That One Day Clermont-Ferrand Was The Capital of France

For one remarkable day, Clermont-Ferrand was the capital of France…and it wasn’t even necessarily the strangest day of a very strange month month for the people who lived there. Things had fallen apart for France at an incredible speed in those earliest days of World War II. As the German armies approached, the French government abandoned Paris in early June, 1940. Président du Conseil Paul Reynaud and his ministers landed first in Tours before ending up in Bordeaux.  This was a government in chaos, shocked by how easy it was for Hitler’s armies to blast past the Maginot Line of defense, and paralyzed by the conflict between ministers who wanted to continue the fight and those who were ready to […]

PICTURE OF THE WEEK: Eglise Saint-Austremoine at Issoire

Photo © 2016 Richard Alexander Photo © 2016 Richard Alexander One of the greatest pleasures of living in the center of France, for us, was the Romanesque architecture we found everywhere in the region.  This week’s picture features the Eglise Saint-Austremoine in Issoire — one of the five “major” basilicas in this style in the Auvergne.  (The others are Notre Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand, the basilica of Notre Dame in Orcines, the beautiful little church in the “high” section of St Nectaire, and the church in St Saturnin.)  Built around 1130 C.E., it’s named for the man who was Clermont’s first bishop back in the 3rd century C.E.  And like all of these exquisite structures, the Eglise Saint-Austremoine is […]

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Photo © 2016 Richard Alexander I’m a dedicated user of Flipboard for a lot of my daily news and entertainment.  Starting now, you can find everything from this blog — plus other great photographs and articles from other people about central France — in our Deep Heart of France magazine.  Please check it out at Flipboard.com and let me know what you think! View my Flipboard Magazine.

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DAY TRIP: MURAT

Photo © 2016 Richard Alexander   Any day in the Cantal is, for me, a good day.  Today’s recommendation for a day trip: the little village of Murat, in the foothills of the Cantal’s mountains. Photo © 2016 Richard Alexander If you’re looking for outdoor activities, Murat is a great place to start.  You’re still in the Parc des Volcans d’Auvergne, so you will find opportunities for hiking and cycling in a spectacular natural setting at every point of the compass from here.  There are several rochers (rocky outcroppings) in the area – you might, for example, want to climb up the rocher Bredons to see its little Romanesque chapel.  At the top of the Rocher de Bonnevie, the great […]

What Happened In This Medieval Church Echoes in Our Headlines Today

Note to all my readers:  I’ve wrestled with whether or not to publish this post.  It was written just BEFORE the horrible attack of July 26th in which Father Jacques Hamel was murdered and one of his parishioners gravely injured by two terrorists acting  “in the name of ISIL” during services in the church at  Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.  Then an extraordinary thing happened:  On Sunday July 31st, in churches all across France — including the Cathedral of Notre Dame de l’Assomption in Clermont-Ferrand, just up the hill from the subject of this post — Muslims joined with Christian congregations to demonstrate solidarity and to express their rejection of terrorists.  As one imam of a mosque in Vichy explained, “By our presence, we […]

The Puy de Dome – An Icon of Central France

Napoleon III came to Clermont-Ferrand in 1862, and everyone wanted to make a great impression.  Why not take advantage of the great volcanic peaks that rise behind the city’s skyline and produce something spectacular for such a rare and important visitor?  A great artificial eruption was organized at the top of the Puy de Dome, with 600 piles of wood and a one-ton mix of resin and oil.  But when the great moment arrived…pffft.  The “eruption” fizzled.  The emperor and his wife were puzzled to see great clouds of black smoke roiling up from the mountain top instead. It’s not the only time the Puy de Dôme has figured in French history.  More notably, it was an important part of […]