TO KNOW | LA RAMONETA OF THE MONTH
Every month, we introduce you to an interesting woman living in Languedoc. Curious as we are, we like to find out why they are living in this beautiful region, what they do for a living and some of their Languedoc favourites. This month we would like you to meet Merrilees Moran as Ramoneta of the Month.
Before coming to live in France, I worked as Head of Art at a large comprehensive school in the North-West of England teaching 11 to 16-year-olds. I have a BA degree in Ceramics and a post-graduate teaching qualification in Art and Design.
First time in the region
In the summer of 2006, I came on a family holiday to the Aude department, in South-West France, with my husband Ian and our three children. When we drove to Limoux (1) to meet up with friends, Ian showed me a house that he had seen on the internet back home, on impulse we arranged to view it. It was an old, neglected Maison de Maître with a completely overgrown garden in the town centre of Limoux. From the moment we stepped inside the gate it was a complete “coup de foudre”. As fate would have it, we received an offer on our house in Manchester later that same day… We felt it was meant to be!
Settling in Languedoc
So, only three months after our summer holiday, we took a leap of faith and moved to Limoux. Ready to start a renovation project and our new life. We arrived four days before Christmas 2006 with our kids aged 8 and 6 years old and the youngest only 10 months.
In the beginning, we had the idea that we could run art holidays and artist retreats. However, as it was such a large property, the renovation work was more than we could handle. So we decided to sell off half of the property, which was much less stressful, as we still had a lot of work to do on our own half!
In 2009, I registered as an “auto-entrepreneur” and opened an art studio at home, offering art classes to children on Wednesdays. It began with our children and their friends and our friends’ children, who, in turn, would also bring their friends. Over time, more and more children came to participate. It was certainly quite challenging to begin with, as my French was very rudimentary, although I had studied it at school. Before long, their parents and other adults asked for art classes as well.
Coucou Limoux (2)
During this time, I rediscovered felt-making and developed a range of soft, felted scarves which I sold at the local Christmas markets. Needing a name for my business, I started to think about my favourite French words… Every time I took my youngest out in his buggy, we would be greeted with a cheerful “Coucou!”. As it also rhymes with “Limoux”, Coucou Limoux was born!
I’ve always loved to paint and upcycle furniture and upon discovering how easy it was to use Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint™ (no messy prep work, fast drying, fabulous colours and… instant gratification!) a new strand to my business arose. I trained to become an Annie Sloan stockist and started to offer Chalk Paint™ furniture painting workshops.
By this time, we were renting a small shop and studio space in Limoux. We stayed here for five years, until our big move in November 2018 into our own larger premises in Rue Jean Jaurès, still in Limoux. I love our new shop! I have a much bigger atelier/studio space, and besides Chalk Paint™ workshops, I also offer Silverclay (and more recently Copperclay) jewellery workshops. This fascinating medium incorporates recycled fine silver/copper particles with an organic clay-like binder. It can be rolled stamped and modelled like plasticine, and once it is fired, it becomes solid metal. The results are quite stunning!
Art and craft
I continue to run art and craft classes each week for adults and children, as well as themed workshops such as Frida Kahlo icons (3), papier mâché, decoupage, watercolour painting, mono-printing, painted signs and bookmaking. The larger premises have also given us the opportunity to expand the boutique. We now sell leather bags that I have designed, ladies clothes, jewellery, artwork, Chalk Paint™ and upcycled and painted furniture.
To start a business in France, you have to battle through a lot of bureaucracy. It was probably for the best that we didn’t know what we were getting into ahead of time, because it might have put us off! But here we are, thirteen years after arriving in France, with a beautiful shop in the middle of Limoux, offering art and craft workshops to locals and tourists, of all ages and abilities.
© Merrilees Moran
© Merrilees Moran
Living in Languedoc
The best part of living in this region of France is the climate. I love summer, and autumn too, when the vines change colour. But every year, when winter comes, I still get a feeling of excitement. It takes me right back to the time when we first arrived here, full of anticipation. And although the temperature drops, the skies are still a brilliant blue.
Besides the climate, I love having the flexibility here. Spain is around the corner, we love to go camping and life seems simpler here. We certainly weren’t unhappy in Manchester, but life was busy and pressured. At the beginning of our French adventure, we felt like we had taken a step back in time, as life has a slower pace here, which we found quite charming and gave us more family time. Our cooking has changed a lot as well since living here. We cook with the seasons, and as the children’s’ school is only around the corner, it was lovely to be able to eat lunch all together.
Tips for learning French
Initially, I started with good intentions and joined our local AVF association (“Accueil Ville Français”) for the French classes. But with a 10-month-old baby at home, that didn’t work out very well. I did eventually manage to learn French thanks to my students in my art classes. They were only too keen to help me and correct me when I made mistakes! My tip would be to have low expectations, listen carefully to accent and intonation, have a go and don’t be shy!
Best Languedoc wine
We are lucky to have friends who are wine growers. The organic Sauvignon Blanc from Domaine Begude, run by Catherine and James Kinglake, is a favourite of ours. Of course, living in Limoux, I’d never say no to a glass of Première Bulle: our local sparkling blanquette.
We love l’Odalisque in Limoux, but we also love to invite friends to our home for some Indian, Mexican or tapas food and a night of good fun. Recently, we did a cooking workshop with Adèle Swan of Chillis and Spice. In a few hours, she taught us how to make several Indian street food dishes, which we savoured afterwards. It was great fun, and Adèle has such a warm, personal approach.
Perfect day out in the Languedoc
It’s always a treat to do something that is a break from the ‘norm’, as we are usually so busy either in the shop or at home. Our perfect day out in the area would involve relaxing at the beach, having a wonderful seafood lunch at Biquet Plage (4) in Leucate, including one (or two…) of their amazing Mojitos. The beach bar has a Mad Max post-apocalyptic vibe, which I love.
That aside, for a bargain hunter like me a Sunday morning spent hunting for treasures at one of the many vide greniers and brocantes in the area can be hard to beat!