One of the great pleasures I’ve had in producing this blog over the years is finding good “bases” for my travels – places where I can settle in for a week or two while I go out exploring the surrounding region.
I’m not even halfway up the steep principal street and already I’m gasping for air as I approach the center of Limeuil. Fortunately, there are plaques telling the story of the village’s history every few yards, so it’s easy enough to stop and read one to mask my lack of physical fitness. I can’t remember an approach to a town’s center this physically demanding since my visits to the great fortress at Beynac, or the upper reaches of the castle keep at Commarque. But already I can tell that this town is worth the effort. There are two very good reasons they ask all visitors to park at the bottom of this steep hill. The first is practical: Limeuil is […]
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 […]
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 […]
If you spend much time bouncing around the French countryside, at some point you may come across a village with a distinctive sign at the city limits: “L’un des plus beaux villages de France” – one of the most beautiful villages in France.When you see the sign, you know you’re in for a treat. Among other things, you’re likely to find ancient buildings, quaint medieval streets, elaborate floral displays, and pleasant gathering places where people meet for drinks and meals. But have you wondered what makes a town “one of the most beautiful”? Who decides? Where are the other “plus beaux villages” in the country?
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
I’m always fascinated by stories from French history where someone rises from a remote city or tiny village in the deepest heart of the country to international fame. We’ve seen several such stories in earlier post on this blog: Blaise Pascal doing his famous experiments at the top of the Puy-de-Dome, the nobles of the House of Bourbon rising out of Montlucon to create a royal dynasty that still exists in Europe today, or the Marquis de Lafayette leaving his rustic home in the Auvergne to play a major role in the American Revolution. But it’s almost as interesting to find someone born in the big cities who abandons the bright lights to seek calm in the wild mountains […]
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 […]
It’s easy enough, when you’re bouncing around the deep heart of France, to experience this remarkable country in fragments, to imagine each castle and medieval abbey and little village existing in deep isolation, each tucked in its own private corner and invisible to the rest of the world. It’s easy to experience the country as Graham Robb describes it in The Discovery of France (one of my all-time favorite history books): After the Revolution, almost a third of the population (about ten million people) lived in isolated farms and cottages or in hamlets with fewer than thirty-five inhabitants and often no more than eight. […] Many recruits from the Dordogne in 1830 were unable to give their recruiting sergeant their […]
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 […]
Being hard to find is obviously not one of the basic qualifications for a town to get on the list of “Most Beautiful Villages” in France. It just happens that some of my favorite places in this elite company are difficult to access – I think immediately of Apremont-sur-Allier and the tiny fortress town at Arlempdes. In fact, it makes sense that a village so far from the normal tourist paths would go through everything required to be designated as a “Most Beautiful Village” – it’s a great part of their marketing strategy to get people to come visit. So it wasn’t unusual to find that the little fortified village of Carennac in the Dordogne River’s valley is also one […]
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 […]