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First we have the rentrée – throughout France the return to school at the beginning of September is almost as important a “new year” as January 1st. Once the August holidays are over and the children are back in school the autumn work begins.
The vendange, or wine harvest, which starts in August for some grapes, continues into the autumn when the leaves on the vines turn wonderful shades of red and gold before falling to leave a wintery spider’s web of tangled branches. As the vignerons begin to ferment their grapes you may be lucky enough to come across vin bourru in your local market or supermarket. This is a slightly sparkling acidic drink which is not high in alcohol content. It is taken from the wine vat at an early stage in the fermentation process and is traditonally drunk to accompany roast chestnuts. Too much can give you terrible indigestion. When we had first arrived in France I saw a board outside a local café exclaiming “Le Bourru est arrivé!”. In my ignorance I thought the owner was telling us that he had bought a donkey.
Food and seasonal produce continues to play an important part in the calendar and in the Pyrénéan village of Espelette, in the mountains behind Biarritz, the annual harvest of the Espelette pepper takes place. The peppers (chillies in reality) are hung across the fronts of the village houses to dry.
As a rule French food is not spicy and, in my experience, the Espelette pepper is as hot as it gets. Look out for little jars of powdered “Piment d’Espelette” in good food shops.
You can read more about the village here: https://www.espelette.fr/
France celebrates Halloween – but it is more about 101 ways to cook and eat a pumpkin than it is about Trick or Treat, while November 5th is non-existent. However, there are two public holidays. The first is November 1st, when families traditionally remember their dead. Graveyards look sensational as relatives bring flowers to decorate their family graves; some travelling across France to gather together as a mark of respect. Look out for pots of chrysanthemums on sale from early October – and don’t be tempted to buy one as a gift for a friend – they are the French equivalent of a funeral wreath.
On November 11th at 11 am (regardless of the day of the week) the French commemorate ’le jour de Souvenir’ – or Remembrance Day. In our village, which is tiny, the mayor invites us to the ceremony. Young children place a floral tribute against the village memorial, the Mayor reads out an address from the Prime Minister or other government minister, followed by the name of everyone in the village who has died fighting for their country. After each name is read out we all say “mort pour la France” and then we hold a minute’s silence. Afterwards we share a “vin d’amitie” in our salle de fete. The French wear a bleuet (or cornflower) rather than a poppy.
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Every autumn France hosts a weekend of heritage days - and this year they take place on 21st and 22nd September. Nationally there are concerts, talks, guided visits and properties exceptionally opened to the public. If you are holidaying here, house hunting or live here it is a rare opportunity to find out a little more about the area you are in. There is an excellent guide to 2019's event is you follow this link: https://www.journees-du-patrimoine.com which lists what is open by department and then commune.
The images shown are the Queen's garden in Montpellier and the facade of Bazas cathedral (in the Gironde) where there is going to be a night time promenade and opportunities to discover more about this beautiful little medieval city.
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The yellow flowers you will see popping up in dry sunny spots across France are not crocuses but are members of the daffodil family. They are called stenbergias, or, to be exact Stenbergia lutea – or the winter daffodil. Really easy to propagate by dividing clumps of bulbs when they get a bit crowded they are a cheerful addition to your French garden and add a bit of extra zing to the autumn colour scheme.
Sedum loves a dry, gravelly situation and you can propagate it easily
Other things which look great at the moment are Hylotelephium spectabile (most of us know them as Sedums; they were re-named botanically a few years ago). Like stenbergia, if you can find a spot they love (usually dry and sunny) they thrive and can easily be propagated by dividing the plants in the spring or even simply by poking a stem into the ground and making sure it gets a bit of water while it is establishing.
Gaura - next to the David Austin rose "Strawberry Hill" - which does well in SW France
Then you have beautiful white Gaura lindheimerai – the flowers floating like butterflies above stems which are rapidly turning autumnal red, and gorgeous grasses – such as Stipa gigantea or Miscanthus malepartus. Add the fabulous flask shaped rose hips of Rosa moysii (the one in the photograph is Highdownensis, but my favourite is Geranium) and the stark exploding firework heads of dried Allium schubertii and that is a fabulous collection for the dry autumn garden.
Stipa gigantea - the seedheads will remain intact all winter
Finally – in a shady corner under some trees, plant corms of Cyclamen hederifolium. The little flowers appear from August through the autumn followed by marbled green and white leaves in the winter.
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If you are looking to buy or sell a property in France, one of your considerations should be how you’re going to transfer your currency, as the difference in exchange rates can really make all the difference to the amount this will actually cost you. Some buyers and vendors automatically assume that using their bank is the easiest and cheapest way of doing this, however this often isn’t the case.
Foreign Currency Direct transacts in excess of half a billion Pounds per year and as such this gives far more buying power than an individual would have when purchasing currency. In addition to the savings that you could achieve on your currency exchange, our service is extremely personal and you will have one point of contact here throughout your dealings with us. Your account manager will take the time to get to know about your plans, and use their expert market knowledge to keep you up to speed with exchange rate fluctuations so that you can make an informed decision when to perform your transaction. Our traders have been with us on average for over 8 years, and you can use their vast experience to help you navigate the French buying and selling process, whilst helping you best time your currency exchange.
Not only are we able to offer extremely competitive rates of exchange when compared to the high street banks, but we also understand the nuances of the French property market. Having helped thousands of clients to buy and sell properties in France, we are perfectly positioned to organise the transfer of your currency. We can also send payments directly to your Notaire for your property purchase, or funds can be sent directly from a Notaire to our French Euro bank account following completion of a property sale, all to help you to avoid potential bank charges.
Foreign Currency Direct are authorised by the FCA as an Electronic Money Institution, so you can be safe in the knowledge that your money is being handled responsibly, held in segregated client accounts which are used to keep client funds and company funds completely separate.
We also offer a number of contract options designed to help you to capitalise on favourable exchange rates. A forward contract for example allows you to purchase currency in advance, so that if the exchange rate falls you are safe in the knowledge that your currency is already secured. This can remove the risk of market volatility which could impact your return significantly, while you wait for your property completion.
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The pound continues to remain under pressure and has begun the month of July close to the lowest levels to buy Euros in almost 3 months, with the Interbank level hitting 1.128 on 2ndJuly. The EU Summit which took place at the end of last week caused the Euro to strengthen against the Pound and US Dollar, amongst a host of other major currencies. This Euro strength was put down to many EU members edging much closer to agreeing on how best to deal with the current migrant crisis.
UK economic data has been relatively poor of late, with GDP (Gross Domestic Product, a key barometer of economic Growth) figures being released at just 0.2% last month. To put this into context, the Growth rate in the US is currently at 2.2%.
There was, however, some respite for the Pound in June when one more member of the Monetary Policy Committee than at the previous meeting voted in favour of a hike in Interest Rates. The currency markets reacted positively to this news, as although rates were left unchanged at 0.5%, this sparked further speculation that a rate hike could be seen in the near future - potentially at the Bank of England’s next meeting in August.
However the main topic keeping Sterling’s value pinned down is Brexit. Discussions haven’t really made any progress for some time, when it had been hoped that this would be a priority discussion point at the EU Summit. Teresa May is expected to release a White Paper during a cabinet meeting on Friday 6thJuly at Chequers, which could be make or break for both Brexit and also her leadership. Mrs May has had a constant struggle recently in trying to get her party to agree to key issues, and a divide has been growing for some time between those who want a hard Brexit, and those who are pushing for a soft Brexit. If Friday’s discussions don’t go to plan, a vote of no confidence could potentially put her leadership in jeopardy, and would almost certainly be Sterling negative if this were to happen.