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Life in a Postcard: Escape to the French Pyrenees [Paperback]

Rosemary Bailey
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 April 2002

'I wake to the sun striking gold on a stone wall. If I lean out of the window I can see Mount Canigou newly iced with snow. It is wonderful to live in a building with windows all around, to see both sunrise and sunset, to be constantly aware of the passage of the sun and moon.'

In 1988, Rosemary Bailey and her husband were travelling in the French Pyrenees when they fell in love with, and subsequently bought, a ruined medieval monastery, surrounded by peach orchards and snow-capped peaks. Traces of the monks were everywhere, in the frescoed 13th century chapel, the buried crypt, the stone arches of the cloister.

For the next few years the couple visited Corbiac whenever they could, until in 1997, they took the plunge and moved from central London to rural France with their six-year-old son. Entirely reliant on their earnings as freelance writers, they put their Apple Macs in the room with the fewest leaks and sent Theo to the village school. With vision and determination they have restored the monastery to its former glory, testing their relationship and resolve to the limit, and finding unexpected inspiration in the place.

Life in a Postcard is not just Rosemary Bailey's enthralling account of the challenges of life in a small mountain community, but also a celebration of the rugged beauty of French Catalonia, the pleasures of Catalan cooking, and an exploration of an alternative, often magical world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (1 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553813412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553813418
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 101,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Many of us share a daydream. In idle moments, we delight ourselves with the thought of leaving Britain's grey climate behind and making a go of it in some sultry foreign locale. And if we're really ambitious with our daydreams, we think about transforming some exotic ruin into a splendid place to live. Rosemary Bailey and her husband, however, did more than just daydream. The beguiling Life in a Postcard tells how the couple were travelling in the French Pyrenees in 1988 when they were smitten with a crumbling medieval monastery which they later bought. Surrounded by peach orchards and snow-capped peaks, the area was rich with traces of the long-vanished monks: the sunken crypt, the stone arches of the cloister, the frescoes in the 13th-century chapel. Whenever they could, the couple visited Corbiac over the next few years, until they finally summoned the courage to relocate from urban London to rural France with their young son. With only the earnings from their freelance writing careers to support them, they performed the Herculean task of restoring the monastery to its former glory.

Reading this utterly unputdownable account, it's easy to share the dream that drove the couple. But this isn't just aspirational wish-fulfilment; Bailey is mercilessly frank about the considerable strain put on their relationship, as well as the various horrors of living in a leaky, run-down property. But despite all that, the enjoyment of Life in a Postcard comes from our sharing this vivid evocation of the beauty of French Catalonia (with its famous cooking), and the tempting possibilities that (with the kind of determination that Bailey and her husband possessed) we too could be living a life like theirs. And if we can't, this book is a highly diverting substitute. --Barry Forshaw


"'Enchantingly told...I just couldn't put it down'" (France In Print)

"'Reading this utterly unputdownable account, it's easy to share the dream that drove the couple...We too could be living a life like theirs. And if we can't, this book is a highly diverting substitute'" (

"'Life in a Postcard is not just the author's account of the challenges of life in a small mountain community, but also a celebration of French Catalonia and the pleasures of Catalan cooking. I do not envy them one bit - but I did enjoy reading about life in the French Pyrenees in all its manifestations, in a comfortable armchair at I am sure you will'" (Living France)

"'Offers some real flavour of the beauty of Catalonia and may actually inspire others to follow her path'" (What's On In London)

"'More diverse than the usual Brit transplant to that ideal place in France, Rosemary Bailey's account takes in monastic history and a marital situation which might paint a grin on the faces of the hipper reader...Sweet book'" (Time Out)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars INSIGHTFUL & INCISIVE - A STUNNING READ 26 Nov 2002
I would give it 10 stars if I could. I bought it with some cynicism. I enjoy the genre but was not interested in yet another book about French delicacies, lavender, scenery and climate. Rosemary has struck a brilliant balance in Life in a Postcard. There is something for everyone. It is a frank account of the challenges in setting up a home away from home in a country that is riddled with hurdles and difficulties that few of us will come across on casual visits.
Rosemary writes beautifully about her beloved monastery, about the trials and tribulations of bringing up a child largely on her own and doing her best to ensure that he is well integrated and happy in his new environment. For all their qualities the “Driving over Lemons” of this world lack the depth of historical knowledge, insightfulness and incisiveness that you will find in “Life in a Postcard”. I cannot recommend it enough.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A really evocative and well-written book. The author not only draws us into the daily frustrations and joys of buying a dream home abroad - in this case a ruined medieval monastery - but paints a fascinating picture of rural village life in French Catalonia, a community that is multi-cultural in the extreme, with ex-pats, many of them hippies, from all European countries living in surprising harmony.
Move over Peter Mayle et al - this book deserves to be a bestseller.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book 28 Jan 2004
I really enjoyed this - the author paints an alluring picture of her extraordinary life in a tiny village in the Pyrenees, and the real sense of community there. Rosemary Bailey writes very well indeed and there's a nice balance of inner dialogue and honesty with the strong sense of place. Really makes you want to go there...
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Yet another....! 28 April 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book with high hopes, having read some of the reviews, but was disappointed. The author writes well about some of the scenery and culture of the region, but if I had wanted a history lesson I would have bought a history book! The passages where the thoughts/feelings of monks were imagined were just embarrassing padding. I would have welcomed far more detail about the building, the region, timescales, costings, and future plans. I'm a sucker for any book about France/Spain/Italy, but this was a real disappointment, hence my first ever review for Amazon! I think Peter Mayle's crown is safe.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
There is a little-known part of the French Pyrenees which is the new Provence: Ms Bailey's luminous evocation of the inscape and landscape of her Romanesque monastery and its environs vividly evokes the past, the present, and the way the future could re-shape the lives of the rural villages of Europe. Mostly, the book's about her ruined Romanesque monastery and how she lived there, how they rebuild it. But, shimmering through the story like the underthread of shot silk is also her own personal journey of rediscovery.
You can smell the rosemary and mimosa: taste the hot sunlight, heavy with herbs and ripe peaches. She is honest about the tramontane - mist and rainbows and terrifying destruction. Her description of the smallest ski-station in Europe is, well, you have to read it. I like the honesty of this book. Despite the Country Living scenery and lifestyle, she captures the honesty of the small, rural, mountain village. Its rough edges, its values, its humour, its - Life.
Throughout her story she weaves the life of the medieval monastic tradition, mixing pages of historical detail, myth, and romance with summer menus, gardening, family incident, moments of accidie, catharsis and celebration, observations on the politics of modern Europe. If there isn't a Channel Four Sunday night serial or at the very least a documentary in this book then someone isn't doing their job properly. This book cries out to be photographed. It's a Sunday night-in-the-winter sort of book, a lazy-summer afternoon-in-the-hammock book, almost poetic, a Journal : part architectural lovestory, part landscape, leavened with recipes and seasoned with politics: you can't really call it a Travel book because mostly she stays right there.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely read 1 July 2014
By sukie1
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Loved this book. Makes me feel like moving to France. Read it whilst sitting out in garden. Its a book I will return to. I get rid of most books these days, but not this one.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Life in a Postcard 23 Feb 2014
By Amicus
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Haven't read it yet but if it's up to same standard as Love and War in the Pyrennes I'm happy
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4.0 out of 5 stars Pyrenees 7 Nov 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Too much information about the monks in the first part of the book, but really enjoyed the factual information about the area and how the family coped. Enjoyed following the progress of their son at a French school and the re-building of their monastery. Amazing diligence on research of the building by the husband and how Rosemary lived amongst the rubble shows great stamina. Good luck to them in the future.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Life in a postcard.
An enjoyable read. I love to read about other peoples experiences when moving to France. The people the places and the struggle with the red tape that entangles you as soon as you... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Cuechip
4.0 out of 5 stars Love, Monks and Patrimoine in the Pyrenees
I really loved this book and even dashed off an excited email to the author. It's the most intimate, heart-warming account of how she and her husband bought and restored a ruined... Read more
Published on 12 Jun 2012 by monkeymama
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book...
I bought this book because we are thinking of holidaying in this part of France having seen the scenery on the TV coverage of the Tour de France. Read more
Published on 9 Sep 2011 by franny
4.0 out of 5 stars An old monastry in deepest France.
A pleasant & easy read, hard to put down if you like reading about people who move into an old tumbledown property & are prepared to work hard & long to restore it to their dream. Read more
Published on 22 Aug 2011 by Shirley, Bourton.
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish you were hear?
Wonderfully written, you can almost taste the good food and feel the frustration of the waiting for the French to finish things, the way Britain used to be
Published on 13 Feb 2011 by Denise K. Church
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
I agree with 'A Customer's' review. This is the first book of this genre I haven't been able to finish. Read more
Published on 11 Feb 2010 by Ms. A. J. Kemp
5.0 out of 5 stars life in a postcard
great book, well written lots of history,and a place we have visited, recommend as a good read. Beryl.
Published on 2 Aug 2009 by Tony Mundy
1.0 out of 5 stars Padded
If this was a sunday times best seller then the competion must have been dire. Writing style is amateurish, a reminder of all those school essays entitled "What I did on My... Read more
Published on 26 April 2008 by TT
2.0 out of 5 stars I felt it never really got going
I love the genre of people taking on the challenge of moving to a new place and setting up, dealing with the local culture and people. Read more
Published on 6 Sep 2006 by Kilkenny_Cat
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