All posts by Susana Iwase Hanson

Susana grew up in Asia and California and received a Bachelor's degree from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree in International Marketing from Bradford University in the UK. She moved to Provence in 2002 and learned French. She also speaks Japanese. Susana is active in the village of Cotignac where she is mother to two girls, two cats, and wife to a ski-freak Frenchman. She runs a property management business (Provence Living Consulting) and in her spare time likes to entertain and make sushi whilst drinking lots of locally made rosé wine. Susana also serves Cotignac as an elected official in charge of Communications under Mayor Jean Pierre Véran.

Tourtour and their annual “Egg Festival”

Tourtour is set on top of a windy hill (elevation 900 metres) with sweeping views all the way out to Frejus and the Mediterranean with the Mount St Victoire between. The population is just under 500 but the locals are a tight knit group who put on one of the most amazing festivals (fête de l’oeuf or the Egg Festival) over the Easter weekend every year. You’ll find activities for children, live entertainment and restaurants participating with egg-themed menus. There are also food stands if you want to go “cheap and cheerful” with plenty of places to picnic (like next to the church, with a great view). The trees in the village are decorated to the max with colourful, hanging eggs and it’s a really pretty sight.

Tourtour is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France and is well worth a detour when not too cold or windy. The little streets through the village houses are so full of charm and the restaurants serve simple yet freshly made food that of course goes rather well with a nice glass of chilled rosé or anything really. The gastronomic restaurant here is called La Table and the international couple who run it have some very good reviews.

Tourtour is about a 25 minutes’ drive from Cotignac, via either Aups or Villecroze (faster).




Food ‘Amour restaurant, Salernes

Food ‘Amour is stirring a buzz around the area for its outstanding cuisine (refined, gastronomic – worthy of a Michelin star in my opinion). The restaurant opened four years ago but already they are having to turn away diners at the door for being booked up. I had lunch there last Thursday (March 8th) with some lady friends and we were very satisfied with the 25 euro menu that included a main, dessert, coffee, and petit fours. The friendly chef (who runs his restaurant with his pasty chef wife) even offered us two separate amuses bouches that were delectable: a curried chicken with sour cream mousse in a light cone, then crayfish ceviche on toast! Our mains were steemed cod on bed of leeks and other winter vegetables with a sublime leek sauce, I could have eaten two portions. These days they are closed Mondays through Wednesdays but the rest of the time they are open for lunch and dinner.  Food’amour almost always celebrate holidays like Valentines, Mothers’ and Fathers’ day, Easter, Christmas, etc, with special menus that are drool worthy. In my humble opinion this is one of the best restaurants in the Var.  And frankly we are waiting for them to move to Cotignac.

Indoor and outdoor dining in warm weather (next to main church). Food ‘Amour 4 rue Pierre Blanc 83690 Salernes Tel: 0981 93 19 49


La Tarente restaurant under new management 2018

The new La Tarente in Cotignac is open for lunch and dinner and from April they’ll be open all day long! In the Winter they specialise in “cuisine montagnard” so fondus, raclette, etc. But they have a rather extensive menu and my kids were thrilled with chicken in basil sauce and cheese on toast (served with salad and fries). They also have pretty good pizzas. Dinner for four including 4 glasses of wine, 2 sodas, a dessert of 4 apple tortons (shared) cost 91 euro. That’s about average for our village. For reservations contact: or 04 94 04 75 31. Continue reading La Tarente restaurant under new management 2018

New Year’s day walk in Bauduen (Lac St Croix)

Happy new year! If you’re like me, you’re a bit fed up with all the drinking and partying of the month before and ready for a detox and healthy start to the new year 2018.  What better way to start then but with a nice walk in the January sunshine (it was rather warm at 13 degrees C) by the lake, just 35 minutes’ drive from our home village of Cotignac! Continue reading New Year’s day walk in Bauduen (Lac St Croix)

Luxurious pampering at Chateau de Berne’s spa in Lorgues

I once had the invitation to do a write-up about Chateau de Berne back in 2006 in exchange for a night in one of their suites and a dining experience. It was the first of March and they had just reopened for the season. Back then it wasn’t as luxurious but the service was excellent and the establishment was eyeing for higher sights.  Ten years ago the “auberge” was more cosy and less classy but the accommodation very comfortable albeit neo-provençale in decor. Continue reading Luxurious pampering at Chateau de Berne’s spa in Lorgues

Christmas shop fronts in Cotignac 2017

It’s most wonderful time of the year and Cotignac’s got lots of inspiration for those of you shopping for presents. Tuesday is market day so it’s a good time to check that out and browse the shops at the same time.  Or join us for our Christmas market on Sunday, the 17th of December. There is a contest for “prettiest shop window” going on too so all the merchants have put a little extra effort into decorating. The village lighting this year is also impressive with a giant tree covered in decorations and sparkling lights at the bottom of the Cours, across from Mirabeau Wine.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season!



Fall 2017 Exhibit BOTANIC’ART at Cotignac’s Centre d’Art

The opening party of the Fall exhibit, Botanic’art was held last Saturday the 28th October at 11:30am. The centre was packed with locals, artists, and Cotignac council members and the party was an outstanding success. Visitors were treated to chilled rosé and lots of freshly catered aperos.

The art will be on show until the 3rd of December.  Opening hours: Every day except Mondays and Thursday from 10am to 12:30pm then 2pm until 5:30pm. The centre is located at number 5, Cours Gambetta, Cotignac 83570.

Nature inspired artists include: Jean ARNAUD, Sylviane BYKOWSKI, Jean-Marie CARTEREAU, François JALAIN, Damien GENTAUD, Sylvie MAURICE, Patricia NEWMAN, and Daniel VAN DE VELDE. I highly recommend visiting this exhibit, awe-inspiration guaranteed!

Autumn in Aix-en-Provence

The university town of Aix is of course full of young people so there’s a lot to do here, including dining on a huge variety of international cuisine. Just walking around the old part of town I saw over three Japanese restaurants, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, French, bistro-style, bars, both cheap and upscale and everything in between! The Cours Mirabeau (main strip) is like a miniature version of the Champs Elysée with businesses and restaurants and huge sidewalks for anyone to stroll down without having to fight any traffic. This time of year (in Autumn) it is pure joy to see the deep yellows, reds, and brown colours of the falling sycamore leaves in contrast to the bright green moss on the fountains. There are museums, shopping centres, live bands entertaining the café crowds, and some great people watching to do here. The famous sweet is called the “Calisson” and although I am an almond lover I always thought these specialties look better than they taste. But the cakes in the cake shops are drool worthy! Never a dull day spent in Aix. The outdoor market takes place every day at the place de la mairie and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at the palais de justice. For more information about Aix cick here:

Day trip to Bandol in October

Sunday is market day in Bandol so it’s a little busy but it’s not too touristy which is what I love about the place. Unlike St Tropez, Cannes, and Nice, you don’t hear too many other languages being spoken here (other than French!). And yet it has everything – a beautiful port, fantastic restaurants and shops, and of course great wine. Continue reading Day trip to Bandol in October

Esparron-de-Verdon on an October afternoon

On the far West side of the Verdon is the little village of Esparron with it’s own lake and stunning castle. In October it’s particularly pleasant because there are few people around (the village has a population of 450). We parked on the Northern side of the village and took a nice walk through the ruelles and charming village houses, took photos from outside the castle (unfortunately it’s private but a bed-and-breakfast worth a look. Click on ). Further down the road towards the lake are some lovely cafés where lunch was being served all afternoon on a Sunday. We stopped and had a beer and the kids munched on ice cream bars. From there the views just got better and better. The afternoon sun was glittering on the water (dont forget to bring your sunnies even this time of year). The lake here has  their own sailing club, electric boats for hire (all year ’round) and even a tour boat (check the schedule) with a guide. It was October 8th and there were people swimming although we felt it was too cold. But the water was clear and a gorgeous turquoise colour and pleasant for a foot-dip. This place was only a 40 – 45 mins drive away from Cotignac through some lavender fields (N.B. lavender is in bloom in Provence in June and early July only). If you felt more adventurous you can continue driving to Gréoux les Bains afterwards or stop in Quinson on the way. Either way, a great afternoon out!


The unexpected benefits of living in rural South of France

We all have a good idea about the expected benefits of living in this Mediterranean region: the clean air, water, the relaxing slow paced life with good wine and olive oil, the fantastic weather (so much sunshine!), and the outdoor markets full of organically grown produce…the list is long. Continue reading The unexpected benefits of living in rural South of France

Aups and her market in August

Located just 20 minutes from Cotignac, and on the way to the Lac St Croix, is the medieval village of Aups, famous for Truffles and their annual Truffle Festival in January. In Summer the village is bustling with life and their twice-weekly markets are really worth going to because it’s cheap and there is an abundance of choice.  Aups has their market on Saturdays and Wednesdays. See also

Short brisk circuit walk in Sillans-la-Cascade

If you’re a busy bee like me, you’ll try to fit in a quick brisk walk during the day to keep healthy. This one in Sillans is brilliant because it’s easy but combines clean air with pristine river, a wild path, and some scrambling at the end. Park in the old train station parking lot in Sillans-la-Cascade (the school) then walk across the street to the foot of the bridge. Follow the “panorama de cascade” sign and continue down the river on the left side. Stay on the left the whole way. Eventually you’ll see a floating foot bridge (this is fun to jump on!) but do not cross it, just keep going. The path narrows and you’ll eventually come to a tunnel bridge. Climb up the steep dirt path on its right side and you’ll get to street level. Go over the bridge and continue on the left. Make the next left turn and go down the path going back on the other side of the river. You’ll eventually find yourself behind the castle (you’ll see a couple of picnic tables). Stay left and keep going through the bottom road of the village and you’ll see the old lavoire. Voila, you’ve done your 15 mins circuit walk, bravo!

The down sides of living in a small rural village in Southern France

We’ve all heard about the joys, the wonders, and the benefits of living in the countryside and particularly in the South of France: the clean air, the abundant warm and sunny days, the cheap delicious wine, the long lunches surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, the fresh local produce and open air markets, the list goes on and on. But if you are looking into living here long term you’ll probably want to know about the down sides too, and better yet, how to avoid them (if possible). My observations and list of negative aspects to living here certainly do not compare to the much longer list of positives and the blessed aspects and are of course relative because they are my personal views based on my own experience of living in this region (PACA) for the last 15 years as an “etrangere.” It should also be noted too that my views stem from being of several nationalities and cultures (American, Japanese, and British)as well as from my age: I am currently 49 years old and live with my French husband and our children who are 9 and 13 years old.

No.1 Lack of jobs. The biggest downside to living in rural Southern France is the lack of jobs available. And the unemployment rates here are very high. In the PACA region the average is currently around 12 to 14 per cent. In Cotignac the rate is as high as 16 per cent according to JDN’s Emploi et chômage

So if you think you’ll find a job easily here, think again. Unless you are willing to commute long distances and drive over 3 hours every day (to larger cities like Marseille, Toulon, or Nice) you may well find yourself jobless or taking on remenial jobs in the service industry (restaurants and cleaning for example). If you have a teaching qualification English is always popular but public school posts are extremely difficult to come by and private lessons are not so popular for many here who do not make much more than the SMIC (minimum wage) of just over 1,000 euros per month. You would be in luck, however, if your full time job requires that you simply have an internet connection. However this too can cause some problems if you are dependent on high speed connection as most rural villages here are not equipped yet. The current president Macron has pledged to make all of France connected to high speed by the year 2022.  On the otherhand if you like the idea of running a holiday villas rental service/agency, there is always room for that. But it’s no easy business to be in. More on that later in another article.

No. 2  Nothing ever gets done on time. Building work, paper work, dealing with businesses, etc, can test your patience here in the South of France. If you come from the big cities of the West like I did, you’ll find this one especially mind boggling and very frustrating. Getting an immediate response is so rare when it does happen it will make your entire year and you’ll be giddy with happiness. No joke: plumbers, electricians, builders, bankers, painters, etc, seem to have little competition here and often appear aloof and authoritative when you meet them. The French culture has been shaped also by Socialism and we need to remember that the business relations culture also reflects the political ideals. The notion of “customer is king” simply does not exist here. So if you find a good worker, you’ll want to not only keep their contact details to yourself but will find yourself “kissing the ground they walk on” and doing just about anything to keep them reponsive to your calls. It will be you that ends up meeting them at their convenience and not yours. You’ll need to adjust your schedules to fit them in when they say they’ll come ’round.

No. 3 The Small village gossip syndrome. Rural French villages are often small. Cotignac’s current population is 2, 336. Over 60 per cent of the population is above retirement age (65 plus). The active population is around 730. So we’re a small active community. Which means everyone knows everyone’s business, generally speaking. Unless you are anti-social, you will be seen and noticed which means people will talk about you. If someone got married, had a baby, had an accident, gotten divorced, or – and here’s the worst – caused a scandal involving breakups of families, you’ll hear about it.  If you caused the scandal, you’ll be shamed. So if you’re addicted to drama, it’s best to stay in a large city where anonymity may save some face. In the small villages (and this is probably true anywhere in the world) life can feel a little suffocating when someone asks you about your friends’ recent car accident or someone else’s husband running off with the babysitter or why you think so-and-so jumped off a bridge. And that is if the stories are even true. Sometimes rumours spread that destroy reputations and cause people to move to another village or as far as another country. Of course this happens everywhere but in a village where you hear about it so often it feels like it’s constant. So a good rule of thumb to follow is that if you don’t want people to know about something just don’t talk about it – to anyone.

No. 4 You need a car. If you’re like me and need to feed a family you’ll need to stock up on groceries which means driving to the supermarkets. The closest to Cotignac is the SPAR on the route de Brignoles. But that is still 4 kilometres away from the village centre. There is a small convenience store on the Cours but you don’t want to carry heavy bags back up a hill every other day (although there is a delivery service if you call ahead). So a minimum-weekly-visit to the larger supermarkets (like E.Leclerc, Intermaché, Hyper U or Casino) needs driving to. The largest shopping mall is in Brignoles (20 kms) and for a big selection or department store you’ll need to go as far as Toulon La Valette (63 kms). Public transportation to these places are poorly scheduled and slow. If you like your life to be surrounded by conveniences and you do not like to drive, a rural village in Southern France is not the place for you. On the other hand the internet is a great place to shop and just about anyone can receive just about anything by post these days. And this has been a god-send to me!

No. 5 Winters are cold. Now, if you come from places like Canada, Scandinavia, or anywhere north of France you’ll laugh at this but it’s not so much the temperatures here that get cold (Cotignac can get as low as minus 8 degrees) but the majority of houses that are ill equipped to keep you warm enough in them. Many houses are not sufficiently insulated and often electric heaters do not provide enough relief or consume so much that electric bills become no longer affordable. Oil is another popular method of radiator heating but unless the house is new or has been properly restored and updated to modern standards (most old village houses are over 300 years old) it can also be cost prohibitive. Newer houses could be equipped with heat pumps (minimum 15K euros) or with considerable investment geothermal energy can be tapped but this is reserved for those with very big budgets. Many people use wood burning stoves here which can heat small spaces well but needs constant attention (and clean up once a day). You’ll also need to order your wood which gets delivered but then dumped in a big mountain in front of your doorstep and if that’s blocking traffic in anyway you’ll have to very quickly stack it in a safe dry place so let’s hope you have the stamina and energy! Heating is needed from around the end of October to end of April and maybe longer if your house is not South-facing.

No. 6 Most shops are closed Mondays, Wednesday afternoons and Sundays. They are also more often closed for lunch between 12 and 3 or even 4pm during their open days. Sometimes it seems nothing is open on Mondays; not banks, not restaurants, not even hairdressers. And that’s just routine around here. The only really safe days to go shopping in the village are Tuesdays (it’s also our market day) and Thursdays. It’s worse in the Winter time and some shops and restaurants close their doors for the entire season.

No. 7 Locals are hard to get to know. I found that it took me about an average of 18 months before I finally got invited over to dinner at my first local friend’s house. Rural French people just take a long time to get to know. They are very discrete and not trusting at first but with perseverance and grit, you’ll be accepted into their hearts. Once they let you in, they tend to be very loyal and warm and will be there to help when you need them the most. And that is something worth its weight in gold and something you cannot live without here in the countryside. If you get invited over to a local French couples’ or family meal, don’t forget to bring them a nice bottle of wine (make it one of quality, nothing cheap) and expect to spend a good 4 hours chatting while dining slowly. Invitation meals are never rushed.

No. 8 Participate in associations. Local associations provide entertainment throughout the year for any village in France but they are also an important source of information and social gatherings for networking. It’s through an association that you’ll meet people on the local council, the mayor, and the various individuals that make the village work all year ’round. Cotignac has a larger than average number of associations that keep locals and tourists busy all year by organising events such as concerts, theatre productions, festivals (the Quince festival in October for example), Christmas markets, feasts, parties, balls, artist expositions, museums, cinema, music lessons, sports activities and popular events like the annual Trail Race in June. Participating in an association is easy. Just contact the president of the association of your choice and let them know you wish to participate. There is a list of associations for Cotignac here. You will be invited to their next meeting and participate in the organisation of their next event. And you’ll make lots of new friends in the process. The downside of this though is that you really do need to commit your time and energy and participate with the association for the entire year at the least. You’ll be frowned upon if you give up mid-way. And remember you’ll be talked about so you need to stay on your best behaviour!

Having said all that, I still love it here and would not dream of living anywhere else.

🙂 Susana