Usson – the scene of Queen Margot’s 20-year Exile – is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

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 […]

Explore the link between Coco Chanel and the ancient Abbey at Aubazine

How did a 900-year-old abbey deep in the heart of France become associated with Coco Chanel, one of the most iconic names in 20th-century fashion?  Today, we’re visitng the great abbey at Aubazine in the Corrèze, that département that lies wedged between the very popular tourist destinations of the Dordogne and the rugged peaks and valleys of the Cantal.  Like the Cantal, the region of Corrèze is not one of the most common destinations for American and British tourists – but it has its own history and a gorgeous, wild landscape that merit closer attention.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3Zgk8S5njw In that sense, Aubazine is a typical example of the region.  This video will give you the sense of how isolated the […]

Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

It’s a wet, gloomy day in central Texas, so I’m happy to spend it remembering a much brighter (and hotter) day Karen and I spent in the heart of France in the little village of Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez.  It’s a village with an unusual history:  from its layout and all the architecture, you would deduce that this is really a monastery.  But the French Revolution brought an end to its long vocation as a religious site and turned Sainte-Croix into a secular village. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfV7-EroSsk  

Orcival is a medieval gem in the deep heart of France

  As I walked into the little village of Orcival on a bright autumn morning, I was momentarily distracted by a dog standing in the 2nd-story window of an old house.  This alert little guardian interested me enough to stop to take his picture.  As I started to put away my camera, though, I was startled by a loud voice in the upstairs window behind me. “Hey, you – you that likes taking all those photos of my house.”  Uh-oh, I thought; he must be offended that I might be invading his privacy.  So I was surprised when he went on.  “Why don’t you turn around and have a look at my door, too?”   What followed was one of […]

See why Uzerche is one of France’s “most beautiful detours”

When you first see Uzerche* you’ll think you’re looking at something lifted from a postcard – a striking visual of authentic medieval buildings and streets laid out like a layer cake rising up from the Vézère river.  That image matches the town’s nickname, “the pearl of the Limousin”, and you’ll know instantly why it merits a place in the official list of “the most beautiful detours in France”.  (And it’s not even that onerous a detour; Uzerche lies off the A20 autoroute, just 40 minutes south of the porcelain-making center of Limoges and 30 minutes north of my favorite town in the Correze, Brive-la-Gaillarde.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZdOzH-hTZU *I know that not everyone can go to France right now.  And with Covid-19 infections […]

Visit the ancient Abbey at Mozac in the Deep Heart of France

Given the number of old churches that show up on this website, you might think I’m Catholic.  I’m not – I’m  not even conventionally religious — so why do I love the ancient basilicas and medieval abbeys scattered across the landscape of the deep heart of France?  I found myself thinking about that question again when I parked a few blocks away and made my way through a dense leafy walkway to the great abbey of Mozac.   It’s surrounded these days by houses and school buildings, so your imagination has to work overtime to reconstruct what this place must have been like at its origins.  (The whole town is now folded in as a suburb of Riom.)  As I […]

Top 8 Castles to see in the Deep Heart of France

Now that le déconfinement is underway, tourist bureaus across France are encouraging people to plan vacations closer to home rather than taking trips to more exotic places.  The Wall Street Journal today has an article claiming “[t]he French are venturing into unknown territory: France.” Coronavirus border closures mean the French have the Eiffel Tower and the Chateau de Versailles to themselves. They’ve decided to see what all the fuss is about.  (Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2020) The risk, of course, is that the well-known “greatest hits” of French travel — the incredible chateaux in the Loire Valley, for example, or a day trip to Giverny — might still be overwhelmed or frustratingly inaccessible if crowds surpass the new capacity […]

Martel France

A driving tour to Martel in the deep heart of France

I perked up when one of the clues was revealed on Jeopardy last week.  The category was an odd one – “Sliding into your CMs” – and the answer on the game board was “You have the Gaul to tell me that he brought Burgundy under his control in the 700s?! & that he was Pepin the Short’s dad?!” “Ooh, I know this one,” I shouted out.  (Karen and I are, shall we say, “somewhat aggressive” when it comes to our Jeopardy competition.) “Who was CHARLES MARTEL?”  And that one brief exchange was enough to launch me on a particular memory of my visit to a place in the Correze named for this man, one of the most memorable (and […]

Chazeron Chateau Castle France Auvergne

Visit the Chateau de Chazeron in the Deep Heart of France

This post has been too long in coming – but we’re finally settled in our new place and I’m happy to be back online.  In the intervening weeks I’ve had some time to reflect on the places that resonate most vividly in my memories of living and traveling in the deep heart of France.  It’s only natural, then, that this post takes me back to the Auvergne for a first-time visit to just such a place  – the fine little Chateau de Chazeron, near the great church at Orcines in the Puy-de-Dome département. In fact, the castle at Chazeron matches all the criteria that make a place memorable for me: Although there’s some speculation that this was a holy site […]

Tournoel Castle Chateau Auvergne France

Visit the medieval castle at Tournoel in the deep heart of France

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 […]

Hautefort Dordogne France Medicine History Medieval Hôtel-Dieu Dentist Plague Chateau Castle

At Hautefort: Walk through the history of medicine

The main reason to come to Hautefort in the Dordogne region of the deep heart of France is to tour the great Chateau at the top of the hill overlooking the town.  It’s an hour-and-a-half southwest of Limoges,  and an hour northwest of Brive-la-Gaillarde, but well worth the drive to see this gorgeous example of how a medieval fortress evolved into an elegant country mansion over the centuries.  I’ll be doing a detailed report on my visit there in a future post – but for me the trip down the hill to the Musée d’Histoire de la Médicine was in many ways the most interesting part of my day in Hautefort.  

Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat Saint-Leonard France Haut-Vienne Limousin Nouvelle-Aquitaine Romanesque Medieval French Travel

Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Deep Heart of France

In all my travels around France over the past several years, the day I spent in the little UNESCO World Heritage town of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat ranks among my favorite memories.  It’s 30 minutes due east of Limoges, in the 21st-century region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, but on the day I visited, Saint-Léonard had withdrawn to a time before the modern idea of “France” even existed, far back into its medieval past. Remarkable things were happening when I arrived.  The entire center of the village was closed to cars, and people were streaming in from wherever they could find to park.  The narrow medieval streets were alive with visitors – but not only tourists!  Everywhere I turned, in the midst of the  great crowd, […]