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 […]

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UPDATE: That day when Julius Caesar lost a battle in the deep heart of France

I just came across a short piece from National Geographic summarizing the life and accomplishments of Julius Caesar.  Before he made himself “dictator for life,” the magazine notes, he had to prove his worth as a powerful military commander — and he started that quest in the deep heart of France, trying to subdue the tribes of Gauls who controlled that part of Europe.  Here’s how National Geographic summarized his campaign in France (and the phrase that caught my attention):     Caesar’s seven-year Gaul campaign ended triumphantly in 51 B.C. The Gaul leader Vercingetorix was paraded in chains through Rome before being ritually strangled. In all, Caesar’s campaign killed or enslaved more than a million Gauls […]

Chateau de Cordès Castle Auvergne Medieval Gardens France Europe

Visit the medieval Chateau de Cordès in the Deep Heart of France

Our guide at the Chateau de Cordès clearly loves his job.  He’s also the “chief gardener” for the grounds around the castle (although he admits there’s only one other person on the staff), so for our tour he has scrubbed the dirt off his hands, tucked in his shirt, and opened the doors for the five of us at the height of tourist season in the Auvergne. It’s not really surprising to him (or to me) that the Chateau de Cordès is so lightly trafficked even at this peak time of the year.  We are far removed from all the major tourist centers of France – distant even from most of the lesser known sites in the deep heart of […]

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In Greece – a surprising outpost from the deep heart of France

The Auvergne – that ancient volcanic region near the center of France – doesn’t seem at first glance like a place that would feature prominently on the stage of great world events.  Even many French people don’t know what goes on there; they hold a number of odd stereotypes about the people who live there, many of which imagine Auvergnats as a species of rural rubes.  And they’re always surprised when they actually visit the place to find how interesting, how beautiful, and how utterly civilized it is.

Notre Dame du Port Auvergene Romanesque Medieval France Clermont-Ferrand Crusades

At Notre Dame du Port: What happened in this medieval church echoes in the headlines of today…

On this frigid, dark winter day, I’m thinking back to another time… It was summer, 86 degrees and humid in Clermont-Ferrand, headed to 90 later in the week… Most offices and houses here don’t have air conditioning, so any respite from this oppressive heat was welcome. For me, one of the best places to be on days like this is inside the ancient basilica of Notre Dame du Port.  I leave my room, already hot as a car in a Texas parking lot by lunchtime, and labor up the sharp little street from Place des Carmes to spend an hour in the cool dark interior of this medieval wonder. Rebuilt in its current form beginning in 1185 C.E. — but […]

Murol Chateau Castle Auvergne Cantal France Medieval Renaissance

Is Murol the coolest medieval castle in the deep heart of France?

A user on Quora recently asked me “What are the best castles in France?”  I listed some of my favorites — Beynac, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, Polignac, Les Tours de Merle – with a focus on places removed from the “standard” touristy sights of the Loire Valley.  But as I worked on my answer, it struck me that I have never actually written about my favorite chateau in all of France — the massive defensive fortress of Murol, in the mountains of the Cantal. Today’s post is meant to correct that error and introduce you to one of the best overall tourist destinations in the deep heart of the country. I’ve made several visits to Murol just for the pleasure of photographing it.  […]

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It’s ASM Rugby Season in the Deep Heart of France!

My heart beats a little faster every year as September approaches – I don’t regularly watch any other sports on TV the rest of the year, but when college football season starts every autumn I am there for hours every Saturday!  So on a recent September Saturday in the deep heart of France, I was excited to see first-hand what gets people there excited:  the opening game of the Top 14 Rugby League’s season in Clermont-Ferrand. The team is called “ASM Clermont Auvergne”.  “ASM” stands for “Association Sportive Montferrandaise” (it used to mean “Association Sportive Michelin” in honor of the company that founded the club, but the name was changed in 1922 when the governing body of French rugby got […]

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TURENNE is officially one of the “most beautiful villages in France”

When you travel around the countries we call “France” or “Germany” or “Italy”, it’s easy to forget that these national entities are fairly recent constructs in the grand scale of history.  As Graham Robb points out so well in The Discovery of France, 80% of that country’s population still lived outside towns and cities even as late as the Revolution; even with a King as the “head of state”, the country was still a collection of old provinces and fiefdoms far from the government of Paris.   “Being French was not a source of personal pride, let alone the basis of a common identity.  Before the mid-nineteenth century, few people had seen a map of France and few had heard […]

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UPDATE: Blaise Pascal was a towering genius from the Deep Heart of France

      Even after more than 40 trips to Paris over the last three decades, Karen and I always find something new and wonderful to see there.  On our most recent visit, the winner in this category is the restoration work going on at the abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés on the Left Bank.  It’s only half finished at this point, but the work already done has painted the church in rich colors and gold leaf showing how gloriously beautiful it was centuries ago. But we also found two other “new” sites (new to us, that is), both with a connection to one of my personal heroes from the deep heart of France – Blaise Pascal. The incredible thing about […]

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The Secret Life of Clermont’s Place de Jaude

La Montagne – the daily newspaper chain that serves most of the villages and cities in the deep heart of France – recently put together a list of “things you don’t know about the Place de Jaude” in Clermont-Ferrand. Some of the historical tidbits cited by Simon Anthony in his article were already familiar to me:  the fact that the statue of Napoleon’s General Desaix is not much appreciated by locals, and the fact that the city’s Opera was deliberately built in white-colored stone mostly to combat Clermont’s reputation as “la ville noire” because of all the black lava stone used in so many public buildings.  I had heard before, too, how a great ‘urban renewal’ project had been undertaken […]

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Big News from UNESCO for the Deep Heart of France!

They’ve waited over 11 years and been denied twice before, so Auvergnats were understandably excited when the big news finally came on Monday:  the Chaîne des Puys has officially been named a UNESCO World Heritage natural site. As regular readers of the blog know, this chain of 80 volcanic peaks is one of my favorite parts of France.  The chain is about 45 km (27 miles) long, and forms the backdrop to Clermont-Ferrand, sweeping up dramatically from the flat Plain de Limagne that stretches off to the east.  We’ve always looked forward to the moment when, after a long drive through flat wheat fields and low hills, the A71 autoroute from Paris climbs sharply and the whole Chaîne des Puys […]

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A July 4th Memory from the Deep Heart of France

Karen and I got to see Hamilton in London last month – and it was as dazzling as we expected!  (It’s also a bargain compared to the usurious after-market prices for tickets in places like New York and Chicago – we had seats in the 16th row for about $75 each, and we even encountered people who found it cheaper to buy an economy airfare to see the London show than to get comparable tickets in the U.S.  God bless Ticketmaster UK for their “no scalping” system – I only wish they could teach their American counterparts how to do it!) Of course, one of the many reasons to love the performance was to see James Pennycooke playing the role […]