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 […]
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 […]
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 Lot named for this man, one of the most memorable (and […]
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 […]
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 […]
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.
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, […]
Every year around this time, the France 3 television network invites people to vote on the “most preferred village in France”. (Last year, the winner was Cassel, up in the north near Dunkirk and the border with Belgium.) When the candidates for 2019 were announced this week, I was thrilled to find Souvigny among the 14 nominees — it’s there as the representative of the Auvergne in the deep heart of the country, and it’s easily one of the most photogenic and historically interesting places I’ve had the fortune to visit in recent years. You can vote yourself for your own “most preferred village”. Just click here and you’ll go to the France 3 site, where you just click on […]
Since I started this blog, I’ve written about my visits to 23 of France’s “most beautiful villages” (click here to read about my personal “top 10” – and I still have several left to write about in the months ahead). In Curemonte, though, I found something I’ve never seen anywhere else. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81cDV8EIJ_8 All of the plus beaux villages in the deep heart of France have the essential elements required to get on the official list: at least a couple of historically-significant sites and a willingness to invest in making the town attractive to tourists as a destination. Curemonte, though, is distinguished because it has three castles clustered together in one tiny village of 211 inhabitants. And the history of […]
Almost 3 years ago I told you about the beautiful small Chateau de Cordès, hidden far from the normal tourist paths in the mountains of central France. I mentioned then that, according to our guide, the castle’s owners might be interested in selling the place if the right buyer came along. Well, now it IS for sale; for “only” 2.5 million Euros (US $2,970,254), you could live in a nationally-listed “Historic Monument” surrounded by gardens designed by the same guy who worked for King Louis XIV! Read about this historic chateau here, then check out the property listing on the Forbes Global Properties site. ————————————————————————– Our guide at the Chateau de Cordès clearly loves his job. He’s also the “chief […]
I arrived in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne earlier than I’d planned, so my first stop was a bakery just outside the medieval center of town. There was still a morning chill in the shade when I took my pain au chocolate to a bench in the little square, but from the first bite I knew this was a town I was going to like – the bread was still warm, the two bars of dark chocolate were still melted inside, the crust flaked off in sheets for the birds around my bench to enjoy… it was the archetypically perfect French breakfast for me. (That may be because there’s so much competition. For a small town (around 1,200 people) there are a surprising number […]
The Auvergne – that ancient volcanic region near the center of France – doesn’t seem at first glance like a place that would feature prominently on the stage of great world events. Even many French people don’t know what goes on there; they hold a number of odd stereotypes about the people who live there, many of which imagine Auvergnats as a species of rural rubes. And they’re always surprised when they actually visit the place to find how interesting, how beautiful, and how utterly civilized it is.