Is Vichy a destination? Or a regime? (Part 2)

On June 22, 1940, a somber caravan of cars and trucks arrived in Vichy, a spa town in central France.   They brought with them the principal political luminaries and the mechanics of bureaucracy for what remained of the French government after the Nazi army occupied Paris.  Eight decades later, the town still struggles to restore its image as one of Europe’s most historic luxury resorts. In last week’s post, I talked about all the great reasons to visit Vichy in the deep heart of central France:  it’s a resort town with a rich history, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its amazing thermal spas, a city full of remarkable examples of Belle Epoque architecture and first-class recreational opportunities.  On […]

Is Vichy a destination? Or a regime? (Part 1)

On June 22, 1940, a somber caravan of cars and trucks arrived in Vichy, a spa town in the deep heart of France. They brought with them the principal political luminaries and the mechanics of bureaucracy for what remained of the French government after the Nazi army occupied Paris. Eight decades later, the town still struggles to restore its image as one of Europe’s most historic luxury resorts.   Karen and I have spent a lot of time in Vichy over the years, but I’ve hesitated to write about it because it’s still hard for me to understand all the real complexities that make up the character of the place.  On the one hand, it’s the lovely and luxurious spa […]

Explore the link between Coco Chanel and the ancient Abbey at Aubazine

How did a 900-year-old abbey deep in the heart of France become associated with Coco Chanel, one of the most iconic names in 20th-century fashion?  Today, we’re visitng the great abbey at Aubazine in the Corrèze, that département that lies wedged between the very popular tourist destinations of the Dordogne and the rugged peaks and valleys of the Cantal.  Like the Cantal, the region of Corrèze is not one of the most common destinations for American and British tourists – but it has its own history and a gorgeous, wild landscape that merit closer attention.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3Zgk8S5njw In that sense, Aubazine is a typical example of the region.  This video will give you the sense of how isolated the […]

Royat Auvergne

Lupin – the most popular show ever on Netflix – may have roots in the deep heart of France

Karen and I just watched all five episodes of Lupin, the French series that is dominating the Netflix popularity charts around the world.  We love a good “heist” story – and Lupin starts with a very good one – but it evolves into something even better:  a story about a “gentleman thief”, a hero who operates outside the law but is driven by a bigger sense of justice and “doing the right thing”.  (Think The Equalizer but with some elegance and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.)  The series also makes for a good opportunity to practice your French, if you’re inclined that way; you can watch it dubbed in English, or reset the language to French and turn on English […]

Orcival is a medieval gem in the deep heart of France

  As I walked into the little village of Orcival on a bright autumn morning, I was momentarily distracted by a dog standing in the 2nd-story window of an old house.  This alert little guardian interested me enough to stop to take his picture.  As I started to put away my camera, though, I was startled by a loud voice in the upstairs window behind me. “Hey, you – you that likes taking all those photos of my house.”  Uh-oh, I thought; he must be offended that I might be invading his privacy.  So I was surprised when he went on.  “Why don’t you turn around and have a look at my door, too?”   What followed was one of […]

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 […]