Turenne Corrèze France Auvergne Dordogne Chateau Castle

TURENNE is officially one of the “most beautiful villages in France”

In France, but not part of France When you travel around the countries we call “France” or “Germany” or “Italy”, it’s easy to forget that these national entities are fairly recent constructs in the grand scale of history.  As Graham Robb points out so well in The Discovery of France, 80% of that country’s population still lived outside towns and cities even as late as the Revolution; even with a King as the “head of state”, the country was still a collection of old provinces and fiefdoms far from the government of Paris.   “Being French was not a source of personal pride, let alone the basis of a common identity.  Before the mid-nineteenth century, few people had seen a […]

Pascal Paris Auvergne Clermont-Ferrand Computing Calculatrice

UPDATE: Blaise Pascal was a towering genius from the Deep Heart of France

      Always something new to see in Paris! Even after more than 40 trips to Paris over the last three decades, Karen and I always find something new and wonderful to see there.  On our most recent visit, the winner in this category is the restoration work going on at the abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés on the Left Bank.  It’s only half finished at this point, but the work already done has painted the church in rich colors and gold leaf showing how gloriously beautiful it was centuries ago. But we also found two other “new” sites (new to us, that is), both with a connection to one of my personal heroes from the deep heart of France […]

Place de Jaude Bartholdi Clermont Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne Vercingetorix Sculpture

The Secret Life of Clermont’s Place de Jaude

La Montagne – the daily newspaper chain that serves most of the villages and cities in the deep heart of France – recently put together a list of “things you don’t know about the Place de Jaude” in Clermont-Ferrand. Some of the historical tidbits cited by Simon Anthony in his article were already familiar to me:  the fact that the statue of Napoleon’s General Desaix is not much appreciated by locals, and the fact that the city’s Opera was deliberately built in white-colored stone mostly to combat Clermont’s reputation as “la ville noire” because of all the black lava stone used in so many public buildings.  I had heard before, too, how a great ‘urban renewal’ project had been undertaken […]

Belvès Dordogne Perigord France

Belvès is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Most towns on France’s official list of “Most Beautiful Villages” are meant to look pretty from the first moment you see them.  (Some cynics would say that at least some of the plus beaux villages de France are actually “engineered” to give a good first impression.)  My initial experience in Belvès was the exception to that rule.   A chaotic flea market I came to Belvès (in the Dordogne region, east of Bordeaux, about halfway between Limoges and Toulouse) on a blazing hot summer afternoon…and found the town over-run with visitors.  Clearly some kind of street market was underway, and I had to park just over a mile away from the center of town and walk back.  The sun bore […]

Chaine des Puys Auvergne Volcano UNESCO

Big News from UNESCO for the Deep Heart of France!

They’ve waited over 11 years and been denied twice before, so Auvergnats were understandably excited when the big news finally came on Monday:  the Chaîne des Puys has officially been named a UNESCO World Heritage natural site. As regular readers of the blog know, this chain of 80 volcanic peaks is one of my favorite parts of France.  The chain is about 45 km (27 miles) long, and forms the backdrop to Clermont-Ferrand, sweeping up dramatically from the flat Plain de Limagne that stretches off to the east.  We’ve always looked forward to the moment when, after a long drive through flat wheat fields and low hills, the A71 autoroute from Paris climbs sharply and the whole Chaîne des Puys […]

Lafayette Hamilton Chavaniac Auvergne Haute-Loire France History Revolution

A July 4th Memory from the Deep Heart of France

Karen and I got to see Hamilton in London last month – and it was as dazzling as we expected!  (It’s also a bargain compared to the usurious after-market prices for tickets in places like New York and Chicago – we had seats in the 16th row for about $75 each, and we even encountered people who found it cheaper to buy an economy airfare to see the London show than to get comparable tickets in the U.S.  God bless Ticketmaster UK for their “no scalping” system – I only wish they could teach their American counterparts how to do it!) Of course, one of the many reasons to love the performance was to see James Pennycooke playing the role […]

Eyzies Dordogne Perigord France Cro-Magnon Prehistoric cave Font de Gaume Combarelles

At Les Eyzies – 400,000 years of human history in the Deep Heart of France

I’m bent over to half my height, but it’s not enough to protect my head from a hard thump from a stone hanging in the dark reaches of the cave at the Font de Gaume.  The light flickering on the wall is from the guide’s flashlight; we try to imagine how much darker it would have been 15,000 years ago, when one of our ancestors crawled deep into this hillside with nothing more than a smoldering torch to cut through the perfect blackness.  As the smoke collected in the narrow spaces around him, he somehow must have wormed his way onto this shelf and, lying on his back, started to daub pigments in the image of a bison on the […]

Montferrand Clermont Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne Puy-de-Dome France

5 Reasons to Visit Montferrand in the Deep Heart of France

No identity crisis here! It would be easy to understand if the people of Montferrand carried some kind of grudge.  Its name has all but disappeared as an independent entity from maps of France.  When people talk about Montferrand these days, it’s mostly considered a quartier or neighborhood in the larger urban context of Clermont-Ferrand.  But buried in that hyphenated name is a rich history of conflict and royal intervention — and some modern-day attractions that make Montferrand worth a visit all by itself. “Keeping the Church Under Control” The first thing to know about Montferrand is that it was a deliberate creation, not like other French towns that grew over time because they are at an advantageous bend in […]

Monpazier Dordogne Perigord France Bastide

Monpazier is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Living in an anxious age Lots of French towns are surrounded by walls.  Some of them look easy to breach; they were meant mostly to control access to the town so taxes and tolls could be collected and outsiders could be excluded.  Other walls, though, clearly mean business – they were put there centuries ago for more obvious military purposes, in a time when even remote places lived under constant threat of pillage and destruction. It’s true that our current age is an anxious age.  A quick reading of any online forum reveals the concerns felt by people in France (and many other countries, too) about their physical security in the face of terrorism, crime, and escalating conflict.  But try […]

Sarlat-la-Canéda Sarlat Dordogne Perigord France Europe

5 Reasons to Make Sarlat-la-Canéda Your Vacation Headquarters

We’ve been to Sarlat-la-Canéda (most people just say “Sarlat”) several times, and each visit reveals more to love about this fine medieval town in the Dordogne region of France.  Yes, it can be crowded and touristy on peak days in peak season – that’s why one of our favorite trips was in late February, when the market days are quieter and the chill wind makes passing an evening with a good bottle of local wine and a plate of fresh foie gras all the more inviting.  Even if you can only go at the height of the summer, though, it’s one of those sites that genuinely merits your attention. Here are 5 great reasons to plan your next holiday using […]

Polignac Chateau Castle Auvergne Velay France

4 Things We Learned at the Great Chateau at Polignac

Remembering our 1st weekend in France When I wrote my first post for this blog back in 2016, I focused on the choice we made for our very first weekend after we moved to the Auvergne for our initial expat assignment, now more than 20 years ago. Our plan was to take a daytrip to Le Puy en Velay but we got so distracted by the extraordinary sight of the crumbling ruins of a great castle, the Chateau de Polignac, sailing like a clipper ship on a plateau of basalt near the highway, that we took a detour to explore it first.   The sun’s brightest rays seemed to settle on it, and we could see from miles away how […]

La Madeleine Dordogne Cave Medieval France Perigord

At La Madeleine: 50,000 Years of Cave Dwellers in the Deep Heart of France

The culture of the cave dweller When you hear the words “cave dweller”, your mind likely goes immediately to images of the sloping foreheads and protruding teeth of the Cro-Magnons of textbooks and Geico commercials.  In fact, though, people have been living in caves in the deep heart of France for tens of thousands of years. Karen and I have had the thrill of being among the very few visitors allowed in each day to see the prehistoric paintings on the wall of the caves at Font de Gaume and Combarelles.  We’ve seen examples like the defensive fort built in a cave above La Roque Gageac, and the remarkable network of troglodytic chapels that make up the ancient church behind […]