Daytrip: the Ruins of the Chateau de Domeyrat

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. 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.   A serendipitous find! In fact, I discovered it a little by accident as I drove from Brioude in search of […]

St. Saturnin Auvergne

DESTINATION: St. Saturnin

St. Saturnin – A royal village in the deep heart of France Today we are in the little village of St. Saturnin.  It’s not always easy for a modern imagination to take in a place like this.  St. Saturnin is technically in the “urban area” just 10 miles south of Clermont-Ferrand, but it feels much more isolated.  We’re in the Park of the Volcanoes in the wildest region of France, and this is a village with a population that never rose above 1,500.  You have to put your imagination into overdrive to picture the spectacle that must have played out in these winding narrow streets when this little town played host to some of the kingdom’s most famous (and notorious) […]

Bourbon Chateau Billy Auvergne

DESTINATION: The Chateau de Billy and Bourbon-l’Archambault

A surprising town in the Haut-Allier I’ve come to Bourbon-l’Archambault on a market day, which means there’s not a parking place left in town and traffic stops completely while people weave around the cars to cross the street.  In fact, I came here to see the Chateau de Billy, the town’s most prominent feature.  But it’s quickly clear that the Chateau is in its own separate little village, although effectively merged with Bourbon-l’Archambault.  And it’s quickly clear, too, that there’s much more than I’d imagined to this community in the Haut-Allier region of the Auvergne. It all starts with the water – hot and full of minerals, bubbling up at a constant 1310 Farenheit (550 Celsius) from underground volcanic sources […]

Lafayette Cantal Auvergne

Remembering Lafayette for the 4th of July

It’s that time of year for Americans – the big surge of patriotic celebrations, grilling in the backyard, and summer vacations!   As always, it’s a good time for those of us with an affinity for France and the French to remind ourselves that we likely would not have won our independence without the massive support of France in those earliest days of our Republic. Again this year on July 4th, many of us are feeling a little tense and unsettled by the state of our political life – and it would be easy to think that the cloth of civility and civic virtues written into our founding documents is unraveling.  Seen from inside the 24-hour news cycle, it’s easy to […]

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 […]

Montlucon Bourbonnais Auvergne

Montluçon – Medieval Home of the Bourbon Dukes

A Saturday Afternoon Event A wedding is about to start when I arrive in Montluçon on a humid Saturday afternoon.  The church – the Eglise Saint Pierre – was built in the 12th century, so I do the math.  If you assume 1 wedding a week (and that’s probably estimating on the low side), that means more than a thousand couples have gotten married here over the centuries – and this is only one of several significant churches in town. A family crowd is gathered in the little square by the main doors of the church.  The bride, her train held off the cobblestones by a teenage girl, is being tended by her mother, who’s wearing a long black gown […]

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 […]

Never Throw Anything Away – An Intro to the French “Plan d’Urbanisme”

A few weeks ago I was in Souvigny, a postcard-perfect town in the Allier, and it made me think of computer systems.  Well, in a roundabout way… The main square in Souvigny I first heard the phrase “plan d’urbanisme” when I was working in the Information Technology department of a big manufacturing company in France.  While it literally means “city planning”, in the context of IT it meant trying to figure out the thorny problem of how to integrate new applications and new technologies into an existing mass of old systems. But it set me thinking about how profoundly important the idea is for every town in France.  How do you put a subway underneath an ancient city like Paris […]

Castles - Central France

“Chateau” or “Big Country House”?

As you drive through the “deep heart of France”, you’ll regularly come across a massive house, usually sitting on top of a little hill or bluff and looking as though it’s been there forever.  There may be some evidence of fortifications – a guard tower, a thick wall around the garden, sometimes even a moat.  But is this a “chateau”?  Or just a big, old house in the country? The answer may be a little more complicated than you think.  Part of the issue comes from how freely the word “chateau” is used in French to describe many different types of dwelling.  It’s not just reserved for the traditional medieval castle – that’s a château fort in French and still […]

Lapalisse – The French Town Made Famous By A Pun

Well, you can’t miss THAT as you drive into town!  More than most places in France, Lapalisse is dominated – almost overwhelmed – by the great chateau that stands at its center.  Strangely, though, the town’s celebrity is due mostly to a mundane pun about one of its most famous historical figures. Not that many years ago, it was almost impossible to avoid Lapalisse if you went travelling through the Allier, one of the great “breadbasket” agricultural regions of France.  The first time I saw it was on a company bus trip from Clermont-Ferrand to see our factory in Montceau-les-Mines.  I woke up an hour into the trip to see this massive landmark with all the little local businesses clustered […]

The Chateau d’Avrilly and the Crash of La Republique

What do I love most about driving the back roads of central France?  Discovering a little corner of history that I would have missed if I only stuck to the guidebooks.  When I set out that day in September, my objective was the mysterious church at St Menoux, passing through Villeneuve-sur-Allier (and regular readers will know how badly that went!).  Early in the day, though, with the fog still settled in the valleys around the D133, I came to a sign pointing off into the woods and promising “Chateau d’Avrilly / XVè – XIVè”.  Great!  I was in a fine mood after my evening in Moulins, the September day was bright and warm, and I had no deadline to constrain […]

Medieval Apremont is a “Most Beautiful Village” – but is it “authentic”?

Apremont-sur-Allier is, without question, one of the most beautiful villages in France (“un des plus beaux villages de France”) – and not just because it’s on the official list.  But as tourists demand more and more “authenticity” in their travel experiences, I wonder how Apremont stands up to the test. There’s no doubt that it has all the requirements, and everything is arranged in one of the most aesthetically perfect settings I’ve seen anywhere in France.  It’s authentically medieval; quarrymen in the Middle Ages were cutting stones here and sending them on boats down the Allier to the Loire to be used in buildings like the great Cathedral at Orleans. The town church was built in the 13th century.   A […]