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! What's to Love About Central France? 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 […]

Paradelles Auvergne Most Beautiful Village France

Learn about Pradelles – one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Pradelles: One of the Top 10?   Having just ranked my personal “Top 10 of the Most Beautiful Villages in Central France,” I have to ask myself: would I include Pradelles in that list? The honest answer is “probably not” – but this is still a town worthy of your consideration if you’re heading south toward the Mediterranean or to a week in Provence.  I’d put Pradelles in the middle rank among the “plus beaux villages” I’ve visited in France – not the richest in history, not the most spectacular landscape, but still well worth a stop for lunch and a 3-hour tour if you happen to be in this part of the country. The town’s official website puts it […]

Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

My Top 10 “Most Beautiful Villages” in the Deep Heart of France

What are the "Most Beautiful Villages" in France? Since I started this blog, I’ve profiled 13 of the towns claiming officially to be “L’un des plus beaux villages de France” – one of the most beautiful villages in France.  (Another profile, of Pradelles, is coming later this week, and there are 25 more on my calendar to show you in the months ahead.) When you see that distinctive road sign at the city limits as you drive into town, 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 […]

Tours de Merle Correze Medieval Castle Chateaux Castrum

A Must-See in Central France: The Tours de Merle, a “gated community” for medieval aristocrats

“C’est magnifique” The site of Les Tours de Merle has everything I love most about traveling in the “deep heart of France”: castles, a little medieval mystery, a little wild nature, and a challenging hike up a very steep hill.  On the day I came to town, I stopped on the side of the sharply winding “D” road to photograph the towers when a French motorcyclist pulled up next to me.  “Mais qu’est-ce que c’est?” he demanded.  I explained what I knew already about the site.  He stared for a long, quiet minute, then drew in his breath.  “C’est magnifique,” he said softly, “c’est vraiment magnifique”.  I couldn’t agree more.    It’s not a castle! The first thing you have […]

France Auvergne Puy de Dome Volcano

How to see the Puy de Dome – Icon of the Deep Heart of France

The Puy de Dome – actor on the stage of French history Napoleon III came to Clermont-Ferrand in 1862, and everyone wanted to make a great impression.  Why not take advantage of the great volcanic peaks that rise behind the city’s skyline and produce something spectacular for such a rare and important visitor?  A great artificial eruption was organized at the top of the Puy de Dome, with 600 piles of wood and a one-ton mix of resin and oil.  But when the great moment arrived…pffft.  The “eruption” fizzled.  The emperor and his wife were puzzled to see great clouds of black smoke roiling up from the mountain top instead. It’s not the only time the Puy de Dôme has […]

Volvic Auvergne Lava Architecture France

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

The rock that colors a whole region 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. Clermont’s famous “black cathedral” 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 […]

Rooster Church Cross Auvergne France

UPDATE: Is That a Rooster On Your Church?

I’ve been surprised and a little amused that my most “popular” (most read) post in the history of this blog…is the one I wrote on how common it is to find a rooster positioned on the cross above so many churches in France.  At first I thought a teacher somewhere must have assigned a term paper on the subject to a big class as “rooster on church” became the object of the most common Google searches leading to this site.  But months have gone by, and week in and week out this little post continues to get read more often than everything else, so I guess it must have fulfilled a need.  In any case, here’s an updated version with […]

Film Festival Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

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

Only Cannes is more important… 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. La Jetee is home to the International Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrand The 30th annual International Short Film Festival and 40th National Short Film Festival is underway this week, from now through February 10th, […]

Marqueyssac Dordogne Perigord Gardens France

The Gardens at Marqueyssac – one of France’s great tourist destinations in the Dordogne

A long walk on a perfect day A well-traveled cynic might call the Chateau de Marqueyssac a “manufactured” tourist experience.  For Karen and me, though, these extraordinary gardens in the Périgord Noir (Dordogne) are among the best-managed, most family-oriented places we’ve found anywhere in the deep heart of France.  And they are the perfect setting for a long walk on a spring afternoon. The same family has owned this property since 1692, and they take pride in saying that Marqueyssac has been “laid out for the pleasure of taking a walk.”  We’re 130 meters (427 feet) above the Dordogne, looking out across the great river’s valley.  From here you can see at least four of France’s official “most beautiful villages” […]

Arlempdes Auvergne Medieval Castle Chateau

Check out Arlempdes – one of France’s Official “Most Beautiful Villages”

Arlempdes: A destination far from the beaten path Arlempdes (pronounced Arlandes), is buried deep in the heart of France.  Although it is officially one of the 155 “Most Beautiful Villages in France,” it’s not exactly typical of the other towns you’ll find on the list. For one thing, it’s very small – the population is listed at 129 people, and I counted no more than 7 or 8 houses inside the town’s walls and perhaps 7 more outside.  It’s also very isolated.  The nearest autoroute (the A75) is 90 minutes away by narrow, winding country roads.  The nearest town of any size is Le Puy en Velay, 45 minutes away.  There are no stores in Arlempdes – no bakery, no […]

Carmes Cemetery WWI German Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne

A German Soldiers’ Cemetery in the Deep Heart of France

A traveler's faux pas One of my “most embarrassing travel moments ever” came during a family trip to Germany.  In a beer garden in Stuttgart, a woman sitting alone at the next table overheard our struggles to order dinner in German and asked (in English) if she could help.  As the conversation developed, she moved to our table and asked where we were from.  We said we were living in Clermont-Ferrand in the middle of France, and she brightened.  “Oh, my father was there during the war!” “Wow, that’s great!” I said, trying to make awkward small talk…realizing seconds too late that if her German father had been posted to Clermont-Ferrand it probably was not a reason to celebrate our […]

Autumn Auvergne France

UPDATE: Top 5 Stereotypes About the Deep Heart of France

An informal poll about the Auvergne 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: […]