Lafayette Cantal Auvergne

Remembering Lafayette for the 4th of July

It’s that time of year for Americans – the big surge of patriotic celebrations, grilling in the backyard, and summer vacations!   As always, it’s a good time 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. Again this year on July 4th, many of us are feeling a little tense and unsettled by the state of our political life – and it would be easy to think that the cloth of civility and civic virtues written into our founding documents is unraveling.  Seen from inside the 24-hour news cycle, it’s easy to […]

Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

Medieval LAVAUDIEU is one of “France’s Most Beautiful Villages”

A Medieval Network of Power Brokers Many villages in central France have ancient roots.  It’s not uncommon in a place like Royat to find Roman ruins, or in places like Souvigny and St. Menoux to see traces of great Catholic abbeys that once dominated their territories.  But there’s only one place in the Auvergne where you can still see a Romanesque cloister that’s survived for a thousand years – and it’s in Lavaudieu, which also has the distinction of being one of France’s “most beautiful villages”. It’s hard to imagine now how powerful and pervasive the networks established by the great medieval abbeys would have been in their time.  The most famous is probably the one at Cluny, founded in […]

Rugby Auvergne Clermont-Ferrand Vercingetorix

The Champions of Rugby – from the Deep Heart of France!

One weekend habit to replace another One of the things I missed most when we first moved to France was watching college football every weekend in the autumn.  (This was in the days before Slingboxes and other solutions to seeing American television.)  It didn’t take long, though, before I found a most satisfying substitute:  rugby.  More specifically, French “Top 14” league rugby, and our local team, the ASM Clermont Auvergne club.  And all this came rushing back to me last Sunday, as the team from Clermont-Ferrand was crowned once again as the national champion of France! For an American football fan, it takes some work to understand the different rules and rhythms of rugby… but it’s worth the effort. These […]

8 Cool Things to Do in Auvergne This Summer

Time to think about vacations! First — a quick “thanks” to all of you who helped celebrate the first anniversary of the blog last week.  (If you missed it, please check out this recap of the best central France from 2016 and 2017.) This week, we look forward to the summer months ahead — the months that bring out all the best elements in the deep heart of France.  Whether you’re interested in the rich medieval history of the region, a brisk hike through the natural wonders of the Parc des Volcans, or dancing in the streets with your neighbors, there’s plenty to attract you to the country’s center.  Here are 8 especially cool things to do in the Auvergne […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Why You Need to Go To Central France

What's to Love About Central France? It’s the first anniversary of this blog, and that has set me thinking (again) about why the deep heart of France means so much to me – an American from the Great Plains who found himself in late career living in the center of a foreign country.  Given all the urgent issues the world throws at us, why spend time and energy on a subject so far outside my “natural” frame of reference? As it happens, right now I’m reading The Pigeon Tunnel, John Le Carré’s extraordinary autobiography.  He’s thought about this puzzle, too, first as a British spy and then as a novelist.  Why focus on any “esoteric” subject?  For Le Carré’, the […]

Michelin Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne

“The Michelin Adventure” – A Museum Worth a Detour in the Center of France

A little confession Long-time readers know this is not a “commercial” blog, and this post is not meant to be an advertisement.  Still, I confess: I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Groupe Michelin – my corporate home for the 19 best years of my career in I.T.  Yes, it’s a well-managed company (better than anywhere else I ever worked), and yes, they make the best high-performance tires in the world, but there’s more to it.  Michelin has one of the longest, most remarkable stories in business history.  And you can see some of that history through the particular lens of one of the most interesting museums in central France:  L’Aventure Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand.   L’Aventure […]

Montlucon Bourbonnais Auvergne

Montluçon – Medieval Home of the Bourbon Dukes

A Saturday Afternoon Event A wedding is about to start when I arrive in Montluçon on a humid Saturday afternoon.  The church – the Eglise Saint Pierre – was built in the 12th century, so I do the math.  If you assume 1 wedding a week (and that’s probably estimating on the low side), that means more than a thousand couples have gotten married here over the centuries – and this is only one of several significant churches in town. A family crowd is gathered in the little square by the main doors of the church.  The bride, her train held off the cobblestones by a teenage girl, is being tended by her mother, who’s wearing a long black gown […]

Royat Auvergne

Travel back to the Belle Epoque — Visit ROYAT in the Deep Heart of France

A scene from a Renoir painting To understand the little town of Royat, imagine yourself strolling through an elegant park with a crowd straight from a painting by Renoir – men in straw boaters and morning coats, women in flowing dresses with bright flowers and velvet hats.  Imagine, as the local guides say, “walking in the footsteps of Napoleon III, the Empress Eugénie, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), King Leopold II, or the Maharajah of Patiala…”  In short, imagine yourself stepping back into the glory days of Belle Époque France – but in a place far from the chic salons of Paris. Postcard from Royat, c. 1895 At first glance, Royat is a town trapped in time and […]

Salmon Brioude Cantal

Searching for Salmon in the Deep Heart of France

A surprising place for a museum about a fish The ocean is 450 miles away (by river) from Brioude.  The mighty Loire River, known to every tourist who ever took a daytrip out from Paris to see the fabled chateaux of the Loire valley, begins as a trickle in the Allier River up in the mountains just 60 miles away.  Odd, then, to find a monument to the salmon, one of the world’s most popular ocean-going fish, in this town in the Haut-Allier, part of the larger region of the Auvergne in the deep heart of France. But the Atlantic salmon has a long and distinguished history in this part of the country, and that’s why it’s worth a visit […]

Souvigny

Destination: Souvigny, a medieval gem off the beaten path in the deep heart of France

Coming into Souvigny I roll into Souvigny on a hot summer afternoon and it seems the whole town must be taking a siesta.  The funk of rich vegetation moldering in the sunlight reminds me of an August afternoon on a farm in Virginia.  A couple, murmuring in German as they walk toward one of the old houses, seem to be the only other tourists in town.  A woman, formally dressed in a business suit and white starched blouse, comes out from the church to a public fountain in the village square, pumps just long enough to fill a small plastic pitcher, and ducks back into the cool of the church’s interior.  A car door slams somewhere on a side street; […]

La Sauvetat - Auvergne - Deep Heart of France

Destination: La Sauvetat, a fortified town in the deep heart of France

People in France (and many other countries, too) are often described these days as being in a high state of anxiety about their physical security in the face of terrorism, crime, and escalating conflict.  But try imagining a time when threats were so immediate that everything about your little town was built to ward off the danger.  Today’s destination – La Sauvetat, a fortified village in the deep heart of France – transports you back to such a time in the long, violent history of the country. The villagers of La Sauvetat apparently came into their fears early, even before the town had a name.  This is in one of the agricultural breadbaskets of France, only 12 miles (20 km) […]

Usson - Deep Heart of France - Central France

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

We’re having lunch in Usson – officially one of France’s “most beautiful villages”.  Our table is 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’re finishing off our meaty cabbage rolls, it hits me 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 delightful sunny spot, almost like a town […]