ASM Clermont Auvergne Rugby Vercingetorix

It’s ASM Rugby Season in the Deep Heart of France!

My heart beats a little faster every year as September approaches – I don’t regularly watch any other sports on TV the rest of the year, but when college football season starts every autumn I am there for hours every Saturday!  So on a recent September Saturday in the deep heart of France, I was excited to see first-hand what gets people there excited:  the opening game of the Top 14 Rugby League’s season in Clermont-Ferrand. The team is called “ASM Clermont Auvergne”.  “ASM” stands for “Association Sportive Montferrandaise” (it used to mean “Association Sportive Michelin” in honor of the company that founded the club, but the name was changed in 1922 when the governing body of French rugby got […]

Chaine des Puys Auvergne Volcano UNESCO

Big News from UNESCO for the Deep Heart of France!

They’ve waited over 11 years and been denied twice before, so Auvergnats were understandably excited when the big news finally came on Monday:  the Chaîne des Puys has officially been named a UNESCO World Heritage natural site. As regular readers of the blog know, this chain of 80 volcanic peaks is one of my favorite parts of France.  The chain is about 45 km (27 miles) long, and forms the backdrop to Clermont-Ferrand, sweeping up dramatically from the flat Plain de Limagne that stretches off to the east.  We’ve always looked forward to the moment when, after a long drive through flat wheat fields and low hills, the A71 autoroute from Paris climbs sharply and the whole Chaîne des Puys […]

Monpazier Dordogne Perigord France Bastide

Monpazier is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Lots of French towns are surrounded by walls.  Some of them look easy to breach; they were meant mostly to control access to the town so taxes and tolls could be collected and outsiders could be excluded.  Other walls, though, clearly mean business – they were put there centuries ago for more obvious military purposes, in a time when even remote places lived under constant threat of pillage and destruction. It’s true that our current age is an anxious age.  A quick reading of any online forum reveals the concerns felt by people in France (and many other countries, too) about their physical security in the face of terrorism, crime, and escalating conflict.  But try imagining a time when threats […]

Beynac Beynac-et-Cazenac Dordogne France Castle Chateau

8 Cool Things To Do This Spring in the Deep Heart of France

It feels like winter has fought to hold on longer than it should this year in France.  There’s been snow from Paris to the Mediterranean several times over the last few weeks, and the temperature tonight in Clermont-Ferrand will likely be close to freezing.   In fact, the arrival of spring in France this year reminds us of a lesson we learned the first time we moved there.  We arrived in the Auvergne in early March 1997, and the weather was glorious – warm, brilliantly sunny, and welcoming.  “Wow,” we thought, “we are REALLY going to like it here!” A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, we awoke to snow blocking out the sun, and when we went to the […]

Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

Clermont-Ferrand: 8 Things to Know About One of France’s “Best Places to Live”

My friend Michael recently alerted me to a new article on TheLocal.fr (a great source of info for expats and tourists in France).  It’s all about a new survey by L’Express which places Clermont-Ferrand at #4 among the “Best Places to Live in France “(outside Paris), and it follows on the heels of another article on TheLocal extolling the virtues of the town. Michael and I share an interest in Clermont-Ferrand, since we worked together there for several years as expats in the global headquarters of the Groupe Michelin.  We know there are a lot of stereotypes associated with this urban zone of almost 500,000 inhabitants – it’s not really that well known, even among other French people — but […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Paris Is Not France – 3 Great Reasons to Visit Central France

        This week: I’m very pleased to be part of the 3rd Anniversary Edition of #AllAboutFrance — a link-up hosted by Phoebe, who runs the Lou Messego gite near the Cote d’Azur.  Thanks to her efforts, more than 1,200 blog posts representing some of the most interesting writing about France have been given a lot of visibility around the world.  Please check out the 3rd Anniversary version of #AllAboutFrance by clicking on the badge at left! From the feedback some of you have given me,  I know the idea of exploring France outside of Paris can be a little overwhelming.  After all, Paris is perhaps the greatest single tourist destination on earth, and you could go there […]

Volvic Auvergne Lava Architecture France

VOLVIC – Source of the “Black Architecture” in the Deep Heart of France

Drive into almost any town in the central Auvergne, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s something dark and a little foreboding about it.  It might take a moment, but you’d quickly arrive at the reason: many of the houses, the big public buildings, and the fountains in the central square all have the same gray-black tone.  The somber air of the whole region comes from this pervasively common building material: the pierre de Volvic – lava rock from the village of Volvic. You can see it particularly in the great Cathedral of Notre Dame de l’Assomption in Clermont-Ferrand, known to many as “the only black cathedral in France”.  As you look at the dark stone blocks that make […]

Film Festival Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

BONUS: France’s 2nd Biggest Film Festival is in… Clermont-Ferrand?

Every winter, Clermont-Ferrand hosts “the second most important film festival in France” (after the well-known event in Cannes).  It’s February, so it’s time for the 30th edition of the International Short Film Festival, showcasing works from filmmakers around the world.  This year, there are thematic programs showing the state of the art of short film in Switzerland, films that celebrate “gastronomy and the pleasure of being at the table,”  and a particular celebration of the roles actors play in short films. The 30th annual International Short Film Festival and 40th National Short Film Festival is underway this week, from now through February 10th, 2018.   Ticket packages and information about hotels are available on the Festival’s website. Last year, I had […]

Autumn Auvergne France

UPDATE: Top 5 Stereotypes About the Deep Heart of France

A while ago, 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’”. […]

Sarlat Sarlat-le-Canèda Dordogne Perigord France Market

Market Day in Sarlat-le-Canèda

Someday I’ll write about why it’s a great idea to visit Sarlat-le-Caneda, the perfectly-preserved medieval town in the heart of the Périgord Noir in the Dordogne.  It’s one of France’s most popular tourist destinations (last time I was there I heard more British accents than French!), and within 30 minutes of some of France’s most interesting historical sites – great castles, prehistoric cave painting, troglodytic homes.  It’s also a perfect base for cycling, canoeing, hiking, or any other outdoor activity that appeals to you along the ancient Dordogne River.  In every way that matters to a traveler, Sarlat earns the rare 3-star rating that it holds in the Michelin Green Guide. Today, though, I want to talk about the town’s […]

Castelnaud-la-Chapelle Dordogne France

6 Best Places I Saw in the Deep Heart of France This Year

I’ll confess that 2017 was not my favorite year for many reasons that have nothing to do with a blog about traveling around the deep heart of France.  In fact, if it weren’t for the places I saw and the people met in my travels, I think it would have been easy to be miserable under the weight of the world’s problems in 2017!  For this round-up, I’ve enjoyed walking back through my memories of some of the best, most interesting places I saw this year.  These don’t necessarily represent most popular posts for 2017 — just my personal selection of the stories and places I’d like most to revisit in the months ahead. This may seem like a sneaky […]

Comfort food Auvergne recipe

Comfort Food – Recipes from the Deep Heart of France

For me, the idea of “comfort food” evokes memories of cold, black winter nights when you huddle up with a good book and warm your hands around a bowl of Mom’s homemade macaroni and cheese. For Karen, it’s the steaming kettle of chicken and dumplings in her mother’s kitchen as the family gathered on a Sunday afternoon.  You might think of your grandmother’s cookies, still soft as they come from the oven, or your dad’s own recipe for stuffed jalapenos.  In the deep heart of France, though, it might mean something else altogether. I’ve been surprised when I ask my French friends about their favorite comfort food to find that the concept doesn’t exactly translate well for most of them.  […]