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.
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) […]
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 in […]
Sometimes, as we all know, words and static images just aren’t adequate to capture a feeling or an impression you get in a faraway place – we need to see movement and the passing of time to get a better feel for what it might be like to visit a place we’ve never experienced for ourselves. Since I started this blog, I’ve put a lot of effort into explaining what the “deep heart of France” means to me. You’ve heard why I love Clermont-Ferrand and the Auvergne, and you’ve seen some of the towns officially recognized as being among “the most beautiful villages of France” – places like Blesle, Charroux, Arlempdes, and Salers.If you’ve stuck with this blog for long, […]
I’ll always have a spot in my heart for Moulins. I’ve written before about how one wonderful evening in this town captured the essence of French food culture for me. Today, though, we’re revisiting Moulins as one of the most interesting, historically rich small towns in the deep heart of France. When you roll into town on the D945 you know immediately this place is different. Traffic flows constantly through the main square, with the pretty Town Hall on one side and a starburst of restaurants and medieval buildings on the other side of the road. It’s a fine place for a long lunch and watching people on a sunny afternoon, but be sure to catch the showy chiming of the […]
A few weeks ago I was in Souvigny, a postcard-perfect town in the Allier, and it made me think of computer systems. Well, in a roundabout way… [caption id="attachment_897" align="aligncenter" width="4441"] The main square in Souvigny[/caption] I first heard the phrase “plan d’urbanisme” when I was working in the Information Technology department of a big manufacturing company in France. While it literally means “city planning”, in the context of IT it meant trying to figure out the thorny problem of how to integrate new applications and new technologies into an existing mass of old systems.
Sometimes I come across one of the “most beautiful villages in France” that apparently gets more points for the vistas it overlooks than for what it actually contains. Montpeyroux, for me, is one example.Not to say you shouldn’t visit – you should! It is a lovely, neatly-kept little town with its own rich history deep in the Auvergne. It’s easy to find, too; its prominent castle tower is visible to thousands of cars every day as they zip along the A7 (“La Méridienne), the major autoroute that connects Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers down on the Mediterranean coast. Within the city walls the first thing you’ll notice is how much lighter and brighter Monypeyroux looks compared to many other towns in the […]
This week I’m missing my “second home”: Clermont-Ferrand, capital city of the Auvergne, one time capital of France for a day, and the largest city in the deep heart of France.We lived there for seven years (split between two different expat assignments), and I’ve spent several weeks there every year when we weren’t living there for the last 19 years. Why do I like this place so much? Here are my 8 favorite things about Clermont-Ferrand: Notre Dame du Port. This is the older of Clermont’s two main churches, and it is rich in history – Pope Urban II launched the first of the Crusades during a conference here in 1095. So although I’m not at all Catholic I love […]
Hello – and best wishes to all of you for a healthy, successful New Year in 2017 (or, as the French say, “Meilleurs vœux pour ce nouvel an – que 2017 serait une année de bonne santé et la réussite de tous vos projets”).We start the new year in another of the most interesting places “off the beaten path” in the deep heart of France. The first thing to know about the medieval town of Blesle is how to pronounce its name: it’s BLELL, with no mention of the “s’. This is officially one of the “most beautiful villages in France,” an hour south of Clermont-Ferrand in the rugged volcanic mountains of the Haute-Loire.
What do I love most about driving the back roads of central France? Discovering a little corner of history that I would have missed if I only stuck to the guidebooks. When I set out that day in September, my objective was the mysterious church at St Menoux, passing through Villeneuve-sur-Allier (and regular readers will know how badly that went!). Early in the day, though, with the fog still settled in the valleys around the D133, I came to a sign pointing off into the woods and promising “Chateau d’Avrilly / XVè – XIVè”. Great! I was in a fine mood after my evening in Moulins, the September day was bright and warm, and I had no deadline to constrain […]