Castles - Central France

A Medieval Ruin Among the Sunflowers

Driving through the département of the Allier in central France can be like driving through Iowa or Illinois in summer.  You’re surrounded by the agricultural richness of the region – vast yellow fields, giant bales of hay ready to be loaded and stored, barns and farmhouses clustered in little compounds alongside the road.  The biggest difference?  There aren’t that many ancient châteaux in Iowa and Illinois! I was enjoying a drive like this a few weeks ago, taking the long way back from the extraordinary church at St Menoux to Moulins, when a medieval vision suddenly loomed over the little D-road in front of me.  It was the Château de Fourchaud (curiously spelled Fourchault on the road signs in the […]

Hidden Gems by Gustav Eiffel in the Deep Heart of France

The more I read about Gustav Eiffel, the more amazed I am at the variety and number of projects he and his company executed.  Among his early projects, I knew that the beautiful red arc of the Viaduct at Garabit was one of the most important things he did long before he built that famous tower in Paris. Viaduct de Rouzat But I was surprised to find that Eiffel was active in the deep heart of France long before even that.  As I drove the country roads along the great gorges of the Sioule river in the Auvergne, I caught a glimpse of a graceful dark line appearing from the trees on one side of the river and shooting across […]

AT SAINT MENOUX: A MEDIEVAL CURE FOR WHAT AILS US NOW ?

It’s worth going to Saint Menoux just for its fine Romanesque church.  In fact, there’s not much more to see in this bright little hilltop village near Moulins in the Allier département.  But my curiosity was heightened as I drove west on the D945 on a brilliant sunny morning in September.  As in so many places around France, there are big brown road signs signaling the attractions you can see in the area around you.  These are usually straightforward: “Château de Billy,” for example, or “Forêt de Tronçais”.  The sign for Saint Menoux was a puzzle, though.  Featuring a line drawing of something that looks like a coffin, it says (with no other explanation) “Saint Menoux et son débredinoire”. Not […]

MuPoP in Montlucon is a must for music lovers

If you’re a musician – or someone who loves music – you should get out of Paris for a day and head south to MuPop , the Museum of Popular Music in Montluçon. (And yes, I know there’s enormous competition for your time, attention and money when you’re traveling in France.  Trust me, though – this is worth the day away from the capital!) MuPop is an exceptionally well-curated collection of instruments, songs, and stories about musicians from the past 200 years or so.  You’re given a set of headphones at the entrance, with a simple point-and-choose control to let you listen to what you’re seeing.  In each of the exhibits of musical instruments there are good demonstrations of how […]

Cantal - Deep Heart of France

DAY TRIP: MURAT

Photo © 2016 Richard Alexander   Any day in the Cantal is, for me, a good day.  Today’s recommendation for a day trip: the little village of Murat, in the foothills of the Cantal’s mountains. Photo © 2016 Richard Alexander If you’re looking for outdoor activities, Murat is a great place to start.  You’re still in the Parc des Volcans d’Auvergne, so you will find opportunities for hiking and cycling in a spectacular natural setting at every point of the compass from here.  There are several rochers (rocky outcroppings) in the area – you might, for example, want to climb up the rocher Bredons to see its little Romanesque chapel.  At the top of the Rocher de Bonnevie, the great […]