Tours de Merle Correze Medieval Castle Chateaux Castrum

A Must-See in Central France: The Tours de Merle, a “gated community” for medieval aristocrats

“C’est magnifique” The site of Les Tours de Merle has everything I love most about traveling in the “deep heart of France”: castles, a little medieval mystery, a little wild nature, and a challenging hike up a very steep hill.  On the day I came to town, I stopped on the side of the sharply winding “D” road to photograph the towers when a French motorcyclist pulled up next to me.  “Mais qu’est-ce que c’est?” he demanded.  I explained what I knew already about the site.  He stared for a long, quiet minute, then drew in his breath.  “C’est magnifique,” he said softly, “c’est vraiment magnifique”.  I couldn’t agree more.    It’s not a castle! The first thing you have […]

France Auvergne Puy de Dome Volcano

How to see the Puy de Dome – Icon of the Deep Heart of France

The Puy de Dome – actor on the stage of French history 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 […]

Volvic Auvergne Lava Architecture France

VOLVIC – Source of the “Black Architecture” in the Deep Heart of France

The rock that colors a whole region Drive into almost any town in the central Auvergne, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s something dark and a little foreboding about it.  It might take a moment, but you’d quickly arrive at the reason: many of the houses, the big public buildings, and the fountains in the central square all have the same gray-black tone.  The somber air of the whole region comes from this pervasively common building material: the pierre de Volvic – lava rock from the village of Volvic. Clermont’s famous “black cathedral” You can see it particularly in the great Cathedral of Notre Dame de l’Assomption in Clermont-Ferrand, known to many as “the only black cathedral in […]

Rooster Church Cross Auvergne France

UPDATE: Is That a Rooster On Your Church?

I’ve been surprised and a little amused that my most “popular” (most read) post in the history of this blog…is the one I wrote on how common it is to find a rooster positioned on the cross above so many churches in France.  At first I thought a teacher somewhere must have assigned a term paper on the subject to a big class as “rooster on church” became the object of the most common Google searches leading to this site.  But months have gone by, and week in and week out this little post continues to get read more often than everything else, so I guess it must have fulfilled a need.  In any case, here’s an updated version with […]

Film Festival Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

BONUS: France’s 2nd Biggest Film Festival is in… Clermont-Ferrand?

Only Cannes is more important… Every winter, Clermont-Ferrand hosts “the second most important film festival in France” (after the well-known event in Cannes).  It’s February, so it’s time for the 30th edition of the International Short Film Festival, showcasing works from filmmakers around the world.  This year, there are thematic programs showing the state of the art of short film in Switzerland, films that celebrate “gastronomy and the pleasure of being at the table,”  and a particular celebration of the roles actors play in short films. La Jetee is home to the International Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrand The 30th annual International Short Film Festival and 40th National Short Film Festival is underway this week, from now through February 10th, […]

Marqueyssac Dordogne Perigord Gardens France

The Gardens at Marqueyssac – one of France’s great tourist destinations in the Dordogne

A long walk on a perfect day A well-traveled cynic might call the Chateau de Marqueyssac a “manufactured” tourist experience.  For Karen and me, though, these extraordinary gardens in the Périgord Noir (Dordogne) are among the best-managed, most family-oriented places we’ve found anywhere in the deep heart of France.  And they are the perfect setting for a long walk on a spring afternoon. The same family has owned this property since 1692, and they take pride in saying that Marqueyssac has been “laid out for the pleasure of taking a walk.”  We’re 130 meters (427 feet) above the Dordogne, looking out across the great river’s valley.  From here you can see at least four of France’s official “most beautiful villages” […]