Lafayette Hamilton Chavaniac Auvergne Haute-Loire France History Revolution

A July 4th Memory from the Deep Heart of France

Karen and I got to see Hamilton in London last month – and it was as dazzling as we expected!  (It’s also a bargain compared to the usurious after-market prices for tickets in places like New York and Chicago – we had seats in the 16th row for about $75 each, and we even encountered people who found it cheaper to buy an economy airfare to see the London show than to get comparable tickets in the U.S.  God bless Ticketmaster UK for their “no scalping” system – I only wish they could teach their American counterparts how to do it!) Of course, one of the many reasons to love the performance was to see James Pennycooke playing the role […]

Polignac Chateau Castle Auvergne Velay France

4 Things We Learned at the Great Chateau at Polignac

Remembering our 1st weekend in France 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 […]

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

A castle distinguished by its power 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 […]

Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

My Top 10 “Most Beautiful Villages” in the Deep Heart of France

What are the "Most Beautiful Villages" in France? Since I started this blog, I’ve profiled 13 of the towns claiming officially to be “L’un des plus beaux villages de France” – one of the most beautiful villages in France.  (Another profile, of Pradelles, is coming later this week, and there are 25 more on my calendar to show you in the months ahead.) When you see that distinctive road sign at the city limits as you drive into town, 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 […]

Tours de Merle Correze Medieval Castle Chateaux Castrum

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

“C’est magnifique” 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.    It’s not a castle! The first thing you have […]

Marqueyssac Dordogne Perigord Gardens France

The Gardens at Marqueyssac – one of France’s great tourist destinations in the Dordogne

A long walk on a perfect day A well-traveled cynic might call the Chateau de Marqueyssac a “manufactured” tourist experience.  For Karen and me, though, these extraordinary gardens in the Périgord Noir (Dordogne) are among the best-managed, most family-oriented places we’ve found anywhere in the deep heart of France.  And they are the perfect setting for a long walk on a spring afternoon. The same family has owned this property since 1692, and they take pride in saying that Marqueyssac has been “laid out for the pleasure of taking a walk.”  We’re 130 meters (427 feet) above the Dordogne, looking out across the great river’s valley.  From here you can see at least four of France’s official “most beautiful villages” […]

Arlempdes Auvergne Medieval Castle Chateau

Check out Arlempdes – one of France’s Official “Most Beautiful Villages”

Arlempdes: A destination far from the beaten path Arlempdes (pronounced Arlandes), is buried deep in the heart of France.  Although it is officially one of the 155 “Most Beautiful Villages in France,” it’s not exactly typical of the other towns you’ll find on the list. For one thing, it’s very small – the population is listed at 129 people, and I counted no more than 7 or 8 houses inside the town’s walls and perhaps 7 more outside.  It’s also very isolated.  The nearest autoroute (the A75) is 90 minutes away by narrow, winding country roads.  The nearest town of any size is Le Puy en Velay, 45 minutes away.  There are no stores in Arlempdes – no bakery, no […]

Tournemire Anjony Chateau Castle Auvergne Cantal

Most Beautiful Villages of France: Tournemire and the Chateau d’Anjony

A medieval castle in the Cantal 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 […]

Castelnaud-la-Chapelle Dordogne France

6 Best Places I Saw in the Deep Heart of France This Year

A fine year in La France Profonde I’ll confess that 2017 was not my favorite year for many reasons that have nothing to do with a blog about traveling around the deep heart of France.  In fact, if it weren’t for the places I saw and the people met in my travels, I think it would have been easy to be miserable under the weight of the world’s problems in 2017!  For this round-up, I’ve enjoyed walking back through my memories of some of the best, most interesting places I saw this year.  These don’t necessarily represent most popular posts for 2017 — just my personal selection of the stories and places I’d like most to revisit in the months […]

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 […]

Auvergne Clermont-Ferrand Postcards

Check out these 100-year-old Postcards from the Deep Heart of France

Searching for treasures amidst the junk French people have plenty of ways to get rid of their old junk.  Almost every little village organizes an annual vide grenier (“empty the attic”) sale, every town of any size has at least one brocante (second-hand) store, and flea markets (marchés aux puces) pop up somewhere every week of the year.  And I, for one, am a happy consumer of what they have to sell.  One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon is combing through one of these sales, looking for an unusual wine carafe or an old print that could be salvaged from a broken frame.  But one of my favorite “finds” is a box of old postcards.  For me, […]

Castelnaud-la-Chapelle Dordogne France

Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Beginning this week, our coverage of the ‘deep heart of France’ expands to include parts of the region known (since the consolidation of 2016) as Nouvelle Aquitaine.  This recent agglomeration is the largest of the new administrative regions of France, so we’ll confine our attention just to the western parts – those that are still called the Limousin and the Dordogne by old-timers like me!  Please let me know what you think of this evolution, and especially if there’s a particular subject you’d like me to cover in this area. A hike up a very steep hill By the time I reach the castle perched on top of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, my heart is pounding at 140 beats a minute and I’m […]