Monpazier Dordogne Perigord France Bastide

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

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 imagining a time when threats […]

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

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 unassailable this powerful fortress must have […]

La Madeleine Dordogne Cave Medieval France Perigord

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

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 the Abbey at Brantome. [caption id=”attachment_2088″ […]

Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère Dordogne Perigord France

Check out Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, an official “Most Beautiful Village” in France

I grew up in Oklahoma, a completely land-locked state where most of the “rivers” are spindly streams running only a few inches deep most of the year.  I can still remember what a big deal it was when we got our own real seaport in the early 1970s; great ships from the Gulf of Mexico could come up the Mississippi to the Arkansas River almost all the way to Tulsa, handling millions of tons of imports and exports every year. So I found it particularly interesting to see how Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, a lovely little village in the Périgord Noir in the deep heart of France, can trace its history as a port town all the way back to the early 19th […]

The surprising secret at Saint Menoux – could it be a medieval cure for a modern problem?

Karen and I will see Hamilton when we get to London in a couple of weeks, so I’ve been reading the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton that inspired the hit musical.  Among many new discoveries, it’s reminded me over and over again that nothing in history is ever really new or original.  Think the idea of “fake news” is something modern?  Thomas Jefferson said of the press in early America, “nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.”  And if you’re distressed by the crassness of public discourse in the age of Twitter, you might find some comfort in knowing our forefathers routinely engaged in the kind of invective that would make a Russian bot blush. […]

Cathedral Basilica Church Eglise France Auvergne Limousin Dordogne

Is it a Church? A Cathedral? A Basilica? or something else altogether?

Almost every town you visit in your travel around western Europe will have some kind of prominent religious building in the center of the city.  But it can be difficult sometimes to figure out what you’re looking at, at least according to the taxonomy of the Catholic church.  Is it a cathedral? Or a basilica?  Just a regular “church”? Or something more exotic like an abbatiale, a collegiale, or a chapelle?   [caption id="attachment_3184" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Cathedral at Moulins[/caption] Here’s a quick guide with some examples drawn from the area I love most, the “deep heart” of central France.  (And yes, I do know that there are many other houses of worship, including mosques, temples, and Protestant halls, even here […]

Le Puy en Velay Auvergne Haute-Loire Compostella France

You must see Le Puy en Velay – a Medieval Treasure on the Pilgrim’s Route to Compostella

The broad stone steps are still slippery from the rain as I start up the side of the rocky needle toward the Chapel of St. Michel d’Aighuile.  I pick my way carefully as I climb…97…98…99….100.  The building up at the top is tiny, meant for dozens of people, not a crowd.  It’s 269 feet in the air, overlooking the city of Le Puy en Velay and the valley of the Haute-Loire.  The Romans probably came up here to worship at an altar dedicated to Mercury, and the original Christian shrine was likely much smaller than what we see today – a graceful little 12th-century chapel with a claustrophobic Romanesque vault and several ancient frescoes still visible on the wall.

Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

We’ve been nominated!

One of the principle pleasures of writing this blog is meeting readers and other bloggers all around the world who share a passion for the culture, history, and remarkable destinations of France.  I’ve heard from people in England, Australia, the U.S., and diverse regions of Europe, and even though these “meetings” are all virtual, I’ve come to have a real appreciation for the great writing and rich ideas so many people contribute to the global conversation about what for many of is is a “second home” in France. Of all these, I’ve been especially grateful to hear from Alison.  Her blog, View from the Teapot – Life in a Small French Village , regularly captures the spirit of everything I […]

Beynac Beynac-et-Cazenac Dordogne France Castle Chateau

8 Cool Things To Do This Spring in the Deep Heart of France

It feels like winter has fought to hold on longer than it should this year in France.  There’s been snow from Paris to the Mediterranean several times over the last few weeks, and the temperature tonight in Clermont-Ferrand will likely be close to freezing. [caption id="attachment_3058" align="aligncenter" width="726"] Photo by Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia via Wikimedia Commons[/caption]   In fact, the arrival of spring in France this year reminds us of a lesson we learned the first time we moved there.  We arrived in the Auvergne in early March 1997, and the weather was glorious – warm, brilliantly sunny, and welcoming.  “Wow,” we thought, “we are REALLY going to like it here!” A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, […]

Beynac Beynac-et-Cazenac Dordogne France Castle Chateau

You need to see Beynac – a Castle Fortress that’s also a “Most Beautiful Village” of France

There are thousands of castles in France.  Most of them are very small, built to be the medieval homes of some minor aristocrats or to protect travelers along a stretch of road. (We’ve covered many of these smaller places on this blog – the fine chateau at Tournemire, for example, or the family castles at Val, Domeyrat, Arlempdes, and Billy.) At the high end of the range, you know some of the others already – the great, graceful palaces like Chambord and Chenonceau in the Loire Valley that retained some of their defensive structures but that obviously focused more on the royal luxury of the kings and queens who lived there. There’s another category of castle, though:  the ones that […]

MuPop - Montlucon - Auvergne

Take a day trip from Paris to see this new expo at MuPop in Montlucon

I know there’s enormous competition for your time, attention and money when you’re traveling in France.  Even if you’ve already seen all the major tourist sites in Paris, there are a dozen or more enticing day-trip opportunities in the area — Versailles, Fontainbleau, Chantilly, Giverny, among others. But if you’re going to be in Paris this summer — and if you’re a musician or someone who really loves music – you should get out of Paris for a day and head south to MuPop , the Museum of Popular Music in Montluçon.  It’s a great trip, too, if you want a glimpse into the real heart of France far from the beaten path taken by the crowds of tourists you’ll […]