It’s great (but strange!) to be traveling in France

We’ve had plenty of second (and third) thoughts about traveling in France during this second summer of the pandemic, but in the end, the weight of scientific data about the effectiveness of our vaccines and the restrictions that continue in place overcame those worries. So here I am (Karen will join me later) bouncing around the “D” roads in the deep heart of France again, and it makes me very happy.  But it’s obvious that things are NOT what they used to be, and there are still some aspects of traveling here that make this the strangest trip ever in this country.  Some of my first observations: Arriving in Paris is completely weird. We landed at Paris CDG – and […]

Usson – the scene of Queen Margot’s 20-year Exile – is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

We were having lunch in Usson – officially one of France’s “most beautiful villages”.  Our table was on the terrasse of the Auberge de Margot, hanging on the edge at the top of the hill that gives Usson its spectacular views across the plains and stretching to the blue chain of extinct volcanoes 30 miles away. And as we finished our meaty cabbage rolls, I looked around this little village and was reminded once again that Sarah Vowell** is right: “The more history I learn, the more the world fills up with stories.” Usson – this quiet little village in the deep heart of France – is overflowing with stories from its rich history.  Without them, it would be a […]

Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

Setting the record straight on Clermont-Ferrand — one of France’s “best places to live”

I’ve written elsewhere about the persistent stereotypes that French people have in mind when they think about the Auvergne – that gorgeous, wild region that dominates the deep heart of France.  Auvergnats are isolated, people say; they mash their words so you can’t understand them, the only eat cheese, they’re stingy… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxdsBM5-n7Q&feature=youtu.be So I was particularly amused to see this new video, “The Truth About Clermont”, online last week.  In it, a young woman announces to her friends that she has decided to go to the Université Clermont Auvergene.  They scoff – “mais, c’est super nul!”, they say as they mock her choice.  Then they trot out all the specific stereotypes French people think of when they think of Clermont-Ferrand, […]

Lafayette Cantal Auvergne

Lafayette – an American Legend from the Deep Heart of France

In any other year this would be the time when patriotic celebrations, grilling in the backyard, and summer vacations would top the American agenda.  And in more ordinary times, this would be the perfect opportunity 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. This year, though, Americans can’t even (safely) get out of their backyards or to the beach, much less fly to France for a visit — so we’ll have to make do with a more “virtual” remembrance of the occasion.  And while we’re at it, I’d argue that it’s […]

Chateau de Cordès Castle Auvergne Medieval Gardens France Europe

Visit the medieval Chateau de Cordès in the Deep Heart of France

Almost 3 years ago I told you about the beautiful small Chateau de Cordès, hidden far from the normal tourist paths in the mountains of central France.  I mentioned then that, according to our guide, the castle’s owners might be interested in selling the place if the right buyer came along.  Well, now it IS for sale; for “only” 2.5 million Euros (US $2,970,254), you could live in a nationally-listed “Historic Monument” surrounded by gardens designed by the same guy who worked for King Louis XIV!   Read about this historic chateau here, then check out the property listing on the Forbes Global Properties site. ————————————————————————– Our guide at the Chateau de Cordès clearly loves his job.  He’s also the “chief […]

Auvers Gevaudan Haute-loire Auvergne France Wolf Wolves

The Beast of Gévaudan – A Halloween Tale of Horror From The Deep Heart of France

Note: some of the descriptions of true incidents in this post include images of graphic violence.  Reader discretion is ­­­advised. To some it is […] an adaptable animal capable of living peaceably alongside humans. To others it is a demonic killing machine that ruins farmers – and whose presence is a symbol of the city’s contempt for rural life. “The Unesasy Return of Europe’s Wolves”, The Guardian, 26 January 2018

St-Julien-Aux-Bois Xaintrie Medieval Farm Correze France

Think your life is hard? Check out the medieval farms at Xaintrie in the deep heart of France!

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 […]

Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne France

We’ve been nominated!

One of the principle pleasures of writing this blog is meeting readers and other bloggers all around the world who share a passion for the culture, history, and remarkable destinations of France.  I’ve heard from people in England, Australia, the U.S., and diverse regions of Europe, and even though these “meetings” are all virtual, I’ve come to have a real appreciation for the great writing and rich ideas so many people contribute to the global conversation about what for many of is is a “second home” in France. Of all these, I’ve been especially grateful to hear from Alison.  Her blog, View from the Teapot – Life in a Small French Village , regularly captures the spirit of everything I […]

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 […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Paris Is Not France – 3 Great Reasons to Visit Central France

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 dozens of times without exhausting all the incredible things to see and do in the capital city. (Believe me – Karen and I have tried!)  The idea that there are thousands of other possibilities, some more interesting than anything you can find in Paris, can really be intimidating when you’re organizing future trips. And it’s certainly true that, for most people in the world, Paris is the single image that comes to mind when someone says “you should see France”.  […]

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 […]

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 […]