Bougnats Auvergne Migration France Paris

How the deep heart of France came to Paris

A country built by migrants As the debate over immigration rages across the front pages of newspapers and in the nightly TV talk shows across France, it’s easy to forget that modern France – our concept of Paris and the country it represents – is itself less than 250 years old.  It’s easy to forget, too, that what we think of as “France” today was built in large part by massive waves of internal migration.  And one of the largest of all these “immigrant” populations…came to Paris from the Auvergne, in the Deep Heart of France!   Early scrap workers in Paris Of course, people had found their way from the Auvergne to Paris in small numbers for centuries, and some […]

Comfort food Auvergne recipe

Comfort Food – Recipes from the Deep Heart of France

Memories of great food For me, the idea of “comfort food” evokes memories of cold, black winter nights when you huddle up with a good book and warm your hands around a bowl of Mom’s homemade macaroni and cheese. For Karen, it’s the steaming kettle of chicken and dumplings in her mother’s kitchen as the family gathered on a Sunday afternoon.  You might think of your grandmother’s cookies, still soft as they come from the oven, or your dad’s own recipe for stuffed jalapenos.  In the deep heart of France, though, it might mean something else altogether. The Ambassade d’Auvergne in Paris serves up classic recipes from the Deep Heart of France What "Comfort Food" Means in France I’ve been […]

Chateau de Val Cantal Auvergne Castle

How the Electric Company Became the Owner of a Castle – the Chateau de Val

A history that almost disappeared Most of the stories of great castles in France hinge on the actions of knights and noble families.  I just visited a place, though, where the key moment depended on the actions of … the Electric Company? That’s the great irony in the history of the Chateau de Val:  It was only a hair’s breadth away from disappearing forever at the bottom of a lake – and frankly it might not have been seriously missed.  But the waters stopped just short of the castle’s walls, and gave it a romantic setting that turned this minor château in the Auvergne into a serious attraction for tourists. Don’t get me wrong – the Chateau de Val is […]

Auvergne Clermont-Ferrand Postcards

Check out these 100-year-old Postcards from the Deep Heart of France

Searching for treasures amidst the junk French people have plenty of ways to get rid of their old junk.  Almost every little village organizes an annual vide grenier (“empty the attic”) sale, every town of any size has at least one brocante (second-hand) store, and flea markets (marchés aux puces) pop up somewhere every week of the year.  And I, for one, am a happy consumer of what they have to sell.  One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon is combing through one of these sales, looking for an unusual wine carafe or an old print that could be salvaged from a broken frame.  But one of my favorite “finds” is a box of old postcards.  For me, […]

Autumn Auvergne France

Autumn Color From the Deep Heart of France

Fall in France Color is not the only signal that autumn has arrived in central France.  The smell of wood smoke becomes pervasive in the areas just outside town, early-morning frosts form on the windows.  At work, the first chilly day means a cold day in the office as the radiators clank and wheeze their way back into action after the long summer.  People in the street shiver in winter clothes (even though the temperature is still in the 50s or 60s [12 – 18 C]) , woolly scarves wound around their necks up to the bridge of their noses, heavy layers of sweaters and pea-coats covering the rest.  It’s harvest time, too, and as people have been doing in […]

Gevaudan Haute-Loire Beast Horror Auvergne

The Beast of Gévaudan – A Tale of Horror From The Deep Heart of France

Note: some of the descriptions of true incidents in this post include images of graphic violence.  Reader discretion is ­­­advised. December 20, 1764 Darkness is gathering early.  This is the shortest day — the longest night — of the year, and the air is heavy with little pinpricks of ice.  Clouds hanging behind the mountain are rimmed in violet.  The only sound comes from the light slapping of the little girl’s feet on the thin, rocky surface as she slips out of the garden gate.  Then, instantly, a black shape flashes past at the very edge of her peripheral vision.  She hears no sound, but scans the scrub just ahead.  There is something moving in the grass, something silent and […]

Mont Mouchet Auvergne Resistance Maquis

At Mont Mouchet, the Largest Gathering of the French Resistance

A battlefield on top of a mountain Old battlefields are sometimes hard to decipher.  As the years pass, even deep shell craters lose their sharp definition, bullet marks on stone walls are worn down, and the whole landscape takes on a settled, green calm that belies the violence that once marked the place.  A great effort of imagination is required to reconstruct troop movements and the profound drama of long-ago conflicts. That’s especially the case today as I finally arrive at the top of the hill at Mont Mouchet.  In early June 1944, at the same time all hell was unleashed on the beaches of Normandy far to then north, another battle was unfolding in this unlikely corner of the […]

6 Cool Things to Do In The Deep Heart of France This Fall

Autumn in the Auvergne Autumn is not just a physically beautiful phenomenon in the deep heart of France – although the rich colors of the leaves and tendrils of wood smoke rising from chimneys do give it the quality of a fine Renoir painting.  It’s also part of the annual rhythm of life here – work hard all year, leave for vacations in August, then come back charged up and ready to attack again after the rentrée in early September.  That’s reflected in the number of events and programmed activities you’ll find at this time of the year in central France.  Here’s a round-up of 6 of the most interesting things to do this fall in the Auvergne region. 1. […]

5 More Videos to Make You Fall in Love with the Deep Heart of France

Why I Love the Auvergne Since I started this blog, I’ve tried several ways to explain 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, you’ve also had a taste of some of central France’s best cultural offerings – from the incredible International Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrand to the great MuPop Museum of Popular Music in Montlucon and the classical music festival held every August in La Chaise-Dieu. Or maybe you’re drawn to this region, far […]

The Auvergne – One of France’s Great “Bread-basket” Regions

In August – while everyone (including me!) is away on vacation – I’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 look at some of the country’s most picturesque farmlands.  Regular “feature-length” posts will resume in September. A city boy in the center of France I grew up on a farm in southern Oklahoma, but in no meaningful way am I a “farm boy.”  And yet…when I drive through central France, there’s something about the agricultural landscape that really calls out to me.  You might think the Auvergne is nothing but extinct volcanoes and sharp hills – but it’s also one of […]

Randol Abbey Auvergne

DESTINATION: The Contemporary Abbey at Randol

A complicated subject Religion – a tricky subject anywhere in the world – can be especially difficult to bring up in France.  There’s a broad perception (based on dozens of polls – the French seem to like contemplating this question) that France is now a mostly secular society, and that the massive influence of the Catholic church from the Middle Ages to the Revolution is mostly a historical relic.  There are thousands of ancient churches and crumbling old abbeys, but it seems rare to see a new one.  That’s why, when Karen mentioned the visit she made with her women’s group to a 20th-cenury abbey at Randol, we decided we had to go back there together to learn more about […]

St. Saturnin Auvergne

DESTINATION: St. Saturnin

St. Saturnin – A royal village in the deep heart of France Today we are in the little village of St. Saturnin.  It’s not always easy for a modern imagination to take in a place like this.  St. Saturnin is technically in the “urban area” just 10 miles south of Clermont-Ferrand, but it feels much more isolated.  We’re in the Park of the Volcanoes in the wildest region of France, and this is a village with a population that never rose above 1,500.  You have to put your imagination into overdrive to picture the spectacle that must have played out in these winding narrow streets when this little town played host to some of the kingdom’s most famous (and notorious) […]