Château de Commarque

Visit Commarque – an incredible ruined castle with prehistoric roots

Since 2016, I’ve written more than 160 posts exploring the exceptional places I’ve seen in the deep heart of France, so I don’t say this lightly: the Château de Commarque is unique among the most moving experiences I’ve had traveling in this region.  I’ve taken hundreds of detours down country roads and visited dozens of other old castles over the last 25 years; by my count, I’ve written about 34 of them just for this blog.  But after a while, many of them start to look similar – they are piles of rocks where the outlines of a castle remain, perhaps, or slightly shopworn old family manors. Don’t misunderstand — just about every château is interesting in some way.  But […]

Hérisson village in Bourbon region of France

Hérisson is high on the list of “Villages Preferred by the French”

To be fair, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came to Hérisson last summer.  For a few months I had seen clips in the French press ranking the town on the list of  “villages préférés des Français.”  But France is among the best in the world at creating labels to promote tourism in towns of every size in every region of the country.  There’s the official list of “Most Beautiful Villages,” for example, but there’s also a designation for “Small Cities of Character”, “Cities of Flowers,” and so on. So what might I find in  Hérisson?  Would it be a place ready to receive thousands of tourists, like so many towns in France where the medieval charm is […]

Building a new “medieval” castle at Guédelon

Before I went to Guédelon, I’d never really heard much about “experimental archeology.”  For me, archeology seemed more a discipline based on pre-existing evidence – concrete objects, things you find in the ground or at the bottom of the sea.  The interpretation of those objects is often open to conjecture (is this pottery shard part of a wine jar or was it a piece of the sculpture of some deity?), but in most cases you couldn’t really devise an experiment to prove the theory one way or the other. As on so many subjects, though, I was wrong.  There’s a whole formal branch of archeology devoted to testing our conjectures about how people lived and how they made things by […]

At Parentignat – a chateau that feels like a comfortable family home

I’ve had the good luck to visit more than 100 castles and châteaux in our travels around France over the past 24 years (and I’ve written about more than 20 for this blog).  Most of them fall into one of four categories:   The famous castles that line the Loire River’s valley and the great royal châteaux like the ones at Versailles and Fontainbleau.  (There’s a slightly smaller one of these palaces at Hautefort in the deep heart of France, the region I cover here.  They’re called châteaux, but many of these really seem more like palaces.) Serious military fortresses like Castelnaud, Beynac, and (my favorite chateau in the Auvergne) Murol.  These are closest to the popular image of “medieval […]

Top 8 Castles to see in the Deep Heart of France

Now that le déconfinement is underway, tourist bureaus across France are encouraging people to plan vacations closer to home rather than taking trips to more exotic places.  The Wall Street Journal today has an article claiming “[t]he French are venturing into unknown territory: France.” Coronavirus border closures mean the French have the Eiffel Tower and the Chateau de Versailles to themselves. They’ve decided to see what all the fuss is about.  (Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2020) The risk, of course, is that the well-known “greatest hits” of French travel — the incredible chateaux in the Loire Valley, for example, or a day trip to Giverny — might still be overwhelmed or frustratingly inaccessible if crowds surpass the new capacity […]

Chazeron Chateau Castle France Auvergne

Visit the Chateau de Chazeron in the Deep Heart of France

This post has been too long in coming – but we’re finally settled in our new place and I’m happy to be back online.  In the intervening weeks I’ve had some time to reflect on the places that resonate most vividly in my memories of living and traveling in the deep heart of France.  It’s only natural, then, that this post takes me back to the Auvergne for a first-time visit to just such a place  – the fine little Chateau de Chazeron, near the great church at Orcines in the Puy-de-Dome département. In fact, the castle at Chazeron matches all the criteria that make a place memorable for me: Although there’s some speculation that this was a holy site […]

Tournoel Castle Chateau Auvergne France

Visit the medieval castle at Tournoel in the deep heart of France

I don’t know why I have waited so long to write about the Chateau de Tournoël since the 800-year-old castle figures in several of our most enduring memories of France.  It was a ramshackle pile of rubble when we first moved to the Auvergne in 1997.  But the castle ruins dominated the horizon from several vantage points as we drove back and forth from our house in Sayat, north of the Auvergnat capital of Clermont-Ferrand, and we wanted to know more. Tournoël was one of the first places we visited en famille — and it truly was a ruin in those days, uninhabited, unrestored, and a little dangerous.  I have vivid memories (and some old videotape) of us climbing up […]

Hautefort Dordogne France Castle Chateau

Visit HAUTEFORT – a classic castle in the deep heart of France

Not long ago we visited the excellent Museum of Medical History at Hautefort – a fascinating (sometimes scary) collection of medical instruments and treatment methods from medieval to modern.  But that’s definitely not the main reason to visit the little village of Hautefort in the Dordogne in the deep heart of France.   Most people come here for the castle.  In fact, this whole area is noted for its spectacular castles – the great defensive fortresses at Castelnaud and Beynac are testaments to the violence and instability that wracked this region during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion.  But even in an area where there are many spectacular chateaux, the Chateau de Hautefort stands out as one […]

Carennac France Village Dordogne Enlightenment

Visit Carennac – officially one of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France”

Being hard to find is obviously not one of the basic qualifications for a town to get on the list of “Most Beautiful Villages” in France.  It just happens that some of my favorite places in this elite company are difficult to access – I think immediately of Apremont-sur-Allier and the tiny fortress town at Arlempdes. In fact, it makes sense that a village so far from the normal tourist paths would go through everything required to be designated as a “Most Beautiful Village” –  it’s a great part of their marketing strategy to get people to come visit.  So it wasn’t unusual to find that the little fortified village of Carennac in the Dordogne River’s valley is also one […]

Hautefort Dordogne France Medicine History Medieval Hôtel-Dieu Dentist Plague Chateau Castle

At Hautefort: Walk through the history of medicine

The main reason to come to Hautefort in the Dordogne region of the deep heart of France is to tour the great Chateau at the top of the hill overlooking the town.  It’s an hour-and-a-half southwest of Limoges,  and an hour northwest of Brive-la-Gaillarde, but well worth the drive to see this gorgeous example of how a medieval fortress evolved into an elegant country mansion over the centuries.  I’ll be doing a detailed report on my visit there in a future post – but for me the trip down the hill to the Musée d’Histoire de la Médicine was in many ways the most interesting part of my day in Hautefort.  

Curemonte Corrèze France Dordogne Medieval Europe Turene Castle Chateau

Visit Curemonte – one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages” with THREE castles

  Since I started this blog, I’ve written about my visits to 23 of France’s “most beautiful villages” (click here to read about my personal “top 10” – and I still have several left to write about in the months ahead). In Curemonte, though, I found something I’ve never seen anywhere else. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81cDV8EIJ_8 All of the plus beaux villages in the deep heart of France have the essential elements required to get on the official list:  at least a couple of historically-significant sites and a willingness to invest in making the town attractive to tourists as a destination. Curemonte, though, is distinguished because it has three castles clustered together in one tiny village of 211 inhabitants.  And the history of […]

Chateau de Cordès Castle Auvergne Medieval Gardens France Europe

Visit the medieval Chateau de Cordès in the Deep Heart of France

Almost 3 years ago I told you about the beautiful small Chateau de Cordès, hidden far from the normal tourist paths in the mountains of central France.  I mentioned then that, according to our guide, the castle’s owners might be interested in selling the place if the right buyer came along.  Well, now it IS for sale; for “only” 2.5 million Euros (US $2,970,254), you could live in a nationally-listed “Historic Monument” surrounded by gardens designed by the same guy who worked for King Louis XIV!   Read about this historic chateau here, then check out the property listing on the Forbes Global Properties site. ————————————————————————– Our guide at the Chateau de Cordès clearly loves his job.  He’s also the “chief […]