The Tour de France is coming to the Auvergne

As I write this, the 107th running of the Tour de France is underway, just having finished the 3rd of 21 daily “stages”.  Assuming the riders really will make it to the end in the midst of the COVID pandemic, this year the fabled bicycle race has a special interest to those of us who love the ancient volcanic mountains and gorgeous landscapes of central France.  Stage 14 of the Tour will begin in my old hometown, Clermont-Ferrand, where riders will set out on the 197 km (118 mile) trip to Lyon.  But the day before (Friday, September 11th ), they will first have to tackle one of the Tour’s famous mountain passages, starting in the beautiful spa town of […]

Visit the ancient Abbey at Mozac in the Deep Heart of France

Given the number of old churches that show up on this website, you might think I’m Catholic.  I’m not – I’m  not even conventionally religious — so why do I love the ancient basilicas and medieval abbeys scattered across the landscape of the deep heart of France?  I found myself thinking about that question again when I parked a few blocks away and made my way through a dense leafy walkway to the great abbey of Mozac.   It’s surrounded these days by houses and school buildings, so your imagination has to work overtime to reconstruct what this place must have been like at its origins.  (The whole town is now folded in as a suburb of Riom.)  As I […]

Top 8 Castles to see in the Deep Heart of France

Now that le déconfinement is underway, tourist bureaus across France are encouraging people to plan vacations closer to home rather than taking trips to more exotic places.  The Wall Street Journal today has an article claiming “[t]he French are venturing into unknown territory: France.” Coronavirus border closures mean the French have the Eiffel Tower and the Chateau de Versailles to themselves. They’ve decided to see what all the fuss is about.  (Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2020) The risk, of course, is that the well-known “greatest hits” of French travel — the incredible chateaux in the Loire Valley, for example, or a day trip to Giverny — might still be overwhelmed or frustratingly inaccessible if crowds surpass the new capacity […]

Lafayette Cantal Auvergne

Lafayette – an American Legend from the Deep Heart of France

In any other year this would be the time when patriotic celebrations, grilling in the backyard, and summer vacations would top the American agenda.  And in more ordinary times, this would be the perfect opportunity 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. This year, though, Americans can’t even (safely) get out of their backyards or to the beach, much less fly to France for a visit — so we’ll have to make do with a more “virtual” remembrance of the occasion.  And while we’re at it, I’d argue that it’s […]

80 Years Ago This Town Was The Capital of France For One Day

Editor’s note:  This week the French press has been covering the 80th anniversary of the terrible events that led to the sudden “fall” of France as Hitler’s armies swept past the Maginot Line and into the heart of the country.  We’re reminded again of how rapidly the social order tumbled into chaos with the great “Exodus” of refugees moving from north to south; we’re hearing again DeGaulle’s moving speeches on the BBC calling on French people to fight back against the Nazis. …and all of that set me wondering about the days, 80 years ago this week, when the war finally came to Clermont-Ferrand in the deep heart of France.  How can we even imagine how it felt to stand […]

Châtel-Guyon Auvergne France Spa

The Tour de France comes to Châtel-Guyon in 2020

This year the 107th running of the Tour de France has a special interest to those of us who love the mountains and gorgeous landscapes of central France.  The Tour will stop in my old hometown, Clermont-Ferrand, on Saturday, July 11th, where riders will set out on the 197 km (118 mile) trip to Lyon.  But the day before (Friday, July 10th), they will first have to tackle one of the Tour’s famous mountain passages, starting in the beautiful spa town of Châtel-Guyon and climbing a total of 4,400 meters on a 191 km ride through a chain of volcanoes on the way to the Puy Mary in the Cantal. That announcement brought to mind several memories of our experiences […]

Chazeron Chateau Castle France Auvergne

Visit the Chateau de Chazeron in the Deep Heart of France

This post has been too long in coming – but we’re finally settled in our new place and I’m happy to be back online.  In the intervening weeks I’ve had some time to reflect on the places that resonate most vividly in my memories of living and traveling in the deep heart of France.  It’s only natural, then, that this post takes me back to the Auvergne for a first-time visit to just such a place  – the fine little Chateau de Chazeron, near the great church at Orcines in the Puy-de-Dome département. In fact, the castle at Chazeron matches all the criteria that make a place memorable for me: Although there’s some speculation that this was a holy site […]

Tournoel Castle Chateau Auvergne France

Visit the medieval castle at Tournoel in the deep heart of France

I don’t know why I have waited so long to write about the Chateau de Tournoël since the 800-year-old castle figures in several of our most enduring memories of France.  It was a ramshackle pile of rubble when we first moved to the Auvergne in 1997.  But the castle ruins dominated the horizon from several vantage points as we drove back and forth from our house in Sayat, north of the Auvergnat capital of Clermont-Ferrand, and we wanted to know more. Tournoël was one of the first places we visited en famille — and it truly was a ruin in those days, uninhabited, unrestored, and a little dangerous.  I have vivid memories (and some old videotape) of us climbing up […]

ASM Clermont Auvergne Rugby Vercingetorix

UPDATE: Clermont Auvergne Wins The European Rugby Challenge Cup Again

    There’s a huge party in Clermont-Ferrand this weekend.  Yesterday the players of the ASM Clermont Auvergne rugby team came home from England to celebrate their victory over La Rochelle (by a dominating score of 36 – 16) to claim this year’s Challenge Cup.  The annual tournament brings together 18 of the best clubs from three major leagues — England’s Premiership Rugby, France’s Top 14, and the international Pro 14 — plus 2 more teams from the Contintental Shield tournament representing the second tier of European Clubs. It was an exciting match for Clermont Auvergne fans.  Greig Laidlaw (from Scotland) accounted for half of all the ASM’s points, and the Guardian newspaper described the action as ” a Barbarians-style […]

The debate after Notre Dame – Should “traditional” buildings be updated?

The debate started almost the same day the Notre Dame fire in Paris was brought under control:  Should this great cathedral be rebuilt “as it has always been”?  Or should the fallen spire and fire-ravaged roof be “updated” to integrate more modern elements? Ideas for the restoration have already started to proliferate — here’s an example of one firm’s vision, and you can see several more by following this link.  Predictably, traditionalists push back hard on the idea of putting a greenhouse under a glass roof or creating a new crystal spire for Notre Dame de Paris.  But predictably, too, they ignore some key points in the history of the ancient building:           It has not, […]

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 […]