June). The 24th is always St Jean’s day and this is celebrated by children who attend the parents’ committee bbq and fire jump (they jump over a wood fire at the Boules courts). It’s quite a spectacle and must be seen to be believed!
The the circle of life then continues with another action packed Summer in July and August. It’s the same every year. Not much changes except our age.