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.  […]

Turenne Corrèze France Auvergne Dordogne Chateau Castle

TURENNE is officially one of the “most beautiful villages in France”

When you travel around the countries we call “France” or “Germany” or “Italy”, it’s easy to forget that these national entities are fairly recent constructs in the grand scale of history.  As Graham Robb points out so well in The Discovery of France, 80% of that country’s population still lived outside towns and cities even as late as the Revolution; even with a King as the “head of state”, the country was still a collection of old provinces and fiefdoms far from the government of Paris.   “Being French was not a source of personal pride, let alone the basis of a common identity.  Before the mid-nineteenth century, few people had seen a map of France and few had heard […]

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

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 […]

Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

My Top 10 “Most Beautiful Villages” in the Deep Heart of 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 “one of the most beautiful”?  Who decides?  Where […]

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 […]

Marqueyssac Dordogne Perigord Gardens France

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

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” —

Tournemire Anjony Chateau Castle Auvergne Cantal

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

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 […]

Castelnaud-la-Chapelle Dordogne France

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

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 ahead. This may seem like a sneaky […]

Chateau de Val Cantal Auvergne Castle

How the Electric Company Became the Owner of a Castle – the Chateau de Val

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