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 […]
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 […]
If you spend much time bouncing around the French countryside, at some point you may come across a village with a distinctive sign at the city limits: “L’un des plus beaux villages de France” – one of the most beautiful villages in France.When you see the sign, 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 are the other “plus beaux villages” in the country?
I don’t know why I have waited so long to write about the Chateau de Tournoël since the 800-year-old castle figures in several of our most enduring memories of France. It was a ramshackle pile of rubble when we first moved to the Auvergne in 1997. But the castle ruins dominated the horizon from several vantage points as we drove back and forth from our house in Sayat, north of the Auvergnat capital of Clermont-Ferrand, and we wanted to know more. Tournoël was one of the first places we visited en famille — and it truly was a ruin in those days, uninhabited, unrestored, and a little dangerous. I have vivid memories (and some old videotape) of us climbing up […]
Our guide at the Chateau de Cordès clearly loves his job. He’s also the “chief gardener” for the grounds around the castle (although he admits there’s only one other person on the staff), so for our tour he has scrubbed the dirt off his hands, tucked in his shirt, and opened the doors for the five of us at the height of tourist season in the Auvergne. It’s not really surprising to him (or to me) that the Chateau de Cordès is so lightly trafficked even at this peak time of the year. We are far removed from all the major tourist centers of France – distant even from most of the lesser known sites in the deep heart of […]
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
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 […]
Karen and I got to see Hamilton in London last month – and it was as dazzling as we expected! (It’s also a bargain compared to the usurious after-market prices for tickets in places like New York and Chicago – we had seats in the 16th row for about $75 each, and we even encountered people who found it cheaper to buy an economy airfare to see the London show than to get comparable tickets in the U.S. God bless Ticketmaster UK for their “no scalping” system – I only wish they could teach their American counterparts how to do it!) Of course, one of the many reasons to love the performance was to see James Pennycooke playing the role […]
When I wrote my first post for this blog back in 2016, I focused on the choice we made for our very first weekend after we moved to the Auvergne for our initial expat assignment, now more than 20 years ago. Our plan was to take a daytrip to Le Puy en Velay but we got so distracted by the extraordinary sight of the crumbling ruins of a great castle, the Chateau de Polignac, sailing like a clipper ship on a plateau of basalt near the highway, that we took a detour to explore it first. The sun’s brightest rays seemed to settle on it, and we could see from miles away how unassailable this powerful fortress must have […]
The broad stone steps are still slippery from the rain as I start up the side of the rocky needle toward the Chapel of St. Michel d’Aighuile. I pick my way carefully as I climb…97…98…99….100. The building up at the top is tiny, meant for dozens of people, not a crowd. It’s 269 feet in the air, overlooking the city of Le Puy en Velay and the valley of the Haute-Loire. The Romans probably came up here to worship at an altar dedicated to Mercury, and the original Christian shrine was likely much smaller than what we see today – a graceful little 12th-century chapel with a claustrophobic Romanesque vault and several ancient frescoes still visible on the wall.
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 […]
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”. […]