Valence France

VALENCE: France’s “Gateway to the South” has a big-city feel

I’m not a jaded traveler – but neither am I easily surprised.  Valence did it, though, more than most of the places I’ve visited in France in the past year.  It’s a lovely small city that feels much larger and more urban than I expected.  It’s sophisticated for its size – one of its leading families put the city on the map as one of the great destinations for gourmet dining in France!  And with one foot in the Midi and the other in the deep heart of the country, it’s ideally positioned to be your base for exploring a part of France you might never see otherwise.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIqAy4oN1KQ Some of Valence’s sophistication is easily explained: this is […]

Délicieux – a good story about good food set in the deep heart of France

OK, it’s not actually a true story – but the 2021 film Délicieux is a good story (“93% fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes), and for the purposes of this blog it’s a perfect story because it unfolds in the Cantal, one of the most beautiful regions in the deep heart of France.  Directed by Eric Besnard, the comedy is available now to stream on Amazon Prime and YouTube Movies. In the movie, Grégory Gadebois plays Manceron, an extraordinary, if sometimes temperamental, chef who gets dismissed from his position cooking for a French duke.  What did he do wrong?  For a banquet with the duke’s distinguished guests, he made a dish (one of 40!)  that includes potatoes at a time when the […]

Château de Commarque

Visit Commarque – an incredible ruined castle with prehistoric roots

Since 2016, I’ve written more than 160 posts exploring the exceptional places I’ve seen in the deep heart of France, so I don’t say this lightly: the Château de Commarque is unique among the most moving experiences I’ve had traveling in this region.  I’ve taken hundreds of detours down country roads and visited dozens of other old castles over the last 25 years; by my count, I’ve written about 34 of them just for this blog.  But after a while, many of them start to look similar – they are piles of rocks where the outlines of a castle remain, perhaps, or slightly shopworn old family manors. Don’t misunderstand — just about every château is interesting in some way.  But […]

Building a new “medieval” castle at Guédelon

Before I went to Guédelon, I’d never really heard much about “experimental archeology.”  For me, archeology seemed more a discipline based on pre-existing evidence – concrete objects, things you find in the ground or at the bottom of the sea.  The interpretation of those objects is often open to conjecture (is this pottery shard part of a wine jar or was it a piece of the sculpture of some deity?), but in most cases you couldn’t really devise an experiment to prove the theory one way or the other. As on so many subjects, though, I was wrong.  There’s a whole formal branch of archeology devoted to testing our conjectures about how people lived and how they made things by […]

Saint Flour is a “Town for All Centuries” in the deep heart of France

Cet article est dédié à Marie-Thérèse, Sanfloraine exceptionnelle et le professeur qui m’a appris à parler français et à profiter au maximum de notre expatriation en France. There are several towns in central France that are famous mostly for “being medieval”.  Many of them are immaculately restored; they give you an idea of how they must have looked in the 13th or 14th centuries.  (Think of the incredible ensemble of medieval architecture in Sarlat-la-Caneda or the settings right out of The Three Musketeers in the “most beautiful village” of Pérouges.)  They exist now primarily as tourist attractions where the curious traveler can have a window into life as it might have been in the distant past.   And on first […]

It’s great (but strange!) to be traveling in France

We’ve had plenty of second (and third) thoughts about traveling in France during this second summer of the pandemic, but in the end, the weight of scientific data about the effectiveness of our vaccines and the restrictions that continue in place overcame those worries. So here I am (Karen will join me later) bouncing around the “D” roads in the deep heart of France again, and it makes me very happy.  But it’s obvious that things are NOT what they used to be, and there are still some aspects of traveling here that make this the strangest trip ever in this country.  Some of my first observations: Arriving in Paris is completely weird. We landed at Paris CDG – and […]

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 […]