The Auvergne – that ancient volcanic region near the center of France – doesn’t seem at first glance like a place that would feature prominently on the stage of great world events. Even many French people don’t know what goes on there; they hold a number of odd stereotypes about the people who live there, many of which imagine Auvergnats as a species of rural rubes. And they’re always surprised when they actually visit the place to find how interesting, how beautiful, and how utterly civilized it is.
For centuries, France had a king and thousands of titled aristocrats – that’s not surprising news. What might be surprising, though, is how often the vestiges of that old royal system still pop up in travels around the country today. That struck me particularly last summer as I drove north from Brive-la-Gaillarde when I saw a sign pointing off to Arnac-Pompadour and “l’haras national de France”. I love horses, so I knew what the word meant – a haras is a stud farm. But really, a national stud farm? Where else but in France would you find such an unusual institution? That got the best of my curiosity, so I took a serendipitous detour from my intended destination and headed […]
Some people are put off by the French tendency toward self-criticism and self-deprecation, but I find it somewhat charming. When I got to Saint-Amand-de-Coly (officially one of the “most beautiful villages in France”), I went straight to the massive Abbey of Saint-Amand in the middle of town. It’s a medieval wonder combining a long religious history with a commanding presence as a military fortress. But I was brought up short by its historical marker, which describes, in big letters, “the grandeur and the decadence of an abbey. […W]ars, epidemics, and the abuse of the Abbey’s provisional management mark the steps of a progressive decline.”
As scandals go, this one was not the classic “tempest in a teapot”. You’d have to call it more a “tempest in a touristy coffee mug”. In any case, it got a surprising amount of coverage in the French press last month when the gift shop at the Elysée Palace discovered souvenir mugs stamped “Made in Limoges” were not made of Limoges porcelain at all. In fact, they may not even have been manufactured in France! The Elysée is President Macron’s official residence in Paris, so that automatically made this news a “political” subject. Still, it struck me that there’s a kind of sad undertone to this story. In fact, it reminded me of something I read in an […]
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
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. 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 in on the back […]
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 […]
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 […]
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! 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 […]
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!