La Garde Guérin France

La Garde Guérin is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

La Garde Guérin is a REAL “Most Beautiful Village” 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, […]

Brantôme Dordogne Troglogyte

There’s a Huge Surprise Behind this Medieval Façade in Brantôme

Brantôme – the “Venice of the Perigord” Our coverage of the ‘deep heart of France’ has expanded to include parts of the region known (since the consolidation of 2016) as Nouvelle Aquitaine.  This recent agglomeration is the largest of the new administrative regions of France, so we’ll confine our attention just to the eastern parts – those that are still called the Limousin and the Dordogne by old-timers like me!  Even as the real city of Venice looks for ways to reduce the throngs of visitors who come every year, tourist boards everywhere else seem anxious to declare their locales to be “the Venice of” wherever they happen to be.  In addition to the beach in California, for example, Aveiro’s […]

Castelnaud-la-Chapelle Dordogne France

Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Beginning this week, our coverage of the ‘deep heart of France’ expands to include parts of the region known (since the consolidation of 2016) as Nouvelle Aquitaine.  This recent agglomeration is the largest of the new administrative regions of France, so we’ll confine our attention just to the western parts – those that are still called the Limousin and the Dordogne by old-timers like me!  Please let me know what you think of this evolution, and especially if there’s a particular subject you’d like me to cover in this area. A hike up a very steep hill By the time I reach the castle perched on top of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, my heart is pounding at 140 beats a minute and I’m […]

Semur Burgundy

Take a Day Trip to Semur-en-Brionnais, officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

I love a good story about how great people and great events can rise to world prominence from the smallest places on the map.  I’m also crazy about France’s official list of “most beautiful villages”.  Throw in a medieval fortress and a little Roman history, and you have an ideal day trip!  Today’s destination, Semur-en-Brionnais, satisfies on all three points. A side trip into Burgundy After an incredible evening out in Moulins, I’ve driven 50 miles southeast – across the boundary of the Auvergne, just inside the Burgundy region in the deep heart of France.  The origins of the town are lost in the clouds of ancient history, although we know a fortified site here was overrun by tribes from […]

Daytrip: the Ruins of the Chateau de Domeyrat

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. 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.   A serendipitous find! In fact, I discovered it a little by accident as I drove from Brioude in search of […]

Julien Brioude Auvergne

St Julien’s in Brioude Gets a Third Michelin Star

When History Is Silent 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 […]

Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

Medieval LAVAUDIEU is one of “France’s Most Beautiful Villages”

A Medieval Network of Power Brokers Many villages in central France have ancient roots.  It’s not uncommon in a place like Royat to find Roman ruins, or in places like Souvigny and St. Menoux to see traces of great Catholic abbeys that once dominated their territories.  But there’s only one place in the Auvergne where you can still see a Romanesque cloister that’s survived for a thousand years – and it’s in Lavaudieu, which also has the distinction of being one of France’s “most beautiful villages”. It’s hard to imagine now how powerful and pervasive the networks established by the great medieval abbeys would have been in their time.  The most famous is probably the one at Cluny, founded in […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Why You Need to Go To Central France

What's to Love About Central France? It’s the first anniversary of this blog, and that has set me thinking (again) about why the deep heart of France means so much to me – an American from the Great Plains who found himself in late career living in the center of a foreign country.  Given all the urgent issues the world throws at us, why spend time and energy on a subject so far outside my “natural” frame of reference? As it happens, right now I’m reading The Pigeon Tunnel, John Le Carré’s extraordinary autobiography.  He’s thought about this puzzle, too, first as a British spy and then as a novelist.  Why focus on any “esoteric” subject?  For Le Carré’, the […]

Montlucon Bourbonnais Auvergne

Montluçon – Medieval Home of the Bourbon Dukes

A Saturday Afternoon Event A wedding is about to start when I arrive in Montluçon on a humid Saturday afternoon.  The church – the Eglise Saint Pierre – was built in the 12th century, so I do the math.  If you assume 1 wedding a week (and that’s probably estimating on the low side), that means more than a thousand couples have gotten married here over the centuries – and this is only one of several significant churches in town. A family crowd is gathered in the little square by the main doors of the church.  The bride, her train held off the cobblestones by a teenage girl, is being tended by her mother, who’s wearing a long black gown […]

Souvigny

Destination: Souvigny, a medieval gem off the beaten path in the deep heart of France

Coming into Souvigny I roll into Souvigny on a hot summer afternoon and it seems the whole town must be taking a siesta.  The funk of rich vegetation moldering in the sunlight reminds me of an August afternoon on a farm in Virginia.  A couple, murmuring in German as they walk toward one of the old houses, seem to be the only other tourists in town.  A woman, formally dressed in a business suit and white starched blouse, comes out from the church to a public fountain in the village square, pumps just long enough to fill a small plastic pitcher, and ducks back into the cool of the church’s interior.  A car door slams somewhere on a side street; […]

La Sauvetat - Auvergne - Deep Heart of France

Destination: La Sauvetat, a fortified town in the deep heart of France

People in France (and many other countries, too) are often described these days as being in a high state of anxiety about their physical security in the face of terrorism, crime, and escalating conflict.  But try imagining a time when threats were so immediate that everything about your little town was built to ward off the danger.  Today’s destination – La Sauvetat, a fortified village in the deep heart of France – transports you back to such a time in the long, violent history of the country. The villagers of La Sauvetat apparently came into their fears early, even before the town had a name.  This is in one of the agricultural breadbaskets of France, only 12 miles (20 km) […]

Usson - Deep Heart of France - Central France

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

We’re having lunch in Usson – officially one of France’s “most beautiful villages”.  Our table is 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’re finishing off our meaty cabbage rolls, it hits me 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 delightful sunny spot, almost like a town […]