Having just ranked my personal “Top 10 of the Most Beautiful Villages in Central France,” I have to ask myself: would I include Pradelles in that list? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-u8FEPyKUY The honest answer is “probably not” – but this is still a town worthy of your consideration if you’re heading south toward the Mediterranean or to a week in Provence. I’d put Pradelles in the middle rank among the “plus beaux villages” I’ve visited in France – not the richest in history, not the most spectacular landscape, but still well worth a stop for lunch and a 3-hour tour if you happen to be in this part of the country.
Since I started this blog, I’ve profiled 13 of the towns claiming officially to be “L’un des plus beaux villages de France” – one of the most beautiful villages in France. (Another profile, of Pradelles, is coming later this week, and there are 25 more on my calendar to show you in the months ahead.) When you see that distinctive road sign at the city limits as you drive into town, you know you’re in for a treat. Among other things, you’re likely to find ancient buildings, quaint medieval streets, elaborate floral displays, and pleasant gathering places where people meet for drinks and meals. But have you wondered what makes a town “one of the most beautiful”? Who decides? Where […]
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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E1lKf3bjSo The first thing you have to know – the site’s […]
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 […]
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. 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 France”. As you look at the dark stone blocks that make […]
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 […]
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. The 30th annual International Short Film Festival and 40th National Short Film Festival is underway this week, from now through February 10th, 2018. Ticket packages and information about hotels are available on the Festival’s website. Last year, I had […]
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” —