Being hard to find is obviously not one of the basic qualifications for a town to get on the list of “Most Beautiful Villages” in France. It just happens that some of my favorite places in this elite company are difficult to access – I think immediately of Apremont-sur-Allier and the tiny fortress town at Arlempdes. In fact, it makes sense that a village so far from the normal tourist paths would go through everything required to be designated as a “Most Beautiful Village” – it’s a great part of their marketing strategy to get people to come visit. So it wasn’t unusual to find that the little fortified village of Carennac in the Dordogne River’s valley is also one […]
Long-time readers know this is not a “commercial” blog, and this post is not meant to be an advertisement. Still, I confess: I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Groupe Michelin – my corporate home for the 19 best years of my career in I.T. Yes, it’s a well-managed company (better than anywhere else I ever worked), and yes, they make the best high-performance tires in the world, but there’s more to it. Michelin has one of the longest, most remarkable stories in business history. And you can see some of that history through the particular lens of one of the most interesting museums in central France: L’Aventure Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand.
As you drive through the “deep heart of France”, you’ll regularly come across a massive house, usually sitting on top of a little hill or bluff and looking as though it’s been there forever. There may be some evidence of fortifications – a guard tower, a thick wall around the garden, sometimes even a moat. But is this a “chateau”? Or just a big, old house in the country?
Well, you can’t miss THAT as you drive into town! More than most places in France, Lapalisse is dominated – almost overwhelmed – by the great chateau that stands at its center. Strangely, though, the town’s celebrity is due mostly to a mundane pun about one of its most famous historical figures.Not that many years ago, it was almost impossible to avoid Lapalisse if you went travelling through the Allier, one of the great “breadbasket” agricultural regions of France. The first time I saw it was on a company bus trip from Clermont-Ferrand to see our factory in Montceau-les-Mines. I woke up an hour into the trip to see this massive landmark with all the little local businesses clustered at […]
What do I love most about driving the back roads of central France? Discovering a little corner of history that I would have missed if I only stuck to the guidebooks. When I set out that day in September, my objective was the mysterious church at St Menoux, passing through Villeneuve-sur-Allier (and regular readers will know how badly that went!). Early in the day, though, with the fog still settled in the valleys around the D133, I came to a sign pointing off into the woods and promising “Chateau d’Avrilly / XVè – XIVè”. Great! I was in a fine mood after my evening in Moulins, the September day was bright and warm, and I had no deadline to constrain […]
Driving through the département of the Allier in central France can be like driving through Iowa or Illinois in summer. You’re surrounded by the agricultural richness of the region – vast yellow fields, giant bales of hay ready to be loaded and stored, barns and farmhouses clustered in little compounds alongside the road. The biggest difference? There aren’t that many ancient châteaux in Iowa and Illinois! I was enjoying a drive like this a few weeks ago, taking the long way back from the extraordinary church at St Menoux to Moulins, when a medieval vision suddenly loomed over the little D-road in front of me. It was the Château de Fourchaud (curiously spelled Fourchault on the road signs in the […]
After a couple of very pleasant nights in Moulins, I decided this morning to hit the road to see some of the smaller towns in this part of the Allier. The temperature was rising, the sky had only a few wispy clouds against a rich blue background, and my trusty Michelin Green Guide had a nice section laying out a driving circuit around Moulins with several old chateaux and the little Romanesque churches I love – a perfect day in central France! Things started well. A quick stop at the church in Yzeure, a side trip down a dirt road for a look at the Chateau at Seganges, and I was ready to move on toward St. Menoux. Now, I should […]