Belvès Dordogne Perigord France

Belvès is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Most towns on France’s official list of “Most Beautiful Villages” are meant to look pretty from the first moment you see them.  (Some cynics would say that at least some of the plus beaux villages de France are actually “engineered” to give a good first impression.)  My initial experience in Belvès was the exception to that rule.   A chaotic flea market I came to Belvès (in the Dordogne region, east of Bordeaux, about halfway between Limoges and Toulouse) on a blazing hot summer afternoon…and found the town over-run with visitors.  Clearly some kind of street market was underway, and I had to park just over a mile away from the center of town and walk back.  The sun bore […]

Eyzies Dordogne Perigord France Cro-Magnon Prehistoric cave Font de Gaume Combarelles

At Les Eyzies – 400,000 years of human history in the Deep Heart of France

I’m bent over to half my height, but it’s not enough to protect my head from a hard thump from a stone hanging in the dark reaches of the cave at the Font de Gaume.  The light flickering on the wall is from the guide’s flashlight; we try to imagine how much darker it would have been 15,000 years ago, when one of our ancestors crawled deep into this hillside with nothing more than a smoldering torch to cut through the perfect blackness.  As the smoke collected in the narrow spaces around him, he somehow must have wormed his way onto this shelf and, lying on his back, started to daub pigments in the image of a bison on the […]

Monpazier Dordogne Perigord France Bastide

Monpazier is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Living in an anxious age Lots of French towns are surrounded by walls.  Some of them look easy to breach; they were meant mostly to control access to the town so taxes and tolls could be collected and outsiders could be excluded.  Other walls, though, clearly mean business – they were put there centuries ago for more obvious military purposes, in a time when even remote places lived under constant threat of pillage and destruction. It’s true that our current age is an anxious age.  A quick reading of any online forum reveals the concerns felt by people in France (and many other countries, too) about their physical security in the face of terrorism, crime, and escalating conflict.  But try […]

Sarlat-la-Canéda Sarlat Dordogne Perigord France Europe

5 Reasons to Make Sarlat-la-Canéda Your Vacation Headquarters

We’ve been to Sarlat-la-Canéda (most people just say “Sarlat”) several times, and each visit reveals more to love about this fine medieval town in the Dordogne region of France.  Yes, it can be crowded and touristy on peak days in peak season – that’s why one of our favorite trips was in late February, when the market days are quieter and the chill wind makes passing an evening with a good bottle of local wine and a plate of fresh foie gras all the more inviting.  Even if you can only go at the height of the summer, though, it’s one of those sites that genuinely merits your attention. Here are 5 great reasons to plan your next holiday using […]

La Madeleine Dordogne Cave Medieval France Perigord

At La Madeleine: 50,000 Years of Cave Dwellers in the Deep Heart of France

The culture of the cave dweller When you hear the words “cave dweller”, your mind likely goes immediately to images of the sloping foreheads and protruding teeth of the Cro-Magnons of textbooks and Geico commercials.  In fact, though, people have been living in caves in the deep heart of France for tens of thousands of years. Karen and I have had the thrill of being among the very few visitors allowed in each day to see the prehistoric paintings on the wall of the caves at Font de Gaume and Combarelles.  We’ve seen examples like the defensive fort built in a cave above La Roque Gageac, and the remarkable network of troglodytic chapels that make up the ancient church behind […]

Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère Dordogne Perigord France

Check out Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, an official “Most Beautiful Village” in France

A seaport in a land-locked zone? I grew up in Oklahoma, a completely land-locked state where most of the “rivers” are spindly streams running only a few inches deep most of the year.  I can still remember what a big deal it was when we got our own real seaport in the early 1970s; great ships from the Gulf of Mexico could come up the Mississippi to the Arkansas River almost all the way to Tulsa, handling millions of tons of imports and exports every year. So I found it particularly interesting to see how Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, a lovely little village in the Périgord Noir in the deep heart of France, can trace its history as a port town all the […]

Beynac Beynac-et-Cazenac Dordogne France Castle Chateau

8 Cool Things To Do This Spring in the Deep Heart of France

Enfin c’est le printemps ! It feels like winter has fought to hold on longer than it should this year in France.  There’s been snow from Paris to the Mediterranean several times over the last few weeks, and the temperature tonight in Clermont-Ferrand will likely be close to freezing. Photo by Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia via Wikimedia Commons   In fact, the arrival of spring in France this year reminds us of a lesson we learned the first time we moved there.  We arrived in the Auvergne in early March 1997, and the weather was glorious – warm, brilliantly sunny, and welcoming.  “Wow,” we thought, “we are REALLY going to like it here!” A few weeks later, on Easter […]

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

A castle distinguished by its power 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 […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

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

        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! What's to Love About 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 […]

Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

My Top 10 “Most Beautiful Villages” in the Deep Heart of France

What are the "Most Beautiful Villages" in 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 […]

Tours de Merle Correze Medieval Castle Chateaux Castrum

A Must-See in Central France: The Tours de Merle, a “gated community” for medieval aristocrats

“C’est magnifique” 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.    It’s not a castle! The first thing you have […]

Marqueyssac Dordogne Perigord Gardens France

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

A long walk on a perfect day 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” […]