Castles - Central France

A Medieval Ruin Among the Sunflowers

Driving through the département of the Allier in central France can be like driving through Iowa or Illinois in summer.  You’re surrounded by the agricultural richness of the region – vast yellow fields, giant bales of hay ready to be loaded and stored, barns and farmhouses clustered in little compounds alongside the road.  The biggest difference?  There aren’t that many ancient châteaux in Iowa and Illinois! I was enjoying a drive like this a few weeks ago, taking the long way back from the extraordinary church at St Menoux to Moulins, when a medieval vision suddenly loomed over the little D-road in front of me.  It was the Château de Fourchaud (curiously spelled Fourchault on the road signs in the […]

Hidden Gems by Gustav Eiffel in the Deep Heart of France

The more I read about Gustav Eiffel, the more amazed I am at the variety and number of projects he and his company executed.  Among his early projects, I knew that the beautiful red arc of the Viaduct at Garabit was one of the most important things he did long before he built that famous tower in Paris. Viaduct de Rouzat But I was surprised to find that Eiffel was active in the deep heart of France long before even that.  As I drove the country roads along the great gorges of the Sioule river in the Auvergne, I caught a glimpse of a graceful dark line appearing from the trees on one side of the river and shooting across […]

Romanesque Architecture in the Deep Heart of France

Romanesque buildings pop up often in these blog posts because there are so many of them in the deep heart of France — it’s hard to write about most of the small towns and historical centers of this region without mentioning “Romanesque” at least once! The church at St Menoux There are big basilicas and cathedrals like those in Clermont-Ferrand, Issoire, St. Nectaire, Brioude and St. Saturnin.  Some very beautiful examples of the architecture show up in small towns like St. Menoux and Salers.  Country church in the Auvergne There are even some ugly stubs of buildings and little country churches which are technically “Romanesque” even though they don’t conform to the aesthetic principles you might expect to see associated […]

What’s Different in France: The Legal System

One of the first things you notice when you move to France is the difference between the French legal system and the ones we’re more familiar with in the U.S. and the U.K.  For us, it became obvious on our first visits to some of the ruined castles in the Auvergne.  We were surprised by the absence of safety barriers and access controls around piles of rubble, narrow staircases, and open pits in many of the ruins open to the public.  We have pictures of my wife grabbing our 8-year-old son by the belt to keep him from plunging over the top of a castle rampart.  Castle Ruins at Arlempdes Clearly these French tourist institutions don’t worry as much as […]