See why Uzerche is one of France’s “most beautiful detours”

When you first see Uzerche* you’ll think you’re looking at something lifted from a postcard – a striking visual of authentic medieval buildings and streets laid out like a layer cake rising up from the Vézère river.  That image matches the town’s nickname, “the pearl of the Limousin”, and you’ll know instantly why it merits a place in the official list of “the most beautiful detours in France”.  (And it’s not even that onerous a detour; Uzerche lies off the A20 autoroute, just 40 minutes south of the porcelain-making center of Limoges and 30 minutes north of my favorite town in the Correze, Brive-la-Gaillarde.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZdOzH-hTZU *I know that not everyone can go to France right now.  And with Covid-19 infections […]

The Tour de France is coming to the Auvergne

As I write this, the 107th running of the Tour de France is underway, just having finished the 3rd of 21 daily “stages”.  Assuming the riders really will make it to the end in the midst of the COVID pandemic, this year the fabled bicycle race has a special interest to those of us who love the ancient volcanic mountains and gorgeous landscapes of central France.  Stage 14 of the Tour will begin in my old hometown, Clermont-Ferrand, where riders will set out on the 197 km (118 mile) trip to Lyon.  But the day before (Friday, September 11th ), they will first have to tackle one of the Tour’s famous mountain passages, starting in the beautiful spa town 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 […]

Lafayette Cantal Auvergne

Lafayette – an American Legend from the Deep Heart of France

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 […]

80 Years Ago This Town Was The Capital of France For One Day

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 […]

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 […]

Saint-Robert France Correze Romanesque

Saint-Robert is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

It’s easy enough, when you’re bouncing around the deep heart of France, to experience this remarkable country in fragments, to imagine each castle and medieval abbey and little village existing in deep isolation, each tucked in its own private corner and invisible to the rest of the world.  It’s easy to experience the country as Graham Robb describes it in The Discovery of France (one of my all-time favorite history books): After the Revolution, almost a third of the population (about ten million people) lived in isolated farms and cottages or in hamlets with fewer than thirty-five inhabitants and often no more than eight. […] Many recruits from the Dordogne in 1830 were unable to give their recruiting sergeant their […]

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 […]

Chazeron Chateau Castle France Auvergne

Visit the Chateau de Chazeron in the Deep Heart of France

This post has been too long in coming – but we’re finally settled in our new place and I’m happy to be back online.  In the intervening weeks I’ve had some time to reflect on the places that resonate most vividly in my memories of living and traveling in the deep heart of France.  It’s only natural, then, that this post takes me back to the Auvergne for a first-time visit to just such a place  – the fine little Chateau de Chazeron, near the great church at Orcines in the Puy-de-Dome département. In fact, the castle at Chazeron matches all the criteria that make a place memorable for me: Although there’s some speculation that this was a holy site […]

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.