Not long ago we visited the excellent Museum of Medical History at Hautefort – a fascinating (sometimes scary) collection of medical instruments and treatment methods from medieval to modern. But that’s definitely not the main reason to visit the little village of Hautefort in the Dordogne in the deep heart of France. Most people come here for the castle. In fact, this whole area is noted for its spectacular castles – the great defensive fortresses at Castelnaud and Beynac are testaments to the violence and instability that wracked this region during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. But even in an area where there are many spectacular chateaux, the Chateau de Hautefort stands out as one […]
Our guide at the Chateau de Cordès clearly loves his job. He’s also the “chief gardener” for the grounds around the castle (although he admits there’s only one other person on the staff), so for our tour he has scrubbed the dirt off his hands, tucked in his shirt, and opened the doors for the five of us at the height of tourist season in the Auvergne. It’s not really surprising to him (or to me) that the Chateau de Cordès is so lightly trafficked even at this peak time of the year. We are far removed from all the major tourist centers of France – distant even from most of the lesser known sites in the deep heart of […]
As scandals go, this one was not the classic “tempest in a teapot”. You’d have to call it more a “tempest in a touristy coffee mug”. In any case, it got a surprising amount of coverage in the French press last year when the gift shop at the Elysée Palace discovered souvenir mugs stamped “Made in Limoges” were not made of Limoges porcelain at all. In fact, they may not even have been manufactured in France! The Elysée is President Macron’s official residence in Paris, so that automatically made this news a “political” subject. Still, it struck me that there’s a kind of sad undertone to this story. Do you like reading about the people, places, history, and culture […]
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 […]
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” —
Most of the stories of great castles in France hinge on the actions of knights and noble families. I just visited a place, though, where the key moment depended on the actions of … the Electric Company? That’s the great irony in the history of the Chateau de Val: It was only a hair’s breadth away from disappearing forever at the bottom of a lake – and frankly it might not have been seriously missed. But the waters stopped just short of the castle’s walls, and gave it a romantic setting that turned this minor château in the Auvergne into a serious attraction for tourists. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yfe5HwSx4qw
In August – while everyone (including me!) is away on vacation –’m posting a shorter article each week with a look at a specific destination or aspect of life in the deep heart of France. This week: a visit to the Chateau de Panloup. Regular “feature-length” posts will resume in September. You’ll see images of roosters almost everywhere you go in France – the coq is one of the country’s most enduring symbols. So it’s only mildly surprising to find a unique little museum dedicated to the subject in a little chateau in the Allier. And this Gallinotheque (“Rooster Museum”) is not the only interesting thing about the Chateau de Panloup, in the town of Yzeure; this is a working […]
In August – while everyone (including me!) is away on vacation – I’m posting a shorter article each week with a twist on a specific destination or aspect of life in the deep heart of France. This week: a visit to the ruins of the Chateau de Domeyrat. Regular “feature-length” posts will resume in September. https://youtu.be/J8f0fkE8Nqk Someone asked me recently about the castle you see at the top of my web pages on DeepHeartOfFrance.com. It’s a photo I took if the Chateau de Domeyrat, an hour southeast of Clermont-Ferrand by autoroute and 20 minutes from the historic town of Brioude.
A wedding is about to start when I arrive in Montluçon on a humid Saturday afternoon. The church – the Eglise Saint Pierre – was built in the 12th century, so I do the math. If you assume 1 wedding a week (and that’s probably estimating on the low side), that means more than a thousand couples have gotten married here over the centuries – and this is only one of several significant churches in town. A family crowd is gathered in the little square by the main doors of the church. The bride, her train held off the cobblestones by a teenage girl, is being tended by her mother, who’s wearing a long black gown in spite of the […]
To understand the little town of Royat, imagine yourself strolling through an elegant park with a crowd straight from a painting by Renoir – men in straw boaters and morning coats, women in flowing dresses with bright flowers and velvet hats. Imagine, as the local guides say, “walking in the footsteps of Napoleon III, the Empress Eugénie, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), King Leopold II, or the Maharajah of Patiala…” In short, imagine yourself stepping back into the glory days of Belle Époque France – but in a place far from the chic salons of Paris.
I roll into Souvigny on a hot summer afternoon and it seems the whole town must be taking a siesta. The funk of rich vegetation moldering in the sunlight reminds me of an August afternoon on a farm in Virginia. A couple, murmuring in German as they walk toward one of the old houses, seem to be the only other tourists in town.
People in France (and many other countries, too) are often described these days as being in a high state of anxiety about their physical security in the face of terrorism, crime, and escalating conflict. But try imagining a time when threats were so immediate that everything about your little town was built to ward off the danger. Today’s destination – La Sauvetat, a fortified village in the deep heart of France – transports you back to such a time in the long, violent history of the country. The villagers of La Sauvetat apparently came into their fears early, even before the town had a name. This is in one of the agricultural breadbaskets of France, only 12 miles (20 km) […]