Don't be alarmed by these sounds you might hear in France
PUBLISHED: 11:22 10 July 2018 | UPDATED: 09:23 12 July 2018
Life in France is famously peaceful and quiet but you could be surprised by the sounds you outside or even inside your French property.
French villages are particularly attached to their church bells so keep that in mind if a village house takes your fancy, particularly if you like a lie-in on Sundays – the bells will ring longer before and after Sunday mass if there is a service and they’ll also ring for weddings and some funeral services.
Peter Elias came across this entertaining story in his time as an estate agent with Allez-Français which perfectly illustrates France’s love for village church bells: “In our village, Puy d’Arnac, a French Colonel purchased a superb property right alongside the village church. The church bells ring from 8am to 9pm on the hour and half hour, but they also have special rings for births, deaths and marriages. The Colonel decided he wanted the bells silenced and asked the Mayor, who refused. So he went door to door with a petition that very few, if any signed. He retreated in disgrace and truly humbled. In his annoyance, he retreated back to Paris, (his principal residence). The next day, we had an incredible thunderstorm, lightning struck his house, and it was burned to the ground. The locals, of course, call this an Act of God… We are grateful that the village kept its traditional bells; they are something special and not to be silenced.”
Horns and sirens
Some small villages have no butcher’s shop or bakeries so vans come and park on village squares to sell products such as meat, fresh eggs, bread and even ready-to-eat meals such as pizzas and the likes. Known as commerces ambulants, these trucks blow their horn to signal their arrival - a drawn out and screechy sound.
In a village with a fire brigade, don’t be alarmed if you hear the station’s siren once a month as this is for the firemen’s practice. It can be a worrying sound – similar to an air raid siren – if you are unaware it is a drill but it happens on a fixed day, usually the first Wednesday of the month.
Peacocks and small birds
Have you ever heard the sound a male peacock makes? If you’re unprepared for it, the noise can be quite shocking because it is so loud. Madeline Aveson, of Aquitaine Lifestyle Solutions, remembers the sound only too well. “It sounds like [they are shouting] the French name Léon,” says Madeline, whose garden was once visited by a couple of escaping peacocks. “We have much fun answering them when they call out!”
Other than screaming peacocks, you are likely to hear the songs of a dozen different species of birds – tits and sparrows chatting away, the song of nightingales, cuckoos sounding their springtime hoot, or even woodpeckers if you’re lucky.
In the Alps, you may hear early morning explosions carried out in ski resorts to trigger controlled avalanches. Beware of buying a home next to a noisy business such as a garage or a bar. Bear in mind that village halls – salle des fêtes – are often used for functions, weddings and parties that last well into the night. You may also want to be wary of bakeries as property manager Mary Hall points out that you might hear the baker working through the night and the very early hours of the morning.
“You know the typical southern France squares planted with plane trees?” Mary continues. “I wouldn’t want a property too close; the noise the municipal leaf-blowers make when they clear up is awful, and it happens regularly throughout the summer as well as in the autumn.”
Farmers and farm animals
Farms in rural France can be noisy at times, particularly during the harvest. In the summer, farmers prefer to work the field with their combine harvesters at night in order to avoid the heat in the day, but this can extend to the autumn for winegrowers too. In the Alps, the sound of cow bells can be a delight to hear while on holiday but are you prepared to put up with them longer?
FPN’s assistant editor, Ruth Wood, experienced a shock to the system one night in her holiday house in Brittany: “One summer’s night, while alone with my daughter in our gîte, I was awoken by a terrifying hullabaloo. At first I thought a hunting party was riding right through our garden blowing their horns. But then I realised it was the braying of some donkeys that had been moved to a nearby field.”
Chickens and cockerels
Chicken coops are quite common in country houses in France and therefore, so are cockerels. Expat Janine Marsh has got used to the cock-a-doodle-doos of the cockerels next door to her home in Hauts-de-France. “In the garden of the neighbour who lives opposite me, three cockerels have taken to roosting in a tree at a height that’s level with the bedroom windows of our house,” the author of The Good Life France blog says.
“I always used to believe that cockerels only cock-a-doodle-doo’d when the sun rises. This is not true; they crow at the moon or a car’s headlights; if a dog barks or a tractor passes, that sets them off. I have got used to it now and sleep right through the noise.”
Stone martens and mice
Cate Carnduff, an agent with Agence Immobilière Hermann de Graaf in Dordogne says it is quite common to hear fouines in the attic, especially in holiday homes. “Stone martens in the attics of empty houses [are] a common problem for second home owners,” she says. “When they arrive back at their French retreat, they are often awoken in the middle of the night by what seems like mice with clogs dancing in the attic!”
FPN’s expert countryside columnist Jeremy Hobson concurs that fouines can be particularly loud. Mice are also regular visitors to French houses, especially in rural areas and old properties, as are edible dormice in the roof and walls, he explains.
In France, hunting is a common sport enjoyed by many people on weekends (often Sundays) in the countryside but the activity can be quite loud and disconcerting if you don’t know about it. Gun shots echo across the fields, as do the horns calling the packs – themselves the source of loud barking.
As regards to hunting dogs, you might want to make sure your property is not located too close to a breeder who keeps hunting dogs, as Madeline Aveson explains. “These very excitable hounds often spend the whole night barking and howling as they are taunted by the local wildlife,” she says.
With a population density less than half the UK’s, France is a lot less crowded and has far less traffic so you might equally be struck by how quiet everything is. “Sometimes when we wake in the middle of the night we have to pinch ourselves to make sure we are still alive!” say Micki and Chris Slade who live in Brittany where they run their agency A House in Brittany. “It is so very quiet where we have a house. In ranking its busy-ness we call it a four-tractors-a-day road. If there’s a car or two it might just be the tractor drivers on their way home.”
What unusual sounds have you heard while in France? Get in touch on social media or let us know by emailing FPN@completefrance.com