Having just ranked my personal “Top 10 of the Most Beautiful Villages in Central France,” I have to ask myself: would I include Pradelles in that list? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-u8FEPyKUY The honest answer is “probably not” – but this is still a town worthy of your consideration if you’re heading south toward the Mediterranean or to a week in Provence. I’d put Pradelles in the middle rank among the “plus beaux villages” I’ve visited in France – not the richest in history, not the most spectacular landscape, but still well worth a stop for lunch and a 3-hour tour if you happen to be in this part of the country.
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 […]
A while ago, La Montagne, the main newspaper chain covering central France, had a great idea: interview a group of French tourists arriving in the Auvergne for the first time just as they are getting off the bus, then catch up with them again a few days later to see if their opinions have changed. The question: “What preconceptions do you have about the Auvergne and its inhabitants?” Jean, a 70-year-old from Paris, said he thinks of Auvergnats as “coal merchants and brasserie owners”. Denise, also from Paris, said “When you say Auvergne to me, I immediately think of volcanoes and the stinginess of the people.” The final word came from Bernard, another Parisian: “For me, the Auvergne means ‘prehistoric’”. […]
As the debate over immigration rages across the front pages of newspapers and in the nightly TV talk shows across France, it’s easy to forget that modern France – our concept of Paris and the country it represents – is itself less than 250 years old. It’s easy to forget, too, that what we think of as “France” today was built in large part by massive waves of internal migration. And one of the largest of all these “immigrant” populations…came to Paris from the Auvergne, in the Deep Heart of France!
Since I started this blog, I’ve tried several ways to explain what the “deep heart of France” means to me. You’ve heard why I love Clermont-Ferrand and the Auvergne, and you’ve seen some of the towns officially recognized as being among “the most beautiful villages of France” – places like Blesle, Charroux, Arlempdes, and Salers. If you’ve stuck with this blog for long, you’ve also had a taste of some of central France’s best cultural offerings – from the incredible International Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrand to the great MuPop Museum of Popular Music in Montlucon and the classical music festival held every August in La Chaise-Dieu.
Religion – a tricky subject anywhere in the world – can be especially difficult to bring up in France. There’s a broad perception (based on dozens of polls – the French seem to like contemplating this question) that France is now a mostly secular society, and that the massive influence of the Catholic church from the Middle Ages to the Revolution is mostly a historical relic. There are thousands of ancient churches and crumbling old abbeys, but it seems rare to see a new one. That’s why, when Karen mentioned the visit she made with her women’s group to a 20th-cenury abbey at Randol, we decided we had to go back there together to learn more about what was going […]
It’s the first anniversary of this blog, and that has set me thinking (again) about why the deep heart of France means so much to me – an American from the Great Plains who found himself in late career living in the center of a foreign country. Given all the urgent issues the world throws at us, why spend time and energy on a subject so far outside my “natural” frame of reference? As it happens, right now I’m reading The Pigeon Tunnel, John Le Carré’s extraordinary autobiography. He’s thought about this puzzle, too, first as a British spy and then as a novelist. Why focus on any “esoteric” subject? For Le Carré’, the question was about German culture and […]
I roll into Souvigny on a hot summer afternoon and it seems the whole town must be taking a siesta. The funk of rich vegetation moldering in the sunlight reminds me of an August afternoon on a farm in Virginia. A couple, murmuring in German as they walk toward one of the old houses, seem to be the only other tourists in town.
People in France (and many other countries, too) are often described these days as being in a high state of anxiety about their physical security in the face of terrorism, crime, and escalating conflict. But try imagining a time when threats were so immediate that everything about your little town was built to ward off the danger. Today’s destination – La Sauvetat, a fortified village in the deep heart of France – transports you back to such a time in the long, violent history of the country. The villagers of La Sauvetat apparently came into their fears early, even before the town had a name. This is in one of the agricultural breadbaskets of France, only 12 miles (20 km) […]
Sometimes, as we all know, words and static images just aren’t adequate to capture a feeling or an impression you get in a faraway place – we need to see movement and the passing of time to get a better feel for what it might be like to visit a place we’ve never experienced for ourselves. Since I started this blog, I’ve put a lot of effort into explaining what the “deep heart of France” means to me. You’ve heard why I love Clermont-Ferrand and the Auvergne, and you’ve seen some of the towns officially recognized as being among “the most beautiful villages of France” – places like Blesle, Charroux, Arlempdes, and Salers.If you’ve stuck with this blog for long, […]
Several newspaper stories over the past 2 weeks have commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of France at the end of World War II — but they tend to focus on DeGaulle and the Allies marching through the streets of Paris. The local papers in the deep heart of France, though, have a different, darker memory of the events of August 1944. For people in Moulins the war wasn’t over when those triumphant scenes played out in Paris. On the same day the Nazi garrison surrendered in the capital, 56 men, 9 women and a 7-year-old child were dragged from their cells in the tower known as “Mal-Coiffée”, a 14th-century dungeon used as a prison by the occupying German […]
A few weeks ago I was in Souvigny, a postcard-perfect town in the Allier, and it made me think of computer systems. Well, in a roundabout way… I first heard the phrase “plan d’urbanisme” when I was working in the Information Technology department of a big manufacturing company in France. While it literally means “city planning”, in the context of IT it meant trying to figure out the thorny problem of how to integrate new applications and new technologies into an existing mass of old systems.