Usson – the scene of Queen Margot’s 20-year Exile – is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

We were having lunch in Usson – officially one of France’s “most beautiful villages”.  Our table was on the terrasse of the Auberge de Margot, hanging on the edge at the top of the hill that gives Usson its spectacular views across the plains and stretching to the blue chain of extinct volcanoes 30 miles away. And as we finished our meaty cabbage rolls, I looked around this little village and was reminded once again that Sarah Vowell** is right: “The more history I learn, the more the world fills up with stories.” Usson – this quiet little village in the deep heart of France – is overflowing with stories from its rich history.  Without them, it would be a […]

These Historic Newspapers Tell the Story of that Weekend When Clermont-Ferrand Was The Capital of France

There’s very little more interesting to me than reading authentic historical documents — there’s an immediacy and an “every-dayness” about them that can transport my imagination back in time to understand what life was like for people living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.  

What makes a village “One of the Most Beautiful” in France?

If you spend much time bouncing around the French countryside, at some point you may come across a village with a distinctive sign at the city limits: “L’un des plus beaux villages de France” – one of the most beautiful villages in France.When you see the sign, you know you’re in for a treat.  Among other things, you’re likely to find ancient buildings, quaint medieval streets, elaborate floral displays, and pleasant gathering places where people meet for drinks and meals.  But have you wondered what makes a town “one of the most beautiful”?  Who decides?  Where are the other “plus beaux villages” in the country?

Explore the link between Coco Chanel and the ancient Abbey at Aubazine

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 […]

Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

It’s a wet, gloomy day in central Texas, so I’m happy to spend it remembering a much brighter (and hotter) day Karen and I spent in the heart of France in the little village of Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez.  It’s a village with an unusual history:  from its layout and all the architecture, you would deduce that this is really a monastery.  But the French Revolution brought an end to its long vocation as a religious site and turned Sainte-Croix into a secular village. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfV7-EroSsk  

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 […]