To be fair, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came to Hérisson last summer. For a few months I had seen clips in the French press ranking the town on the list of “villages préférés des Français.” But France is among the best in the world at creating labels to promote tourism in towns of every size in every region of the country. There’s the official list of “Most Beautiful Villages,” for example, but there’s also a designation for “Small Cities of Character”, “Cities of Flowers,” and so on. So what might I find in Hérisson? Would it be a place ready to receive thousands of tourists, like so many towns in France where the medieval charm is […]
Is Vichy a destination? Or a regime? (Part 2)
On June 22, 1940, a somber caravan of cars and trucks arrived in Vichy, a spa town in central France. They brought with them the principal political luminaries and the mechanics of bureaucracy for what remained of the French government after the Nazi army occupied Paris. Eight decades later, the town still struggles to restore its image as one of Europe’s most historic luxury resorts. In last week’s post, I talked about all the great reasons to visit Vichy in the deep heart of central France: it’s a resort town with a rich history, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its amazing thermal spas, a city full of remarkable examples of Belle Epoque architecture and first-class recreational opportunities. On […]
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?
UPDATE: Big news for Souvigny, a medieval gem in the deep heart of France
Every year around this time, the France 3 television network invites people to vote on the “most preferred village in France”. (Last year, the winner was Cassel, up in the north near Dunkirk and the border with Belgium.) When the candidates for 2019 were announced this week, I was thrilled to find Souvigny among the 14 nominees — it’s there as the representative of the Auvergne in the deep heart of the country, and it’s easily one of the most photogenic and historically interesting places I’ve had the fortune to visit in recent years. You can vote yourself for your own “most preferred village”. Just click here and you’ll go to the France 3 site, where you just click on […]
The surprising secret at Saint Menoux – could it be a medieval cure for a modern problem?
Karen and I will see Hamilton when we get to London in a couple of weeks, so I’ve been reading the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton that inspired the hit musical. Among many new discoveries, it’s reminded me over and over again that nothing in history is ever really new or original. Think the idea of “fake news” is something modern? Thomas Jefferson said of the press in early America, “nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” And if you’re distressed by the crassness of public discourse in the age of Twitter, you might find some comfort in knowing our forefathers routinely engaged in the kind of invective that would make a Russian bot blush. […]
8 Cool Things To Do This Spring in the Deep Heart of France
It feels like winter has fought to hold on longer than it should this year in France. There’s been snow from Paris to the Mediterranean several times over the last few weeks, and the temperature tonight in Clermont-Ferrand will likely be close to freezing. In fact, the arrival of spring in France this year reminds us of a lesson we learned the first time we moved there. We arrived in the Auvergne in early March 1997, and the weather was glorious – warm, brilliantly sunny, and welcoming. “Wow,” we thought, “we are REALLY going to like it here!” A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, we awoke to snow blocking out the sun, and when we went to the […]
Take a day trip from Paris to see this new expo at MuPop in Montlucon
I know there’s enormous competition for your time, attention and money when you’re traveling in France. Even if you’ve already seen all the major tourist sites in Paris, there are a dozen or more enticing day-trip opportunities in the area — Versailles, Fontainbleau, Chantilly, Giverny, among others. But if you’re going to be in Paris this summer — and if you’re a musician or someone who really loves music – you should get out of Paris for a day and head south to MuPop , the Museum of Popular Music in Montluçon. It’s a great trip, too, if you want a glimpse into the real heart of France far from the beaten path taken by the crowds of tourists you’ll […]
Before that Famous Tower, Gustav Eiffel Built These Amazing Structures in the Deep Heart of France
I just ran across an article from Canada’s Globe and Mail about efforts to fund and build a major new work by Jeff Koons, the American “post-modernist” sculptor. It’s intended, as I understand it, to be a memorial to the victims of the Bataclan assault in 2015…and it’s certainly become controversial. The motivation is pure enough — it’s seen as a tribute between friends just as France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty was in 1886 , an act of recognition and remembrance from Americans to their French allies. The mayor of Paris says the sculpture will “bear witness to the irrevocable attachment between our capital and the United States.” Still, some people don’t like the fact that France will […]
Paris Is Not France – 3 Great Reasons to Visit 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 earth, and you could go there dozens of times without exhausting all the incredible things to see and do in the capital city. (Believe me – Karen and I have tried!) The idea that there are thousands of other possibilities, some more interesting than anything you can find in Paris, can really be intimidating when you’re organizing future trips. And it’s certainly true that, for most people in the world, Paris is the single image that comes to mind when someone says “you should see 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 […]
6 Best Places I Saw in the Deep Heart of France This Year
I’ll confess that 2017 was not my favorite year for many reasons that have nothing to do with a blog about traveling around the deep heart of France. In fact, if it weren’t for the places I saw and the people met in my travels, I think it would have been easy to be miserable under the weight of the world’s problems in 2017! For this round-up, I’ve enjoyed walking back through my memories of some of the best, most interesting places I saw this year. These don’t necessarily represent most popular posts for 2017 — just my personal selection of the stories and places I’d like most to revisit in the months ahead. This may seem like a sneaky […]
A surprising little museum in the Chateau de Panloup
In August – while everyone (including me!) is away on vacation –’m posting a shorter article each week with a look at a specific destination or aspect of life in the deep heart of France. This week: a visit to the Chateau de Panloup. Regular “feature-length” posts will resume in September. You’ll see images of roosters almost everywhere you go in France – the coq is one of the country’s most enduring symbols. So it’s only mildly surprising to find a unique little museum dedicated to the subject in a little chateau in the Allier. And this Gallinotheque (“Rooster Museum”) is not the only interesting thing about the Chateau de Panloup, in the town of Yzeure; this is a working […]