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 question was about German culture and […]
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 in spite of the […]
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 to the Maison de Saumon (“the house of salmon”) in […]
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.
Sometimes, as we all know, words and static images just aren’t adequate to capture a feeling or an impression you get in a faraway place – we need to see movement and the passing of time to get a better feel for what it might be like to visit a place we’ve never experienced for ourselves. Since I started this blog, I’ve put a lot of effort into explaining what the “deep heart of France” means to me. You’ve heard why I love Clermont-Ferrand and the Auvergne, and you’ve seen some of the towns officially recognized as being among “the most beautiful villages of France” – places like Blesle, Charroux, Arlempdes, and Salers.If you’ve stuck with this blog for long, […]
Several newspaper stories over the past 2 weeks have commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of France at the end of World War II — but they tend to focus on DeGaulle and the Allies marching through the streets of Paris. The local papers in the deep heart of France, though, have a different, darker memory of the events of August 1944. For people in Moulins the war wasn’t over when those triumphant scenes played out in Paris. On the same day the Nazi garrison surrendered in the capital, 56 men, 9 women and a 7-year-old child were dragged from their cells in the tower known as “Mal-Coiffée”, a 14th-century dungeon used as a prison by the occupying German […]
Well, you can’t miss THAT as you drive into town! More than most places in France, Lapalisse is dominated – almost overwhelmed – by the great chateau that stands at its center. Strangely, though, the town’s celebrity is due mostly to a mundane pun about one of its most famous historical figures.Not that many years ago, it was almost impossible to avoid Lapalisse if you went travelling through the Allier, one of the great “breadbasket” agricultural regions of France. The first time I saw it was on a company bus trip from Clermont-Ferrand to see our factory in Montceau-les-Mines. I woke up an hour into the trip to see this massive landmark with all the little local businesses clustered at […]
What do I love most about driving the back roads of central France? Discovering a little corner of history that I would have missed if I only stuck to the guidebooks. When I set out that day in September, my objective was the mysterious church at St Menoux, passing through Villeneuve-sur-Allier (and regular readers will know how badly that went!). Early in the day, though, with the fog still settled in the valleys around the D133, I came to a sign pointing off into the woods and promising “Chateau d’Avrilly / XVè – XIVè”. Great! I was in a fine mood after my evening in Moulins, the September day was bright and warm, and I had no deadline to constrain […]
Apremont-sur-Allier is, without question, one of the most beautiful villages in France (“un des plus beaux villages de France”) – and not just because it’s on the official list. But as tourists demand more and more “authenticity” in their travel experiences, I wonder how Apremont stands up to the test.