It’s official: Clermont-Ferrand has just launched its year-long celebration of the 400th anniversary of the birth of Blaise Pascal, “le génie Clermontois.” The party started earlier this month with a performance of music from Pascal’s lifetime in the lovely church of Notre Dame du Port. Over the next 12 months, the celebration continues with: Exhibits at the Henri-Lecoq museum of science and natural history and the Roger-Quilliot museum of art An online collection of documents at the Overnia (Clermont’s digital library of historical materials) about the great man’s life, as well as reproductions of his most famous books and essays A year-long series of concerts, films, lectures and roundtables featuring distinguished artists and scholars celebrating Pascal’s life and the lasting […]
Somehow my visit to the crumbling castle ruins at Montmorin feels more important to me than the site itself really warrants. From the peak of this ancient little volcano, you can see forever – or at least that’s how it seems to me on a particular August afternoon in the deep heart of France. The entire Chaine des Puys, that iconic 25-mile-long range of extinct volcanoes that dominates the country’s center, is visible along the horizon to the west. As it happens so often in my travels through this region, I feel like the only person left on earth after some global cataclysm. I’ve come to visit the Chateau de Montmorin, a jumble of ruins at the end of a […]
OK, it’s not actually a true story – but the 2021 film Délicieux is a good story (“93% fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes), and for the purposes of this blog it’s a perfect story because it unfolds in the Cantal, one of the most beautiful regions in the deep heart of France. Directed by Eric Besnard, the comedy is available now to stream on Amazon Prime and YouTube Movies. In the movie, Grégory Gadebois plays Manceron, an extraordinary, if sometimes temperamental, chef who gets dismissed from his position cooking for a French duke. What did he do wrong? For a banquet with the duke’s distinguished guests, he made a dish (one of 40!) that includes potatoes at a time when the […]
Since 2016, I’ve written more than 160 posts exploring the exceptional places I’ve seen in the deep heart of France, so I don’t say this lightly: the Château de Commarque is unique among the most moving experiences I’ve had traveling in this region. I’ve taken hundreds of detours down country roads and visited dozens of other old castles over the last 25 years; by my count, I’ve written about 34 of them just for this blog. But after a while, many of them start to look similar – they are piles of rocks where the outlines of a castle remain, perhaps, or slightly shopworn old family manors. Don’t misunderstand — just about every château is interesting in some way. But […]
Before I went to Guédelon, I’d never really heard much about “experimental archeology.” For me, archeology seemed more a discipline based on pre-existing evidence – concrete objects, things you find in the ground or at the bottom of the sea. The interpretation of those objects is often open to conjecture (is this pottery shard part of a wine jar or was it a piece of the sculpture of some deity?), but in most cases you couldn’t really devise an experiment to prove the theory one way or the other. As on so many subjects, though, I was wrong. There’s a whole formal branch of archeology devoted to testing our conjectures about how people lived and how they made things by […]
Most of the places I cover in this blog have something concrete that evokes an emotional response in me – old buildings in which I can feel the weight of history, a festival or a market that makes me feel connected to a place’s daily life, or some spectacular natural site that overwhelms my senses. My visit to Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon was not like that, though. This is a town that moved me profoundly, not because of its “touristy” attractions, but because of the power of its reputation. It’s a reputation for kindness and care in the face of great evil – a reputation that places Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon among the rarified company of places known as a “Ville des Justes Parmi les Nations” […]
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 […]
There’s very little more interesting to me than reading authentic historical documents — there’s an immediacy and an “every-dayness” about them that can transport my imagination back in time to understand what life was like for people living through huge historical events. So, when I found a site online that sells old French newspapers… well, I had to get a few for myself! Thanks, then, to the people at CadeauRetro.com for a fresh look at one of the most interesting periods in the recent history of the deep heart of France: that incredible weekend in June 1940 when Clermont-Ferrand became the capital city of France.
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 […]
We watched Season 2 of Victoria on Amazon last week. One of the episodes was especially interesting to me: in it, Queen Victoria’s husband (Prince Albert) gets tremendously excited from meeting Charles Babbage, inventor of a great mechanical “difference engine” designed to perform complex calculations.
In any other year this would be the time when patriotic celebrations, grilling in the backyard, and summer vacations would top the American agenda. And in more ordinary times, this would be the perfect opportunity for those of us with an affinity for France and the French to remind ourselves that we likely would not have won our independence without the massive support of France in those earliest days of our Republic. This year, though, Americans can’t even (safely) get out of their backyards or to the beach, much less fly to France for a visit — so we’ll have to make do with a more “virtual” remembrance of the occasion. And while we’re at it, I’d argue that it’s […]
Editor’s note: This week the French press has been covering the 80th anniversary of the terrible events that led to the sudden “fall” of France as Hitler’s armies swept past the Maginot Line and into the heart of the country. We’re reminded again of how rapidly the social order tumbled into chaos with the great “Exodus” of refugees moving from north to south; we’re hearing again DeGaulle’s moving speeches on the BBC calling on French people to fight back against the Nazis. …and all of that set me wondering about the days, 80 years ago this week, when the war finally came to Clermont-Ferrand in the deep heart of France. How can we even imagine how it felt to stand […]