For centuries, France had a king and thousands of titled aristocrats – that’s not surprising news. What might be surprising, though, is how often the vestiges of that old royal system still pop up in travels around the country today. That struck me particularly last summer as I drove north from Brive-la-Gaillarde when I saw a sign pointing off to Arnac-Pompadour and “l’haras national de France”. I love horses, so I knew what the word meant – a haras is a stud farm. But really, a national stud farm? Where else but in France would you find such an unusual institution? That got the best of my curiosity, so I took a serendipitous detour from my intended destination and headed […]
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. […]
When I wrote my first post for this blog back in 2016, I focused on the choice we made for our very first weekend after we moved to the Auvergne for our initial expat assignment, now more than 20 years ago. Our plan was to take a daytrip to Le Puy en Velay but we got so distracted by the extraordinary sight of the crumbling ruins of a great castle, the Chateau de Polignac, sailing like a clipper ship on a plateau of basalt near the highway, that we took a detour to explore it first. The sun’s brightest rays seemed to settle on it, and we could see from miles away how unassailable this powerful fortress must have […]
There are thousands of castles in France. Most of them are very small, built to be the medieval homes of some minor aristocrats or to protect travelers along a stretch of road. (We’ve covered many of these smaller places on this blog – the fine chateau at Tournemire, for example, or the family castles at Val, Domeyrat, Arlempdes, and Billy.) At the high end of the range, you know some of the others already – the great, graceful palaces like Chambord and Chenonceau in the Loire Valley that retained some of their defensive structures but that obviously focused more on the royal luxury of the kings and queens who lived there. There’s another category of castle, though: the ones that […]
The site of Les Tours de Merle has everything I love most about traveling in the “deep heart of France”: castles, a little medieval mystery, a little wild nature, and a challenging hike up a very steep hill. On the day I came to town, I stopped on the side of the sharply winding “D” road to photograph the towers when a French motorcyclist pulled up next to me. “Mais qu’est-ce que c’est?” he demanded. I explained what I knew already about the site. He stared for a long, quiet minute, then drew in his breath. “C’est magnifique,” he said softly, “c’est vraiment magnifique”. I couldn’t agree more. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E1lKf3bjSo The first thing you have to know – the site’s […]
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 […]
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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yfe5HwSx4qw
In August – while everyone (including me!) is away on vacation – I’m posting a shorter article each week with a twist on a specific destination or aspect of life in the deep heart of France. This week: a visit to the ruins of the Chateau de Domeyrat. Regular “feature-length” posts will resume in September. https://youtu.be/J8f0fkE8Nqk Someone asked me recently about the castle you see at the top of my web pages on DeepHeartOfFrance.com. It’s a photo I took if the Chateau de Domeyrat, an hour southeast of Clermont-Ferrand by autoroute and 20 minutes from the historic town of Brioude.