A year in Europe followed by a move to Bangkok

Provence: Cotignac, France

I thought of three alternative titles for this post:  "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", "It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times", or "All that Glitters is not Gold."  Perhaps this offers a glimpse into my feelings about Cotignac, a picturesque Provincial village tucked in the south eastern corner of France.  I spent just under two months in Cotignac (Jake was with me for about half that time).  While I treasure my gorgeous photos of one of the most beautiful villages in France, I take comfort in the fact that I never have to go back...

The Good:
A classic Provincial village set against a breathtaking natural backdrop.  This place is about as picturesque as it gets.

The church tower:

The village's second church tower in the square with the town hall and war memorial in the background.  Each French village that we visited had its own monument engraved with the names of the villagers who had died in the first and second world wars - a nice way to remember the fallen.

The main street of Cotignac, lined with restaurants and plane trees:

I love this photo  - the combination of the pale and darker purple shutters and flowers is so pretty.

The weekly market:

And our purchases:

Our favorite spot overlooking the village:

Old olive oil mill on the right:

Ancient caves - people used to live in them:


We bought olives, meat and cheese at the weekly market and a baguette at our favorite boulangerie and had a picnic by the waterfall.  However, I was a bit on edge after spotting a snake on the way there...  After that, every tree root looked like a snake to me.  

Small shops and art galleries lined this street:

The flowers were fantastic:

It's all fun and games until...


The Bad:
The lingering negative of Cotignac can't be seen in photos.  Cat urine.  The odor was inescapable and it was such a shame.  There were cats everywhere, to the point where I thought it could potentially pose a public health issue.  The root of the problem quickly became apparent when I saw a woman dumping a bag of cat food in an open field and cats appearing from everywhere.  I saw her often - she spent her days walking between various places throughout the village where she would feed (I would venture a guess of hundreds) of feral cats daily.  I never walked anywhere in the village without seeing multiple cats, a few of which were surprisingly aggressive. 

A gang of feral cats ruled the village's garbage disposal area, making taking the trash out a generally unpleasant experience.  The cat urine / poo situation in the garden of our patio made it impossible to enjoy sitting outside without being overcome by the odor.  In fact, so many cats jumped on the awning over the patio that it had been ruined.

With the smell of cat urine permeating the air, it just felt dirty.  You couldn't get away from the odor, and the overall experience of what had the potential to be a pristine and charming village was knocked down many notches in my book.  All the beauty in the world can't overcome the smell of cat pee. 

I also didn't care for the overall feel of the village.  The people weren't as friendly as other places in France (they were nicer in Paris...) and we never quite felt welcome.  There is a village called St. Remy about an hour and a half west of Cotignac that Jake and I fell in love with.  We visited on our honeymoon and again while we were in Cotignac.  Although between the two, I would have to say Cotignac had more physical beauty, St. Remy had all the charm, warmth and "good feel" we felt Cotignac lacked.  Each village really has its own personality and Cotignac's just wasn't a good fit for us. 

The Ugly:
The heat, the dirt, the smells, the skulls.  

As the newspaper put it, it wasn't actually the hottest June on record in Cotignac - there had been a hotter one... in the 1940s!   That, coupled with the fact that our rental house had no air conditioning and the bedroom was in the 4th floor attic led to a very hot and sticky stay.  When you got about halfway up the staircase leading to the attic bedroom, you would feel a blast of hot air.  The heat just collected on that top floor where it had to have been at least 90 degrees during the day, and not that much cooler at night.  There was a window on one wall that I would open to try to let some of the hot air out, but as it is in all parts of France, there are no window screens, so while the air is going out, the bugs are coming in.  And, I noticed cats walking around on the roofs and had a valid (in Cotignac) concern that a cat would hop through the open window.  Here is a three inch long angry hornet that I luckily closed the window on just in time:


And here is how poor Henry spent his nights:  

It would have made sense to sleep on a lower floor where it was cooler, but I didn't have many options.  The lizard lived on the third floor along with the most disturbing of the artwork.  The lizard would appear every few days somewhere on the third floor and just out of reach.  I reluctantly let it be until it made its way up to the bedroom wall, which was just too much for me to handle and the landlord graciously caught it for me.  Even once the lizard situation was under control, I still couldn't get myself to sleep on the third floor due to the artwork.  It exceeded my threshold for creepy and then some:


To get the full effect, here is a closer look:

Yes, that is the pink panther being crucified, a skull, many many insects that I can only imagine were alive at some point, some eyeballs, a woman made of butterfly wings,  photo of Jesus and a hoof.

Further up, we have a rat in a trap, a crucifix with a skull and crossbones, a scorpion, and more insects.

To each their own, but had the artwork actually been shown in the advertisement photos for the rental house, I never, ever would have agreed to rent the house.  The art was done by the owners, a retired (very nice) English couple.  The husband actually had a garage full of dead snakes, lizards, frogs and bugs that he had collected and used to make molds for his artwork (although the insects in the above photos were not made from molds...)

The first floor was the kitchen.  Although it was definitely cooler down here, the fact that upon our arrival, you could take a wet paper towel and make it turn black with dirt by wiping it across either the floor or countertops just left a bad taste in my mouth.   The sign that basically said "the house was clean when you arrived, leave it that way when you leave" along with its filthy condition led me to believe that a cleaning "honor system" was in place and the house hadn't had a real cleaning in years.  

Then there was the  ground level that housed the bathroom and a daybed.  Definitely a contender for a cooler place to sleep, except the room smelled so strongly of mildew that it was difficult to spend 5 minutes in the area, let alone all night.  Jake and I spent about $50 on various cleaning supplies to attempt to get the smell under control with little success.  Henry actually refused to set foot on this floor and you could smell the mildew upon entering the house on the floor above. 

So, Cotignac just wasn't the right place for us.  Our experience was a good reminder that you can't tell everything about a place by looking at photos.  Sometimes the feel (and smell!) of a seemingly beautiful place can just be off.  In the end, we decided to cut our losses and head out a week early.  

Here is Henry on our way out of town.  I detect a smile.

Cotignac, we won't soon forget you.


  1. Well, I like the title you chose because I can better decipher what the post is about. The cat pee stench sounds just terrible. :]

    // ▲ itsCarmen.com ▲

  2. Very nice experience! :)

  3. It looks so pretty but I understand that photos can lie. I like that you did such an honest post :) Those vegetables looks amazing!
    xx Elle

    New outfit post on:
    www.cherryblossomstreet.com - Swedish Fashion Blogger and Model in TOKYO

    1. Thanks, Elle! I did really enjoy the fresh fruits and vegetables. And the baguettes :)