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) […]

Julien Brioude Auvergne

St Julien’s in Brioude Gets a Third Michelin Star

When History Is Silent Whether you’re in Paris or driving through a small town in the deep heart of France, you may wonder about the big gap in the history that’s still visible.  There are spectacular Roman ruins, then a jump forward to medieval buildings everywhere, but almost no evidence that anything happened in between; you know there were people living there in the 3rd and 5th and 8th centuries, but it’s as if they never built anything.  Today’s post is about someone who lived in that era.  (Historians these days are reluctant to use the old term “Dark Ages” because it sounds pejorative and civilization was in a high state of evolution during the period – but as far […]

Lafayette Cantal Auvergne

Remembering Lafayette for the 4th of July

It’s that time of year for Americans – the big surge of patriotic celebrations, grilling in the backyard, and summer vacations!   As always, it’s a good time 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. Again this year on July 4th, many of us are feeling a little tense and unsettled by the state of our political life – and it would be easy to think that the cloth of civility and civic virtues written into our founding documents is unraveling.  Seen from inside the 24-hour news cycle, it’s easy to […]

Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

Medieval LAVAUDIEU is one of “France’s Most Beautiful Villages”

A Medieval Network of Power Brokers Many villages in central France have ancient roots.  It’s not uncommon in a place like Royat to find Roman ruins, or in places like Souvigny and St. Menoux to see traces of great Catholic abbeys that once dominated their territories.  But there’s only one place in the Auvergne where you can still see a Romanesque cloister that’s survived for a thousand years – and it’s in Lavaudieu, which also has the distinction of being one of France’s “most beautiful villages”. It’s hard to imagine now how powerful and pervasive the networks established by the great medieval abbeys would have been in their time.  The most famous is probably the one at Cluny, founded in […]

Rugby Auvergne Clermont-Ferrand Vercingetorix

The Champions of Rugby – from the Deep Heart of France!

One weekend habit to replace another One of the things I missed most when we first moved to France was watching college football every weekend in the autumn.  (This was in the days before Slingboxes and other solutions to seeing American television.)  It didn’t take long, though, before I found a most satisfying substitute:  rugby.  More specifically, French “Top 14” league rugby, and our local team, the ASM Clermont Auvergne club.  And all this came rushing back to me last Sunday, as the team from Clermont-Ferrand was crowned once again as the national champion of France! For an American football fan, it takes some work to understand the different rules and rhythms of rugby… but it’s worth the effort. These […]

8 Cool Things to Do in Auvergne This Summer

Time to think about vacations! First — a quick “thanks” to all of you who helped celebrate the first anniversary of the blog last week.  (If you missed it, please check out this recap of the best central France from 2016 and 2017.) This week, we look forward to the summer months ahead — the months that bring out all the best elements in the deep heart of France.  Whether you’re interested in the rich medieval history of the region, a brisk hike through the natural wonders of the Parc des Volcans, or dancing in the streets with your neighbors, there’s plenty to attract you to the country’s center.  Here are 8 especially cool things to do in the Auvergne […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Why You Need to Go To Central France

What's to Love About Central France? 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 […]

Michelin Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne

“The Michelin Adventure” – A Museum Worth a Detour in the Center of France

A little confession Long-time readers know this is not a “commercial” blog, and this post is not meant to be an advertisement.  Still, I confess: I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Groupe Michelin – my corporate home for the 19 best years of my career in I.T.  Yes, it’s a well-managed company (better than anywhere else I ever worked), and yes, they make the best high-performance tires in the world, but there’s more to it.  Michelin has one of the longest, most remarkable stories in business history.  And you can see some of that history through the particular lens of one of the most interesting museums in central France:  L’Aventure Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand.   L’Aventure […]

Montlucon Bourbonnais Auvergne

Montluçon – Medieval Home of the Bourbon Dukes

A Saturday Afternoon Event 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 […]

Royat Auvergne

Travel back to the Belle Epoque — Visit ROYAT in the Deep Heart of France

A scene from a Renoir painting To understand the little town of Royat, imagine yourself strolling through an elegant park with a crowd straight from a painting by Renoir – men in straw boaters and morning coats, women in flowing dresses with bright flowers and velvet hats.  Imagine, as the local guides say, “walking in the footsteps of Napoleon III, the Empress Eugénie, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), King Leopold II, or the Maharajah of Patiala…”  In short, imagine yourself stepping back into the glory days of Belle Époque France – but in a place far from the chic salons of Paris. Postcard from Royat, c. 1895 At first glance, Royat is a town trapped in time and […]

Souvigny

Destination: Souvigny, a medieval gem off the beaten path in the deep heart of France

Coming into Souvigny 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.  A woman, formally dressed in a business suit and white starched blouse, comes out from the church to a public fountain in the village square, pumps just long enough to fill a small plastic pitcher, and ducks back into the cool of the church’s interior.  A car door slams somewhere on a side street; […]