Montferrand Clermont Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne Puy-de-Dome France

5 Reasons to Visit Montferrand in the Deep Heart of France

No identity crisis here! It would be easy to understand if the people of Montferrand carried some kind of grudge.  Its name has all but disappeared as an independent entity from maps of France.  When people talk about Montferrand these days, it’s mostly considered a quartier or neighborhood in the larger urban context of Clermont-Ferrand.  But buried in that hyphenated name is a rich history of conflict and royal intervention — and some modern-day attractions that make Montferrand worth a visit all by itself. “Keeping the Church Under Control” The first thing to know about Montferrand is that it was a deliberate creation, not like other French towns that grew over time because they are at an advantageous bend in […]

Sarlat-la-Canéda Sarlat Dordogne Perigord France Europe

5 Reasons to Make Sarlat-la-Canéda Your Vacation Headquarters

We’ve been to Sarlat-la-Canéda (most people just say “Sarlat”) several times, and each visit reveals more to love about this fine medieval town in the Dordogne region of France.  Yes, it can be crowded and touristy on peak days in peak season – that’s why one of our favorite trips was in late February, when the market days are quieter and the chill wind makes passing an evening with a good bottle of local wine and a plate of fresh foie gras all the more inviting.  Even if you can only go at the height of the summer, though, it’s one of those sites that genuinely merits your attention. Here are 5 great reasons to plan your next holiday using […]

Polignac Chateau Castle Auvergne Velay France

4 Things We Learned at the Great Chateau at Polignac

Remembering our 1st weekend in France 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 […]

La Madeleine Dordogne Cave Medieval France Perigord

At La Madeleine: 50,000 Years of Cave Dwellers in the Deep Heart of France

The culture of the cave dweller When you hear the words “cave dweller”, your mind likely goes immediately to images of the sloping foreheads and protruding teeth of the Cro-Magnons of textbooks and Geico commercials.  In fact, though, people have been living in caves in the deep heart of France for tens of thousands of years. Karen and I have had the thrill of being among the very few visitors allowed in each day to see the prehistoric paintings on the wall of the caves at Font de Gaume and Combarelles.  We’ve seen examples like the defensive fort built in a cave above La Roque Gageac, and the remarkable network of troglodytic chapels that make up the ancient church behind […]

Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère Dordogne Perigord France

Check out Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, an official “Most Beautiful Village” in France

A seaport in a land-locked zone? I grew up in Oklahoma, a completely land-locked state where most of the “rivers” are spindly streams running only a few inches deep most of the year.  I can still remember what a big deal it was when we got our own real seaport in the early 1970s; great ships from the Gulf of Mexico could come up the Mississippi to the Arkansas River almost all the way to Tulsa, handling millions of tons of imports and exports every year. So I found it particularly interesting to see how Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, a lovely little village in the Périgord Noir in the deep heart of France, can trace its history as a port town all the […]

The surprising secret at Saint Menoux – could it be a medieval cure for a modern problem?

The sound of history repeating Karen and I will see Hamilton when we get to London in a couple of weeks, so I’ve been reading the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton that inspired the hit musical.  Among many new discoveries, it’s reminded me over and over again that nothing in history is ever really new or original.  Think the idea of “fake news” is something modern?  Thomas Jefferson said of the press in early America, “nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.”  And if you’re distressed by the crassness of public discourse in the age of Twitter, you might find some comfort in knowing our forefathers routinely engaged in the kind of invective that would […]

Cathedral Basilica Church Eglise France Auvergne Limousin Dordogne

Is it a Church? A Cathedral? A Basilica? or something else altogether?

A question of naming choices Almost every town you visit in your travel around western Europe will have some kind of prominent religious building in the center of the city.  But it can be difficult sometimes to figure out what you’re looking at, at least according to the taxonomy of the Catholic church.  Is it a cathedral? Or a basilica?  Just a regular “church”? Or something more exotic like an abbatiale, a collegiale, or a chapelle?   Cathedral at Moulins Here’s a quick guide with some examples drawn from the area I love most, the “deep heart” of central France.  (And yes, I do know that there are many other houses of worship, including mosques, temples, and Protestant halls, even […]

Le Puy en Velay Auvergne Haute-Loire Compostella France

You must see Le Puy en Velay – a Medieval Treasure on the Pilgrim’s Route to Compostella

Climbing to a chapel in the sky 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 […]

Paradelles Auvergne Most Beautiful Village France

Learn about Pradelles – one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Pradelles: One of the Top 10?   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? 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. The town’s official website puts it […]

Tours de Merle Correze Medieval Castle Chateaux Castrum

A Must-See in Central France: The Tours de Merle, a “gated community” for medieval aristocrats

“C’est magnifique” The site of Les Tours de Merle has everything I love most about traveling in the “deep heart of France”: castles, a little medieval mystery, a little wild nature, and a challenging hike up a very steep hill.  On the day I came to town, I stopped on the side of the sharply winding “D” road to photograph the towers when a French motorcyclist pulled up next to me.  “Mais qu’est-ce que c’est?” he demanded.  I explained what I knew already about the site.  He stared for a long, quiet minute, then drew in his breath.  “C’est magnifique,” he said softly, “c’est vraiment magnifique”.  I couldn’t agree more.    It’s not a castle! The first thing you have […]

Arlempdes Auvergne Medieval Castle Chateau

Check out Arlempdes – one of France’s Official “Most Beautiful Villages”

Arlempdes: A destination far from the beaten path Arlempdes (pronounced Arlandes), is buried deep in the heart of France.  Although it is officially one of the 155 “Most Beautiful Villages in France,” it’s not exactly typical of the other towns you’ll find on the list. For one thing, it’s very small – the population is listed at 129 people, and I counted no more than 7 or 8 houses inside the town’s walls and perhaps 7 more outside.  It’s also very isolated.  The nearest autoroute (the A75) is 90 minutes away by narrow, winding country roads.  The nearest town of any size is Le Puy en Velay, 45 minutes away.  There are no stores in Arlempdes – no bakery, no […]

Tournemire Anjony Chateau Castle Auvergne Cantal

Most Beautiful Villages of France: Tournemire and the Chateau d’Anjony

A medieval castle in the Cantal Although I usually prefer to visit these places at my own pace, many of the small chateaux in the deep heart of France require you to take a guided tour.  They’re proud of their history (most of which is never reported in mainstream books); they often have original furniture and family heirlooms to protect from curious visitors; and (I suspect) they want to give their caretakers an opportunity to make a little extra income from gratuities and gift-shop sales. In any case, it wasn’t surprising that the only way to visit the Chateau d’Anjony in Tournemire – one of France’s official “most beautiful villages” — is in the company of a guide.  And what […]