Visit the ancient Abbey at Mozac in the Deep Heart of France

Given the number of old churches that show up on this website, you might think I’m Catholic.  I’m not – I’m  not even conventionally religious — so why do I love the ancient basilicas and medieval abbeys scattered across the landscape of the deep heart of France?  I found myself thinking about that question again when I parked a few blocks away and made my way through a dense leafy walkway to the great abbey of Mozac.   It’s surrounded these days by houses and school buildings, so your imagination has to work overtime to reconstruct what this place must have been like at its origins.  (The whole town is now folded in as a suburb of Riom.)  As I […]

Top 8 Castles to see in the Deep Heart of France

Now that le déconfinement is underway, tourist bureaus across France are encouraging people to plan vacations closer to home rather than taking trips to more exotic places.  The Wall Street Journal today has an article claiming “[t]he French are venturing into unknown territory: France.” Coronavirus border closures mean the French have the Eiffel Tower and the Chateau de Versailles to themselves. They’ve decided to see what all the fuss is about.  (Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2020) The risk, of course, is that the well-known “greatest hits” of French travel — the incredible chateaux in the Loire Valley, for example, or a day trip to Giverny — might still be overwhelmed or frustratingly inaccessible if crowds surpass the new capacity […]

Châtel-Guyon Auvergne France Spa

The Tour de France comes to Châtel-Guyon in 2020

This year the 107th running of the Tour de France has a special interest to those of us who love the mountains and gorgeous landscapes of central France.  The Tour will stop in my old hometown, Clermont-Ferrand, on Saturday, July 11th, where riders will set out on the 197 km (118 mile) trip to Lyon.  But the day before (Friday, July 10th), they will first have to tackle one of the Tour’s famous mountain passages, starting in the beautiful spa town of Châtel-Guyon and climbing a total of 4,400 meters on a 191 km ride through a chain of volcanoes on the way to the Puy Mary in the Cantal. That announcement brought to mind several memories of our experiences […]

Martel France

A driving tour to Martel in the deep heart of France

I perked up when one of the clues was revealed on Jeopardy last week.  The category was an odd one – “Sliding into your CMs” – and the answer on the game board was “You have the Gaul to tell me that he brought Burgundy under his control in the 700s?! & that he was Pepin the Short’s dad?!” “Ooh, I know this one,” I shouted out.  (Karen and I are, shall we say, “somewhat aggressive” when it comes to our Jeopardy competition.) “Who was CHARLES MARTEL?”  And that one brief exchange was enough to launch me on a particular memory of my visit to a place in the Correze named for this man, one of the most memorable (and […]

Tournoel Castle Chateau Auvergne France

Visit the medieval castle at Tournoel in the deep heart of France

I don’t know why I have waited so long to write about the Chateau de Tournoël since the 800-year-old castle figures in several of our most enduring memories of France.  It was a ramshackle pile of rubble when we first moved to the Auvergne in 1997.  But the castle ruins dominated the horizon from several vantage points as we drove back and forth from our house in Sayat, north of the Auvergnat capital of Clermont-Ferrand, and we wanted to know more. Tournoël was one of the first places we visited en famille — and it truly was a ruin in those days, uninhabited, unrestored, and a little dangerous.  I have vivid memories (and some old videotape) of us climbing up […]

Museum Confluences Lyon France

Tour the amazing “Museum of Confluences” in Lyon

I’m a “big picture” guy.  I like headlines and high-level summaries, not pages of detail.  Global trends and big ideas are more interesting to me than step-by-step accounts of what happened in the past.  One of the members of my team at work once told me (by way of explaining why we were having trouble communicating) “we’re all operating at 5,000 feet, and you’re flying at 35,000 feet.” All of this is to explain my enthusiasm – “love” is not too strong a word – for the place Karen and I discovered in Lyon last year:  the new Musée des Confluences.

Hautefort Dordogne France Castle Chateau

Visit HAUTEFORT – a classic castle in the deep heart of France

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 […]

Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat Saint-Leonard France Haut-Vienne Limousin Nouvelle-Aquitaine Romanesque Medieval French Travel

Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Deep Heart of France

In all my travels around France over the past several years, the day I spent in the little UNESCO World Heritage town of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat ranks among my favorite memories.  It’s 30 minutes due east of Limoges, in the 21st-century region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, but on the day I visited, Saint-Léonard had withdrawn to a time before the modern idea of “France” even existed, far back into its medieval past. Remarkable things were happening when I arrived.  The entire center of the village was closed to cars, and people were streaming in from wherever they could find to park.  The narrow medieval streets were alive with visitors – but not only tourists!  Everywhere I turned, in the midst of the  great crowd, […]

UPDATE: Big news for Souvigny, a medieval gem in the deep heart of France

Every year around this time, the France 3 television network invites people to vote on the “most preferred village in France”.  (Last year, the winner was Cassel, up in the north near Dunkirk and the border with Belgium.) When the candidates for 2019 were announced this week, I was thrilled to find Souvigny among the 14 nominees — it’s there as the representative of the Auvergne in the deep heart of the country, and it’s easily one of the most photogenic and historically interesting places I’ve had the fortune to visit in recent years. You can vote yourself for your own “most preferred village”.  Just click here and you’ll go to the France 3 site, where you just click on […]

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne Beaulieu Dordogne France Travel Medieval History Corrèze

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne is a medieval gem in the deep heart of France

I arrived in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne earlier than I’d planned, so my first stop was a bakery just outside the medieval center of town.  There was still a morning chill in the shade when I took my pain au chocolate to a bench in the little square, but from the first bite I knew this was a town I was going to like – the bread was still warm, the two bars of dark chocolate were still melted inside, the crust flaked off in sheets for the birds around my bench to enjoy… it was the archetypically perfect French breakfast for me. (That may be because there’s so much competition.  For a small town (around 1,200 people) there are a surprising number […]

Arnac-Pompadour Pompadour Arnac Corrèze Nouvelle-Aquitaine Horse Horses Castle Chateau France Travel

DESTINATION: Arnac-Pompadour and the ‘National Stud Farm’ in the Deep Heart of France

For centuries, France had a king and thousands of titled aristocrats – that’s not surprising news.  What might be surprising, though, is how often the vestiges of that old royal system still pop up in travels around the country today. That struck me particularly last summer as I drove north from Brive-la-Gaillarde when I saw a sign pointing off to Arnac-Pompadour and “l’haras national de France”.  I love horses, so I knew what the word meant – a haras is a stud farm.  But really, a national stud farm?  Where else but in France would you find such an unusual institution? That got the best of my curiosity, so I took a serendipitous detour from my intended destination and headed […]

Limoges porcelain Limousin France

See the whole history of Limoges porcelain in the Deep Heart of France

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 […]