Salmon Brioude Cantal

Searching for Salmon in the Deep Heart of France

A surprising place for a museum about a fish The ocean is 450 miles away (by river) from Brioude.  The mighty Loire River, known to every tourist who ever took a daytrip out from Paris to see the fabled chateaux of the Loire valley, begins as a trickle in the Allier River up in the mountains just 60 miles away.  Odd, then, to find a monument to the salmon, one of the world’s most popular ocean-going fish, in this town in the Haut-Allier, part of the larger region of the Auvergne in the deep heart of France. But the Atlantic salmon has a long and distinguished history in this part of the country, and that’s why it’s worth a visit […]

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 […]

Never Throw Anything Away – An Intro to the French “Plan d’Urbanisme”

A few weeks ago I was in Souvigny, a postcard-perfect town in the Allier, and it made me think of computer systems.  Well, in a roundabout way… The main square in Souvigny I first heard the phrase “plan d’urbanisme” when I was working in the Information Technology department of a big manufacturing company in France.  While it literally means “city planning”, in the context of IT it meant trying to figure out the thorny problem of how to integrate new applications and new technologies into an existing mass of old systems. But it set me thinking about how profoundly important the idea is for every town in France.  How do you put a subway underneath an ancient city like Paris […]

Castles - Central France

“Chateau” or “Big Country House”?

As you drive through the “deep heart of France”, you’ll regularly come across a massive house, usually sitting on top of a little hill or bluff and looking as though it’s been there forever.  There may be some evidence of fortifications – a guard tower, a thick wall around the garden, sometimes even a moat.  But is this a “chateau”?  Or just a big, old house in the country? The answer may be a little more complicated than you think.  Part of the issue comes from how freely the word “chateau” is used in French to describe many different types of dwelling.  It’s not just reserved for the traditional medieval castle – that’s a château fort in French and still […]

On Working With the French 2 – The 35 Hour Work Week

I’ll bet every expat working in France has heard the same thing from a friend or relative during a holiday visit back home: “Wow, so you’re only working 35 hours a week!  What a sweet life that must be!” As you’ve already gathered from things I’ve written here and there, it can indeed be a sweet life to live and work in France.  But the misconceptions about how much French people actually work and how productive they are can make you crazy if you focus on them. Where do the misconceptions begin?  Everyone knows about the famous “35-hour law” passed in February of 2000.  Its main goal was noble: reduce unemployment, which in France was at 9.8% in the year […]

Clermont-Ferrand in Central France

8 Things We Love About Clermont-Ferrand

This week I’m missing my “second home”: Clermont-Ferrand, capital city of the Auvergne, one time capital of France for a day, and the largest city in the deep heart of France. We lived there for seven years (split between two different expat assignments), and I’ve spent several weeks there every year when we weren’t living there for the last 19 years.  Why do I like this place so much?  Here are my 8 favorite things about Clermont-Ferrand: Notre Dame du Port.  This is the older of Clermont’s two main churches, and it is rich in history – Pope Urban II launched the first of the Crusades during a conference here in 1095.  So although I’m not at all Catholic I […]

Clermont-Ferrand in Central France

Save Short Film If You Can! Clermont-Ferrand’s International Short Film Festival is Coming

Every winter, Clermont-Ferrand hosts “the second most important film festival in France” (after the well-known event in Cannes).  This February will bring the 29th edition of the International Short Film Festival, showcasing works from filmmakers around the world in addition to two thematic programs on the art of short film in Colombia and works of “black humor”. La Jetee is home to the International Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrand The 29th annual International Short Film Festival and 39th National Short Film Festival will be held from February 3rd to February 11th, 2017.   Ticket packages and information about hotels  are available on the Festival’s website. Read more about this exceptional event in my article on FranceToday.com , one of the best […]

What’s Different in France: The Legal System

One of the first things you notice when you move to France is the difference between the French legal system and the ones we’re more familiar with in the U.S. and the U.K.  For us, it became obvious on our first visits to some of the ruined castles in the Auvergne.  We were surprised by the absence of safety barriers and access controls around piles of rubble, narrow staircases, and open pits in many of the ruins open to the public.  We have pictures of my wife grabbing our 8-year-old son by the belt to keep him from plunging over the top of a castle rampart.  Castle Ruins at Arlempdes Clearly these French tourist institutions don’t worry as much as […]

An Evening Out in Moulins

Moulins – ancient seat of the Dukes of Bourbonnais It’s almost 8:00, the end of a long travel day, and the heat of a summer afternoon clings to the sidewalk as I walk to the restaurant.  Seen from a distance, it’s not an especially impressive place – on the ground floor of a 60-year-old hotel, a little frumpy but comfortable enough.  The Moulins train station is across the street, so people come by in waves as the trains come and go.  I’m greeted by the couple I’ll call Monsieur and Madame.  They’re clearly the owners of the restaurant, and in the course of the evening they will impress me as offering the highest expression of the qualities we love about […]

Driving to Villeneuve – but which one?

After a couple of very pleasant nights in Moulins, I decided this morning to hit the road to see some of the smaller towns in this part of the Allier.  The temperature was rising, the sky had only a few wispy clouds against a rich blue background, and my trusty Michelin Green Guide had a nice section laying out a driving circuit around Moulins with several old chateaux and the little Romanesque churches I love – a perfect day in central France! Things started well.  A quick stop at the church in Yzeure, a side trip down a dirt road for a look at the Chateau at Seganges, and I was ready to move on toward St. Menoux.  Now, I […]

Top 5 Stereotypes About the Auvergne

Recently La Montagne, the main newspaper chain covering central France, had a great idea:  interview a group of French tourists arriving in the Auvergne for the first time just as they are getting off the bus, then catch up with them again a few days later to see if their opinions have changed.  The question: “What preconceptions do you have about the Auvergne and its inhabitants?” Jean, a 70-year-old from Paris, said he thinks of Auvergnats as “coal merchants and brasserie owners”.  Denise, also from Paris, said “When you say Auvergne to me, I immediately think of volcanoes and the stinginess of the people.”  The final word came from Bernard, another Parisian: “For me, the Auvergne means ‘prehistoric’”. I’ll come […]

What Draws Me Back To “The Deep Heart of France”?

I’m no psychologist, but I’m always curious about what draws people to their personal passions.  Why does someone love to spend her afternoons knitting while her husband would rather spend the day at a flea market looking for baseball cards?  Why does one friend read serious history books while another reads nothing but thrillers?  Why do I love college football but my cousin only likes the pros? More to the point for this blog:  “Why do so many people have such a particular fascination with France?”  And even more precisely, the question my friends often direct to me: “Why do you care so much about the Auvergne, the Centre, the Limousin, and all the other regions that make up what […]