Cathedral Basilica Church Eglise France Auvergne Limousin Dordogne

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

A question of naming choices 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?   Cathedral at Moulins 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 […]

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

Climbing to a chapel in the sky 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 […]

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

Enfin c’est le printemps ! 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. Photo by Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia via Wikimedia Commons   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 […]

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

A castle distinguished by its power 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 […]

MuPop - Montlucon - Auvergne

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

The mysteries of the human voice 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 […]

Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

Clermont-Ferrand: 8 Things to Know About One of France’s “Best Places to Live”

My friend Michael recently alerted me to a new article on TheLocal.fr (a great source of info for expats and tourists in France).  It’s all about a new survey by L’Express which places Clermont-Ferrand at #4 among the “Best Places to Live in France “(outside Paris), and it follows on the heels of another article on TheLocal extolling the virtues of the town. Michael and I share an interest in Clermont-Ferrand, since we worked together there for several years as expats in the global headquarters of the Groupe Michelin.  We know there are a lot of stereotypes associated with this urban zone of almost 500,000 inhabitants – it’s not really that well known, even among other French people — but […]

Gustav Eiffel Auvergne Viaduc Central France - Cantal - Deep Heart of France

Before that Famous Tower, Gustav Eiffel Built These Amazing Structures in the Deep Heart of France

Gustav Eiffel is Back in the News (Sort Of) I just ran across an article from Canada’s Globe and Mail about efforts to fund and build a major new work by Jeff Koons, the American “post-modernist” sculptor.  It’s intended, as I understand it, to be a memorial to the victims of the Bataclan assault in 2015…and it’s certainly become controversial.  The motivation is pure enough — it’s seen as a tribute between friends just as France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty was in 1886 , an act of recognition and remembrance from Americans to their French allies. The mayor of Paris says the sculpture will “bear witness to the irrevocable attachment between our capital and the United States.” Still, […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Paris Is Not France – 3 Great Reasons to Visit Central France

        This week: I’m very pleased to be part of the 3rd Anniversary Edition of #AllAboutFrance — a link-up hosted by Phoebe, who runs the Lou Messego gite near the Cote d’Azur.  Thanks to her efforts, more than 1,200 blog posts representing some of the most interesting writing about France have been given a lot of visibility around the world.  Please check out the 3rd Anniversary version of #AllAboutFrance by clicking on the badge at left! What's to Love About Central France? From the feedback some of you have given me,  I know the idea of exploring France outside of Paris can be a little overwhelming.  After all, Paris is perhaps the greatest single tourist destination on […]

Paradelles Auvergne Most Beautiful Village France

Learn about Pradelles – one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Pradelles: One of the Top 10?   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? 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. The town’s official website puts it […]

Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

My Top 10 “Most Beautiful Villages” in the Deep Heart of France

What are the "Most Beautiful Villages" in France? 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 […]

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 […]