I’ll always have a spot in my heart for Moulins. I’ve written before about how one wonderful evening in this town captured the essence of French food culture for me. Today, though, we’re revisiting Moulins as one of the most interesting, historically rich small towns in the deep heart of France. When you roll into town on the D945 you know immediately this place is different. Traffic flows constantly through the main square, with the pretty Town Hall on one side and a starburst of restaurants and medieval buildings on the other side of the road. It’s a fine place for a long lunch and watching people on a sunny afternoon, but be sure to catch the showy chiming of the […]
Well, you can’t miss THAT as you drive into town! More than most places in France, Lapalisse is dominated – almost overwhelmed – by the great chateau that stands at its center. Strangely, though, the town’s celebrity is due mostly to a mundane pun about one of its most famous historical figures.Not that many years ago, it was almost impossible to avoid Lapalisse if you went travelling through the Allier, one of the great “breadbasket” agricultural regions of France. The first time I saw it was on a company bus trip from Clermont-Ferrand to see our factory in Montceau-les-Mines. I woke up an hour into the trip to see this massive landmark with all the little local businesses clustered at […]
What do I love most about driving the back roads of central France? Discovering a little corner of history that I would have missed if I only stuck to the guidebooks. When I set out that day in September, my objective was the mysterious church at St Menoux, passing through Villeneuve-sur-Allier (and regular readers will know how badly that went!). Early in the day, though, with the fog still settled in the valleys around the D133, I came to a sign pointing off into the woods and promising “Chateau d’Avrilly / XVè – XIVè”. Great! I was in a fine mood after my evening in Moulins, the September day was bright and warm, and I had no deadline to constrain […]
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 […]
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.
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”.
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 they […]