Bourbon Chateau Billy Auvergne

DESTINATION: The Chateau de Billy and Bourbon-l’Archambault

A surprising town in the Haut-Allier I’ve come to Bourbon-l’Archambault on a market day, which means there’s not a parking place left in town and traffic stops completely while people weave around the cars to cross the street.  In fact, I came here to see the Chateau de Billy, the town’s most prominent feature.  But it’s quickly clear that the Chateau is in its own separate little village, although effectively merged with Bourbon-l’Archambault.  And it’s quickly clear, too, that there’s much more than I’d imagined to this community in the Haut-Allier region of the Auvergne. It all starts with the water – hot and full of minerals, bubbling up at a constant 1310 Farenheit (550 Celsius) from underground volcanic sources […]

Julien Brioude Auvergne

St Julien’s in Brioude Gets a Third Michelin Star

When History Is Silent Whether you’re in Paris or driving through a small town in the deep heart of France, you may wonder about the big gap in the history that’s still visible.  There are spectacular Roman ruins, then a jump forward to medieval buildings everywhere, but almost no evidence that anything happened in between; you know there were people living there in the 3rd and 5th and 8th centuries, but it’s as if they never built anything.  Today’s post is about someone who lived in that era.  (Historians these days are reluctant to use the old term “Dark Ages” because it sounds pejorative and civilization was in a high state of evolution during the period – but as far […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Why You Need to Go To Central France

What's to Love About Central France? It’s the first anniversary of this blog, and that has set me thinking (again) about why the deep heart of France means so much to me – an American from the Great Plains who found himself in late career living in the center of a foreign country.  Given all the urgent issues the world throws at us, why spend time and energy on a subject so far outside my “natural” frame of reference? As it happens, right now I’m reading The Pigeon Tunnel, John Le Carré’s extraordinary autobiography.  He’s thought about this puzzle, too, first as a British spy and then as a novelist.  Why focus on any “esoteric” subject?  For Le Carré’, the […]

Montlucon Bourbonnais Auvergne

Montluçon – Medieval Home of the Bourbon Dukes

A Saturday Afternoon Event 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 […]

Royat Auvergne

Travel back to the Belle Epoque — Visit ROYAT in the Deep Heart of France

A scene from a Renoir painting 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. Postcard from Royat, c. 1895 At first glance, Royat is a town trapped in time and […]

Souvigny

Destination: Souvigny, a medieval gem off the beaten path in the deep heart of France

Coming into Souvigny 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.  A woman, formally dressed in a business suit and white starched blouse, comes out from the church to a public fountain in the village square, pumps just long enough to fill a small plastic pitcher, and ducks back into the cool of the church’s interior.  A car door slams somewhere on a side street; […]

La Sauvetat - Auvergne - Deep Heart of France

Destination: La Sauvetat, a fortified town in the deep heart of France

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) […]

Cantal - Deep Heart of France

7 Videos to Make You Fall in Love With the Deep Heart of France

Sometimes, as we all know, words and static images just aren’t adequate to capture a feeling or an impression you get in a faraway place – we need to see movement and the passing of time to get a better feel for what it might be like to visit a place we’ve never experienced for ourselves. Since I started this blog, I’ve put a lot of effort into explaining what the “deep heart of France” means to me.  You’ve heard why I love Clermont-Ferrand and the Auvergne, and you’ve seen some of the towns officially recognized as being among “the most beautiful villages of France” – places like Blesle, Charroux, Arlempdes, and Salers. If you’ve stuck with this blog for […]

MOULINS – A Medieval Center of Power in the Deep Heart of France

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 […]

Lapalisse – The French Town Made Famous By A Pun

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 […]

Destination: Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule

The day was a little gloomy when I came to town, but Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule still managed to give me a lively, cheerful first impression. It’s a commune of about 5,000 people in the Allier département , about halfway between Moulins and Vichy.  If you’ve heard of it, it’s likely for the nice wines produced in the region – like those of the nearby Loire valley, they’re on the light side, with Gamay and Pinot Noir dominating the reds produced in this AOC.  (They also have some nice Chardonnay!) But for me, a couple of other things stand out as highlights of my time in Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule: The medieval church (the Eglise Saint-Croix) is worth the detour for several reasons.  Built in the […]

Medieval Blesle is One of France’s Most Beautiful Villages

Hello – and best wishes to all of you for a healthy, successful New Year in 2017 (or, as the French say, “Meilleurs vœux pour ce nouvel an – que 2017 serait une année de bonne santé et la réussite de tous vos projets”). We start the new year in another of the most interesting places “off the beaten path” in the deep heart of France.  The first thing to know about the medieval town of Blesle is how to pronounce its name:  it’s BLELL, with no mention of the “s’.  This is officially one of the “most beautiful villages in France,” an hour south of Clermont-Ferrand in the rugged volcanic mountains of the Haute-Loire. The second thing to know:  […]