This weekend – get to Montferrand for the Medieval Festival

If you’re anywhere near central France next weekend, try to carve out time to visit Montferrand.  The town has made something of a cottage industry out of its annual Medieval Festival which will fill the narrow streets of Montferrand this week from May 31st to June 2nd.    I saw several signs around town offering to rent medieval costumes for the occasion (some of them are listed on the town’s official website), and they really do mount a serious affair.  Each year’s festivities are devoted to a particular theme – “ancient trades,” “the Templars in Montferrand,” “the visit of King Henry II”, and so on. This year will be no different.  Street musicians, medieval combat, troops of actors and dancers, […]

Cathedral Basilica Church Eglise France Auvergne Limousin Dordogne

Is it a Church? A Cathedral? A Basilica? or something else altogether?

Almost every town you visit in your travel around western Europe will have some kind of prominent religious building in the center of the city.  But it can be difficult sometimes to figure out what you’re looking at, at least according to the taxonomy of the Catholic church.  Is it a cathedral? Or a basilica?  Just a regular “church”? Or something more exotic like an abbatiale, a collegiale, or a chapelle?   Here’s a quick guide with some examples drawn from the area I love most, the “deep heart” of central France.  (And yes, I do know that there are many other houses of worship, including mosques, temples, and Protestant halls, even here in France.  But they are rarely the […]

Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

Clermont-Ferrand: 8 Things to Know About One of France’s “Best Places to Live”

My friend Michael recently alerted me to a new article on TheLocal.fr (a great source of info for expats and tourists in France).  It’s all about a new survey by L’Express which places Clermont-Ferrand at #4 among the “Best Places to Live in France “(outside Paris), and it follows on the heels of another article on TheLocal extolling the virtues of the town. Michael and I share an interest in Clermont-Ferrand, since we worked together there for several years as expats in the global headquarters of the Groupe Michelin.  We know there are a lot of stereotypes associated with this urban zone of almost 500,000 inhabitants – it’s not really that well known, even among other French people — but […]

France Auvergne Puy de Dome Volcano

How to see the Puy de Dome – Icon of the Deep Heart of France

Napoleon III came to Clermont-Ferrand in 1862, and everyone wanted to make a great impression.  Why not take advantage of the great volcanic peaks that rise behind the city’s skyline and produce something spectacular for such a rare and important visitor?  A great artificial eruption was organized at the top of the Puy de Dome, with 600 piles of wood and a one-ton mix of resin and oil.  But when the great moment arrived…pffft.  The “eruption” fizzled.  The emperor and his wife were puzzled to see great clouds of black smoke roiling up from the mountain top instead. It’s not the only time the Puy de Dôme has figured in French history.  More notably, it was an important part of […]

Film Festival Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

BONUS: France’s 2nd Biggest Film Festival is in… Clermont-Ferrand?

Every winter, Clermont-Ferrand hosts “the second most important film festival in France” (after the well-known event in Cannes).  It’s February, so it’s time for the 30th edition of the International Short Film Festival, showcasing works from filmmakers around the world.  This year, there are thematic programs showing the state of the art of short film in Switzerland, films that celebrate “gastronomy and the pleasure of being at the table,”  and a particular celebration of the roles actors play in short films. The 30th annual International Short Film Festival and 40th National Short Film Festival is underway this week, from now through February 10th, 2018.   Ticket packages and information about hotels are available on the Festival’s website. Last year, I had […]

Carmes Cemetery WWI German Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne

A German Soldiers’ Cemetery in the Deep Heart of France

One of my “most embarrassing travel moments ever” came during a family trip to Germany.  In a beer garden in Stuttgart, a woman sitting alone at the next table overheard our struggles to order dinner in German and asked (in English) if she could help.  As the conversation developed, she moved to our table and asked where we were from.  We said we were living in Clermont-Ferrand in the middle of France, and she brightened.  “Oh, my father was there during the war!” “Wow, that’s great!” I said, trying to make awkward small talk…realizing seconds too late that if her German father had been posted to Clermont-Ferrand it probably was not a reason to celebrate our commonalities! This incident came […]

Auvergne Clermont-Ferrand Postcards

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

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, these images are a window into […]

6 Cool Things to Do In The Deep Heart of France This Fall

Autumn is not just a physically beautiful phenomenon in the deep heart of France – although the rich colors of the leaves and tendrils of wood smoke rising from chimneys do give it the quality of a fine Renoir painting.  It’s also part of the annual rhythm of life here – work hard all year, leave for vacations in August, then come back charged up and ready to attack again after the rentrée in early September.  That’s reflected in the number of events and programmed activities you’ll find at this time of the year in central France.  Here’s a round-up of 6 of the most interesting things to do this fall in the Auvergne region. People in this part of […]

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. https://youtu.be/J8f0fkE8Nqk 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.  

Rugby Auvergne Clermont-Ferrand Vercingetorix

The Champions of Rugby – from the Deep Heart of France!

One of the things I missed most when we first moved to France was watching college football every weekend in the autumn.  (This was in the days before Slingboxes and other solutions to seeing American television.)  It didn’t take long, though, before I found a most satisfying substitute:  rugby.  More specifically, French “Top 14” league rugby, and our local team, the ASM Clermont Auvergne club.  And all this came rushing back to me last Sunday, as the team from Clermont-Ferrand was crowned once again as the national champion of France! For an American football fan, it takes some work to understand the different rules and rhythms of rugby… but it’s worth the effort. These are guys that make American pro […]

8 Cool Things to Do in Auvergne This Summer

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 this summer: Take a ride to […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Why You Need to Go To Central France

It’s the first anniversary of this blog, and that has set me thinking (again) about why the deep heart of France means so much to me – an American from the Great Plains who found himself in late career living in the center of a foreign country.  Given all the urgent issues the world throws at us, why spend time and energy on a subject so far outside my “natural” frame of reference? As it happens, right now I’m reading The Pigeon Tunnel, John Le Carré’s extraordinary autobiography.  He’s thought about this puzzle, too, first as a British spy and then as a novelist.  Why focus on any “esoteric” subject?  For Le Carré’, the question was about German culture and […]