I arrived in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne earlier than I’d planned, so my first stop was a bakery just outside the medieval center of town. There was still a morning chill in the shade when I took my pain au chocolate to a bench in the little square, but from the first bite I knew this was a town I was going to like – the bread was still warm, the two bars of dark chocolate were still melted inside, the crust flaked off in sheets for the birds around my bench to enjoy… it was the archetypically perfect French breakfast for me. (That may be because there’s so much competition. For a small town (around 1,200 people) there are a surprising number […]
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 […]
Here’s an example of truth in advertising at its best: the little village of Collonges-la-Rouge in the départements of Corrèze is called “la Rouge” because… well, because it’s red. And it is officially one of France’s “most beautiful villages” because…it’s really beautiful. In fact, Collonges-la-Rouge has a legitimate claim to be called the original “most beautiful village in France”, since it was the town’s mayor, Charles Ceyrac, who conceived the idea of creating an association of exceptional sites in 1982. He eventually convinced 66 of his fellow mayors all across the country to sign on to the project, and the list of plus beaux villages now counts 157 towns in 70 of France’s 101 départements.
I’ve always loved the “living history” sites we’ve found in different places around the world. In the U.S., Colonial Williamsburg is perhaps the most famous, but my personal favorite is the Plimoth Plantation [sic], operating since 1947 near Plymouth, Massachusetts. It’s populated by people who have taken on the names and identities of the 17th-century colonists who came to this place on the Mayflower, and they’re happy to talk to you and answer questions, intelligently and at great length, about how they grow food, the hardships of their lives, their aspirations in coming to America, and their relationships with the Native American Wampanoags. (Just don’t ask them about anything that happened in the world after about 1622 CE. The actors […]
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 […]
This week: I’m very pleased to be part of the 3rd Anniversary Edition of #AllAboutFrance — a link-up hosted by Phoebe, who runs the Lou Messego gite near the Cote d’Azur. Thanks to her efforts, more than 1,200 blog posts representing some of the most interesting writing about France have been given a lot of visibility around the world. Please check out the 3rd Anniversary version of #AllAboutFrance by clicking on the badge at left! From the feedback some of you have given me, I know the idea of exploring France outside of Paris can be a little overwhelming. After all, Paris is perhaps the greatest single tourist destination on earth, and you could go there […]
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 […]