At Parentignat – a chateau that feels like a comfortable family home

I’ve had the good luck to visit more than 100 castles and châteaux in our travels around France over the past 24 years (and I’ve written about more than 20 for this blog).  Most of them fall into one of four categories:   The famous castles that line the Loire River’s valley and the great royal châteaux like the ones at Versailles and Fontainbleau.  (There’s a slightly smaller one of these palaces at Hautefort in the deep heart of France, the region I cover here.  They’re called châteaux, but many of these really seem more like palaces.) Serious military fortresses like Castelnaud, Beynac, and (my favorite chateau in the Auvergne) Murol.  These are closest to the popular image of “medieval […]

Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

Setting the record straight on Clermont-Ferrand — one of France’s “best places to live”

I’ve written elsewhere about the persistent stereotypes that French people have in mind when they think about the Auvergne – that gorgeous, wild region that dominates the deep heart of France.  Auvergnats are isolated, people say; they mash their words so you can’t understand them, the only eat cheese, they’re stingy… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxdsBM5-n7Q&feature=youtu.be So I was particularly amused to see this new video, “The Truth About Clermont”, online last week.  In it, a young woman announces to her friends that she has decided to go to the Université Clermont Auvergene.  They scoff – “mais, c’est super nul!”, they say as they mock her choice.  Then they trot out all the specific stereotypes French people think of when they think of Clermont-Ferrand, […]

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 […]

Gargilesse-Dampierre is officially one of France’s “most beautiful villages”

  I’m always fascinated by stories from French history where someone rises from a remote city or tiny village in the deepest heart of the country to international fame.  We’ve seen several such stories in earlier post on this blog:  Blaise Pascal doing his famous experiments at the top of the Puy-de-Dome, the nobles of the House of Bourbon rising out of Montlucon to create a royal dynasty that still exists in Europe today, or the Marquis de Lafayette leaving his rustic home in the Auvergne to play a major role in the American Revolution. But it’s almost as interesting to find someone born in the big cities who abandons the bright lights to seek calm in the wild mountains […]

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 […]

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 […]