You can’t talk about the deep heart of France without mentioning its volcanoes. They’ve made frequent appearances in this blog, in stories about Blaise Pascal’s groundbreaking experiments on barometric pressure done at the top of the Puy de Dome, the grinding challenge of the mountain stages of the Tour de France, or the medieval lava quarries at Volvic that gave so many landmark buildings in this region their characteristic gray-black color. The volcanoes dominate the skyline behind the Auvergne’s largest cities, and even though they are all dormant (for now) their superheated internal plumbing feeds the hot springs that have brought tourists here since the first humans inhabited the area.
In the Aubrac: What It Means to Feel “At Home” in the Deep Heart of France
Cet article est consacré à mon ami Luc-Emmanuel (qui m’a convaincu de reprendre ce travail en tant que blogeur et qui m’a posé la question à la base de cette réflexion) et à Karen (ma chere epouse qui tolere mes marottes et qui est ma partenaire dans cette aventure.) Is there someplace in the world (other than your actual home) that feels like home to you? Someplace that is instantly comfortable – a relative’s house, a specific beach, some small town or a sprawling city — where you can imagine spending significant chunks of the time remaining to you on this planet? Since I started this blog six years ago, people have regularly asked me “What is it about France […]
Délicieux – a good story about good food set in the deep heart of France
OK, it’s not actually a true story – but the 2021 film Délicieux is a good story (“93% fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes), and for the purposes of this blog it’s a perfect story because it unfolds in the Cantal, one of the most beautiful regions in the deep heart of France. Directed by Eric Besnard, the comedy is available now to stream on Amazon Prime and YouTube Movies. In the movie, Grégory Gadebois plays Manceron, an extraordinary, if sometimes temperamental, chef who gets dismissed from his position cooking for a French duke. What did he do wrong? For a banquet with the duke’s distinguished guests, he made a dish (one of 40!) that includes potatoes at a time when the […]
Saint Flour is a “Town for All Centuries” in the deep heart of France
Cet article est dédié à Marie-Thérèse, Sanfloraine exceptionnelle et le professeur qui m’a appris à parler français et à profiter au maximum de notre expatriation en France. There are several towns in central France that are famous mostly for “being medieval”. Many of them are immaculately restored; they give you an idea of how they must have looked in the 13th or 14th centuries. (Think of the incredible ensemble of medieval architecture in Sarlat-la-Caneda or the settings right out of The Three Musketeers in the “most beautiful village” of Pérouges.) They exist now primarily as tourist attractions where the curious traveler can have a window into life as it might have been in the distant past. And on first […]
What makes a village “One of the Most Beautiful” in 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?
The Tour de France is coming to the Auvergne
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 […]
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. […]
Before that Famous Tower, Gustav Eiffel Built These Amazing Structures in the Deep Heart of France
I just ran across an article from Canada’s Globe and Mail about efforts to fund and build a major new work by Jeff Koons, the American “post-modernist” sculptor. It’s intended, as I understand it, to be a memorial to the victims of the Bataclan assault in 2015…and it’s certainly become controversial. The motivation is pure enough — it’s seen as a tribute between friends just as France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty was in 1886 , an act of recognition and remembrance from Americans to their French allies. The mayor of Paris says the sculpture will “bear witness to the irrevocable attachment between our capital and the United States.” Still, some people don’t like the fact that France will […]
Paris Is Not France – 3 Great Reasons to Visit Central France
From the feedback some of you have given me, I know the idea of exploring France outside of Paris can be a little overwhelming. After all, Paris is perhaps the greatest single tourist destination on earth, and you could go there dozens of times without exhausting all the incredible things to see and do in the capital city. (Believe me – Karen and I have tried!) The idea that there are thousands of other possibilities, some more interesting than anything you can find in Paris, can really be intimidating when you’re organizing future trips. And it’s certainly true that, for most people in the world, Paris is the single image that comes to mind when someone says “you should see France”. […]
Most Beautiful Villages of France: Tournemire and the Chateau d’Anjony
Although I usually prefer to visit these places at my own pace, many of the small chateaux in the deep heart of France require you to take a guided tour. They’re proud of their history (most of which is never reported in mainstream books); they often have original furniture and family heirlooms to protect from curious visitors; and (I suspect) they want to give their caretakers an opportunity to make a little extra income from gratuities and gift-shop sales. In any case, it wasn’t surprising that the only way to visit the Chateau d’Anjony in Tournemire – one of France’s official “most beautiful villages” — is in the company of a guide. And what a guide! Monsieur Martin took more […]
Vic-sur-Cère is a taste of royal history in the deep heart of France
Vic-sur-Cère is a good example of the places I find most interesting as I travel around the deep heart of France. It’s not on the official list of France’s “most beautiful villages” – although it probably could be, if residents made the effort. It’s not a tourist mecca during the August vacations, although it gets a 1-star recommendation in the Michelin Green Guide for the region. It’s the kind of place that, when you do a search for “things to do in Vic-sur-Cère”, you get a list of all the nearby towns where there really are “things to do.” In fact, this little village appears to live quietly with its rich history, proud of the role it played in the […]
How the deep heart of France came to Paris
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!