Bougnats Auvergne Migration France Paris

How the deep heart of France came to Paris

A country built by migrants 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!   Early scrap workers in Paris Of course, people had found their way from the Auvergne to Paris in small numbers for centuries, and some […]

Chateau de Val Cantal Auvergne Castle

How the Electric Company Became the Owner of a Castle – the Chateau de Val

A history that almost disappeared Most of the stories of great castles in France hinge on the actions of knights and noble families.  I just visited a place, though, where the key moment depended on the actions of … the Electric Company? That’s the great irony in the history of the Chateau de Val:  It was only a hair’s breadth away from disappearing forever at the bottom of a lake – and frankly it might not have been seriously missed.  But the waters stopped just short of the castle’s walls, and gave it a romantic setting that turned this minor château in the Auvergne into a serious attraction for tourists. Don’t get me wrong – the Chateau de Val is […]

Autumn Auvergne France

Autumn Color From the Deep Heart of France

Fall in France Color is not the only signal that autumn has arrived in central France.  The smell of wood smoke becomes pervasive in the areas just outside town, early-morning frosts form on the windows.  At work, the first chilly day means a cold day in the office as the radiators clank and wheeze their way back into action after the long summer.  People in the street shiver in winter clothes (even though the temperature is still in the 50s or 60s [12 – 18 C]) , woolly scarves wound around their necks up to the bridge of their noses, heavy layers of sweaters and pea-coats covering the rest.  It’s harvest time, too, and as people have been doing in […]

The Auvergne – One of France’s Great “Bread-basket” Regions

In August – while everyone (including me!) is away on vacation – I’m posting a shorter article each week with a look at a specific destination or aspect of life in the deep heart of France.  This week:  a look at some of the country’s most picturesque farmlands.  Regular “feature-length” posts will resume in September. A city boy in the center of France I grew up on a farm in southern Oklahoma, but in no meaningful way am I a “farm boy.”  And yet…when I drive through central France, there’s something about the agricultural landscape that really calls out to me.  You might think the Auvergne is nothing but extinct volcanoes and sharp hills – but it’s also one of […]

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 […]

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 […]

Central France - 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 […]