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 […]
On June 22, 1940, a somber caravan of cars and trucks arrived in Vichy, a spa town in the deep heart of 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. Karen and I have spent a lot of time in Vichy over the years, but I’ve hesitated to write about it because it’s still hard for me to understand all the real complexities that make up the character of the place. On the one hand, it’s the lovely and luxurious spa […]
We’ve had plenty of second (and third) thoughts about traveling in France during this second summer of the pandemic, but in the end, the weight of scientific data about the effectiveness of our vaccines and the restrictions that continue in place overcame those worries. So here I am (Karen will join me later) bouncing around the “D” roads in the deep heart of France again, and it makes me very happy. But it’s obvious that things are NOT what they used to be, and there are still some aspects of traveling here that make this the strangest trip ever in this country. Some of my first observations: Arriving in Paris is completely weird. We landed at Paris CDG – and […]
We were having lunch in Usson – officially one of France’s “most beautiful villages”. Our table was on the terrasse of the Auberge de Margot, hanging on the edge at the top of the hill that gives Usson its spectacular views across the plains and stretching to the blue chain of extinct volcanoes 30 miles away. And as we finished our meaty cabbage rolls, I looked around this little village and was reminded once again that Sarah Vowell** is right: “The more history I learn, the more the world fills up with stories.” Usson – this quiet little village in the deep heart of France – is overflowing with stories from its rich history. Without them, it would be a […]
There’s very little more interesting to me than reading authentic historical documents — there’s an immediacy and an “every-dayness” about them that can transport my imagination back in time to understand what life was like for people living through huge historical events. So, when I found a site online that sells old French newspapers… well, I had to get a few for myself! Thanks, then, to the people at CadeauRetro.com for a fresh look at one of the most interesting periods in the recent history of the deep heart of France: that incredible weekend in June 1940 when Clermont-Ferrand became the capital city of 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?
We watched Season 2 of Victoria on Amazon last week. One of the episodes was especially interesting to me: in it, Queen Victoria’s husband (Prince Albert) gets tremendously excited from meeting Charles Babbage, inventor of a great mechanical “difference engine” designed to perform complex calculations.
I’ve had the good luck to visit more than 100 castles and châteaux in our travels around France over the past 24 years (and I’ve written about more than 20 for this blog). Most of them fall into one of four categories: The famous castles that line the Loire River’s valley and the great royal châteaux like the ones at Versailles and Fontainbleau. (There’s a slightly smaller one of these palaces at Hautefort in the deep heart of France, the region I cover here. They’re called châteaux, but many of these really seem more like palaces.) Serious military fortresses like Castelnaud, Beynac, and (my favorite chateau in the Auvergne) Murol. These are closest to the popular image of “medieval […]
I’ve written elsewhere about the persistent stereotypes that French people have in mind when they think about the Auvergne – that gorgeous, wild region that dominates the deep heart of France. Auvergnats are isolated, people say; they mash their words so you can’t understand them, the only eat cheese, they’re stingy… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxdsBM5-n7Q&feature=youtu.be So I was particularly amused to see this new video, “The Truth About Clermont”, online last week. In it, a young woman announces to her friends that she has decided to go to the Université Clermont Auvergene. They scoff – “mais, c’est super nul!”, they say as they mock her choice. Then they trot out all the specific stereotypes French people think of when they think of Clermont-Ferrand, […]
Karen and I just watched all five episodes of Lupin, the French series that is dominating the Netflix popularity charts around the world. We love a good “heist” story – and Lupin starts with a very good one – but it evolves into something even better: a story about a “gentleman thief”, a hero who operates outside the law but is driven by a bigger sense of justice and “doing the right thing”. (Think The Equalizer but with some elegance and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.) The series also makes for a good opportunity to practice your French, if you’re inclined that way; you can watch it dubbed in English, or reset the language to French and turn on English […]
As I walked into the little village of Orcival on a bright autumn morning, I was momentarily distracted by a dog standing in the 2nd-story window of an old house. This alert little guardian interested me enough to stop to take his picture. As I started to put away my camera, though, I was startled by a loud voice in the upstairs window behind me. “Hey, you – you that likes taking all those photos of my house.” Uh-oh, I thought; he must be offended that I might be invading his privacy. So I was surprised when he went on. “Why don’t you turn around and have a look at my door, too?” What followed was one of […]
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 […]