Most of the places I cover in this blog have something concrete that evokes an emotional response in me – old buildings in which I can feel the weight of history, a festival or a market that makes me feel connected to a place’s daily life, or some spectacular natural site that overwhelms my senses. My visit to Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon was not like that, though. This is a town that moved me profoundly, not because of its “touristy” attractions, but because of the power of its reputation. It’s a reputation for kindness and care in the face of great evil – a reputation that places Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon among the rarified company of places known as a “Ville des Justes Parmi les Nations” […]
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?
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
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 […]
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.
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.
It’s no secret that I think some of the places on France’s official list of “Most Beautiful Villages” are not necessarily “most beautiful”. In the case of La Garde Guérin, though… I knew right away that it was the real thing. The combination of a rich medieval history and a spectacular natural setting in the Gorges of Chassezac make this a great day trip from Le Puy en Velay. “La Garde” means “fortress” or fortified tower, and Guérin is an old family name in parts of France. Why did they need a fortress here in such an isolated corner of the country? Because this was a crossroads on an ancient path, once used for the annual process of “transhumance” (moving […]
Old battlefields are sometimes hard to decipher. As the years pass, even deep shell craters lose their sharp definition, bullet marks on stone walls are worn down, and the whole landscape takes on a settled, green calm that belies the violence that once marked the place. A great effort of imagination is required to reconstruct troop movements and the profound drama of long-ago conflicts. That’s especially the case today as I finally arrive at the top of the hill at Mont Mouchet. In early June 1944, at the same time all hell was unleashed on the beaches of Normandy far to then north, another battle was unfolding in this unlikely corner of the deep heart of France. We’re in the […]
In August – while everyone (including me!) is away on vacation – I’m posting a shorter article each week with a twist on a specific destination or aspect of life in the deep heart of France. This week: a visit to the ruins of the Chateau de Domeyrat. Regular “feature-length” posts will resume in September. https://youtu.be/J8f0fkE8Nqk Someone asked me recently about the castle you see at the top of my web pages on DeepHeartOfFrance.com. It’s a photo I took if the Chateau de Domeyrat, an hour southeast of Clermont-Ferrand by autoroute and 20 minutes from the historic town of Brioude.
Whether you’re in Paris or driving through a small town in the deep heart of France, you may wonder about the big gap in the history that’s still visible. There are spectacular Roman ruins, then a jump forward to medieval buildings everywhere, but almost no evidence that anything happened in between; you know there were people living there in the 3rd and 5th and 8th centuries, but it’s as if they never built anything. Today’s post is about someone who lived in that era. (Historians these days are reluctant to use the old term “Dark Ages” because it sounds pejorative and civilization was in a high state of evolution during the period – but as far as the blanks spots […]