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 […]

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

Our guide at the Chateau de Cordès clearly loves his job.  He’s also the “chief gardener” for the grounds around the castle (although he admits there’s only one other person on the staff), so for our tour he has scrubbed the dirt off his hands, tucked in his shirt, and opened the doors for the five of us at the height of tourist season in the Auvergne. It’s not really surprising to him (or to me) that the Chateau de Cordès is so lightly trafficked even at this peak time of the year.  We are far removed from all the major tourist centers of France – distant even from most of the lesser known sites in the deep heart of […]

Arnac-Pompadour Pompadour Arnac Corrèze Nouvelle-Aquitaine Horse Horses Castle Chateau France Travel

DESTINATION: Arnac-Pompadour and the ‘National Stud Farm’ in the Deep Heart of France

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 […]

Murol Chateau Castle Auvergne Cantal France Medieval Renaissance

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.  […]

Polignac Chateau Castle Auvergne Velay France

4 Things We Learned at the Great Chateau at Polignac

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 […]

Beynac Beynac-et-Cazenac Dordogne France Castle Chateau

You need to see Beynac – a Castle Fortress that’s also a “Most Beautiful Village” of France

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 […]

Tours de Merle Correze Medieval Castle Chateaux Castrum

A Must-See in Central France: The Tours de Merle, a “gated community” for medieval aristocrats

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 […]