Castles - Central France

ARLEMPDES – One of France’s Most Beautiful Villages

Arlempdes (pronounced Arlandes), is buried deep in the heart of France.  Although it is officially one of the 155 “Most Beautiful Villages in France,” it’s not exactly typical of the other towns you’ll find on the list. For one thing, it’s very small – the population is listed at 129 people, and I counted no more than 7 or 8 houses inside the town’s walls and perhaps 7 more outside.  It’s also very isolated.  The nearest autoroute (the A75) is 90 minutes away by narrow, winding country roads.  The nearest town of any size is Le Puy en Velay, 45 minutes away.  There are no stores in Arlempdes – no bakery, no pharmacy, no butcher. The only visible commerce is […]

AT SAINT MENOUX: A MEDIEVAL CURE FOR WHAT AILS US NOW ?

It’s worth going to Saint Menoux just for its fine Romanesque church.  In fact, there’s not much more to see in this bright little hilltop village near Moulins in the Allier département.  But my curiosity was heightened as I drove west on the D945 on a brilliant sunny morning in September.  As in so many places around France, there are big brown road signs signaling the attractions you can see in the area around you.  These are usually straightforward: “Château de Billy,” for example, or “Forêt de Tronçais”.  The sign for Saint Menoux was a puzzle, though.  Featuring a line drawing of something that looks like a coffin, it says (with no other explanation) “Saint Menoux et son débredinoire”. Not […]

Clermont-Ferrand in Central France

How Caesar Lost a Battle in the Deep Heart of France

The Plateau of Gergovia lies behind the skyline of Clermont-Ferrand The plateau at Gergovia isn’t necessarily the first thing you’d notice when you come to this area.  The great volcanoes of the Massif Central rise in the background and they’re more rugged, more beautiful than this lump of basalt.  Clermont-Ferrand lies at the plateau’s base, its brooding black lava cathedral dominating the city’s skyline.  But go to Google and search for images of “Vercingetorix” and you’ll get an idea why this unassuming mesa holds such mythic power in the history of France. This is the site of the only defeat Julius Caesar ever suffered as he and the armies of Rome swept through ancient Gaul.  Vercingetorix and his Arverni tribesmen […]

An Evening Out in Moulins

Moulins – ancient seat of the Dukes of Bourbonnais It’s almost 8:00, the end of a long travel day, and the heat of a summer afternoon clings to the sidewalk as I walk to the restaurant.  Seen from a distance, it’s not an especially impressive place – on the ground floor of a 60-year-old hotel, a little frumpy but comfortable enough.  The Moulins train station is across the street, so people come by in waves as the trains come and go.  I’m greeted by the couple I’ll call Monsieur and Madame.  They’re clearly the owners of the restaurant, and in the course of the evening they will impress me as offering the highest expression of the qualities we love about […]

DESTINATION: SALERS – One of France’s Most Beautiful Villages

I’ve talked elsewhere about towns that are designated as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France” (les plus beaux villages de France).  It’s not easy to get the honor — a city really has to work at meeting all the criteria.  This month’s destination — Salers — is one of the 154 French villages on the list.  Like many of them, it’s not somewhere you end up by accident — it’s remote, located in the Cantal region of the Auvergne, southwest of Clermont-Ferrand.  But for me it symbolizes what the designation of “most beautiful village” means.  The first time we went there was on a market day in summer.  The town was packed – local farmers selling the incredible […]