Moving to France: Reflections on the last two years

Pour etre heureux, il faut essayer de vivre chaque minute au charme que nous lui trouverons lorsqu’ elle ne sera plus qu’un sourvenir”

Henri Troyat

To be happy, we must try to live every minute with the charm that we find in it when it is nothing more than a memory.”

Appreciating the small things that punctuate daily life in France: the chime of church bells on the hour, conversations with locals, lighting candles in 1000-year-old churches, and the first picking of olives. Every street name is steeped in history. Avenue de Boutiny, named after a famous perfume family, and Avenue du Docteur Belletrud, named after a doctor and Mayor of Cabris are streets we drive down daily.

Celebrating the seasons and the small things

  • Time is always taken to say “Bonjour” and genuinely enquire about your day.
  • No one is rushing to serve, and then move on to the next customer.
  • Such is the beauty of life in a small village.
  • Daily life adapts to the seasons.


Winter falls and snowy peaks form on the mountains above Nice. It is the lead-up to Christmas and the end of the year.

The decorations are installed in mid-November and each village takes pride in its Christmas market and activities. Smells of chestnuts, vin chaud (hot wine), and wood fires permeate the air. Fond childhood memories of sitting by open fires are stirred. Equally for an Australian, they can evoke fear. Like when we first arrived the smell of thick smoke placed me on high alert. Only then did I realise that wood fires are a common way of heating houses and cooking, so there was no need for alarm (as opposed to the wild bushfires at home).

The winter flowers are beautiful: camellias, cyclamen, Christmas roses, winter jasmine, and the unmistakable mimosa (wattle). It explodes in all its golden glory in late January/February across the hills of Tanneron.


Strolling through the streets of Grasse the smell of roses and jasmine notes the arrival of spring.

The days are lighter, the air warmer and winter layers are gradually discarded. But be careful during April (as the well-known saying goes) as the cold can creep back and catch you off guard. “En Avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil” (In April, don’t uncover yourself of a thread). Winter clothes can’t quite be discarded even though everyone is out enjoying the sunshine.

Perfumes, parties, and smells

The party season starts, not just for the adults but kids’ parties too, meticulously organised with themes, animators, and games.

My favourite is the ‘boite de 0deurs’ (box of smells). It features small canisters that you take the lid off and smell. Next, you need to guess the scent. Some scents are quite difficult to guess:

  • chevrefeuille (honeysuckle);
  • Muguet (lily of the valley);
  • cassis (blackcurrent); and
  • fleur d’oranger (orange blossom), especially for children.

This appreciation and development of the senses; visual, taste, touch, and smell commence at a young age.


Summer arrives with the smell of garrigue (a mixture of juniper, thyme, sage, and lavender) and the chirping of cicadas in the afternoons.

The summer kitchen comes into use and we eat most of our meals outside. Bottles of rosé help distract you from the mosquitos and the endless stream of guests. Summer marks the commencement of the long July/August school holidays and the influx of tourists.

Locals generally stay in the comfort of their own homes to entertain. This is a treat for the guests but by the end of summer can take its toll on the hosts, particularly if you are still working. With a huge sigh of relief, the kids are back at school in September and we are free to enjoy the beautiful weather.

Moving to France: Reflections on the last two years


Autumn is harvesting season, particularly, olives and grapes. It is a time to explore the local vineyards and menus highlight truffle-infused dishes, mushrooms, and game meats such as wild boar and venison. If you ever get the chance picking and harvesting olives is an experience that makes you appreciate a hard day’s work. It involves laying nets, shaking the trees, and then picking them up and placing them into boxes as the olives disburse everywhere except the net.

The first time we did this, we were in bed at 8.30 pm tired and sore.

Next, the olives are sorted from their leaves and taken to the local moulin (mill) for pressing. My husband put me in charge. Off I went, the back of my little car full of crates of olives ready to drop off at the moulin in St Vallier. I was lucky enough to meet some characters who worked there. After an obligatory sampling of the thick peppery first pressing, the Monsieur in charge enquired:

What is an Australian like you doing in a small French village?”. “Oh, I replied”, “I am married to a Frenchman”. Sipping on a small glass of red, he wasted no time in wanting to know whether he was from the area. “No, I said, he was born in Paris”. To which he quickly responded crossing himself “God save the Queen”. When I explained he had lived most of his life in Australia, he appeared to be relieved, and we both laughed.

There have been so many discoveries and learning over the last two years of our life in the South of France that I could fill a book.

My French has improved!

I can certainly converse in and understand most conversations. Often people enquire “I detect an accent Madame, where are you from?” To which I reply Australie. I was with the girls on one of these occasions and they commented that they don’t like my accent. They now speak French with a perfect French accent and often tease me about mine. Mais c’est ne pas grave (It’s not serious).

I will probably always have an Australian accent when I speak French. Most people find it charming, and it certainly is a great way to start a conversation.

How is your French learning progressing? And have you ever been to the Grasse area? Share your experiences in the comments below.


About the Contributor

Jacinta Bayard

I grew up with a deep curiosity about my surname, its French origins and history. I've always loved France and dreamed of living there one day. In 2022 a business opportunity allowed my family to move to the South of France. Recently I started writing about this experience.

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