Salmon Brioude Cantal

Searching for Salmon in the Deep Heart of France

A surprising place for a museum about a fish The ocean is 450 miles away (by river) from Brioude.  The mighty Loire River, known to every tourist who ever took a daytrip out from Paris to see the fabled chateaux of the Loire valley, begins as a trickle in the Allier River up in the mountains just 60 miles away.  Odd, then, to find a monument to the salmon, one of the world’s most popular ocean-going fish, in this town in the Haut-Allier, part of the larger region of the Auvergne in the deep heart of France. But the Atlantic salmon has a long and distinguished history in this part of the country, and that’s why it’s worth a visit […]

Cantal - Deep Heart of France

7 Videos to Make You Fall in Love With the Deep Heart of France

Sometimes, as we all know, words and static images just aren’t adequate to capture a feeling or an impression you get in a faraway place – we need to see movement and the passing of time to get a better feel for what it might be like to visit a place we’ve never experienced for ourselves. Since I started this blog, I’ve put a lot of effort into explaining 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 […]

Is That A Rooster on Your Church?

In almost every French village you’ll find a church.  And whether it’s old or new, Romanesque or Gothic, urban or rural, your eyes will be drawn up to the cross at the highest point on the church — and on top of the cross you’ll see … a rooster? I asked a French friend why this symbol is so pervasive on French churches.  After a little hesitation, he brightened and said “because a rooster is the symbol of France!”  Which is true – you’ll also see roosters perched on top of war memorials, town gates, and old coins.  But is that why it appears on top of the cross? Nope!  That response didn’t seem right to me, so I dug […]

DESTINATION: SALERS – One of France’s Most Beautiful Villages

I’ve talked elsewhere about towns that are designated as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France” (les plus beaux villages de France).  It’s not easy to get the honor — a city really has to work at meeting all the criteria.  This month’s destination — Salers — is one of the 154 French villages on the list.  Like many of them, it’s not somewhere you end up by accident — it’s remote, located in the Cantal region of the Auvergne, southwest of Clermont-Ferrand.  But for me it symbolizes what the designation of “most beautiful village” means.  The first time we went there was on a market day in summer.  The town was packed – local farmers selling the incredible […]

Cantal - Deep Heart of France

DAY TRIP: MURAT

Photo © 2016 Richard Alexander   Any day in the Cantal is, for me, a good day.  Today’s recommendation for a day trip: the little village of Murat, in the foothills of the Cantal’s mountains. Photo © 2016 Richard Alexander If you’re looking for outdoor activities, Murat is a great place to start.  You’re still in the Parc des Volcans d’Auvergne, so you will find opportunities for hiking and cycling in a spectacular natural setting at every point of the compass from here.  There are several rochers (rocky outcroppings) in the area – you might, for example, want to climb up the rocher Bredons to see its little Romanesque chapel.  At the top of the Rocher de Bonnevie, the great […]

Cantal - Deep Heart of France

Eiffel – 5 Years BEFORE That Famous Tower

By the late 1800s, Gustave Eiffel was a busy and  well-known engineer, with projects not just in France but across Europe and as far away as Vietnam, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico and Turkey.  His company managed the construction of an astonishing variety of train stations, grand galleries, and bridges all over the world.  And while we all know something about a certain Tower in Paris, one of his most famous projects brought him to the deep heart of France five years before the Tower opened. Gustav Eiffel in 1888 (Source: Public Domain photo by Nadar via Wikimedia Commons) The Viaduc de Garabit was actually the idea of a bridge engineer named Léon Boyer, an interesting character in his own right who […]

What Draws Me Back To “The Deep Heart of France”?

I’m no psychologist, but I’m always curious about what draws people to their personal passions.  Why does someone love to spend her afternoons knitting while her husband would rather spend the day at a flea market looking for baseball cards?  Why does one friend read serious history books while another reads nothing but thrillers?  Why do I love college football but my cousin only likes the pros? More to the point for this blog:  “Why do so many people have such a particular fascination with France?”  And even more precisely, the question my friends often direct to me: “Why do you care so much about the Auvergne, the Centre, the Limousin, and all the other regions that make up what […]