Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

My Top 10 “Most Beautiful Villages” in the Deep Heart of France

Since I started this blog, I’ve profiled 13 of the towns claiming officially to be “L’un des plus beaux villages de France” – one of the most beautiful villages in France.  (Another profile, of Pradelles, is coming later this week, and there are 25 more on my calendar to show you in the months ahead.) When you see that distinctive road sign at the city limits as you drive into town, 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 […]

Marqueyssac Dordogne Perigord Gardens France

The Gardens at Marqueyssac – one of France’s great tourist destinations in the Dordogne

A well-traveled cynic might call the Chateau de Marqueyssac a “manufactured” tourist experience.  For Karen and me, though, these extraordinary gardens in the Périgord Noir (Dordogne) are among the best-managed, most family-oriented places we’ve found anywhere in the deep heart of France.  And they are the perfect setting for a long walk on a spring afternoon. The same family has owned this property since 1692, and they take pride in saying that Marqueyssac has been “laid out for the pleasure of taking a walk.”  We’re 130 meters (427 feet) above the Dordogne, looking out across the great river’s valley.  From here you can see at least four of France’s official “most beautiful villages” —

Tournemire Anjony Chateau Castle Auvergne Cantal

Most Beautiful Villages of France: Tournemire and the Chateau d’Anjony

Although I usually prefer to visit these places at my own pace, many of the small chateaux in the deep heart of France require you to take a guided tour.  They’re proud of their history (most of which is never reported in mainstream books); they often have original furniture and family heirlooms to protect from curious visitors; and (I suspect) they want to give their caretakers an opportunity to make a little extra income from gratuities and gift-shop sales. In any case, it wasn’t surprising that the only way to visit the Chateau d’Anjony in Tournemire – one of France’s official “most beautiful villages” — is in the company of a guide.  And what a guide!  Monsieur Martin took more […]

Castelnaud-la-Chapelle Dordogne France

6 Best Places I Saw in the Deep Heart of France This Year

I’ll confess that 2017 was not my favorite year for many reasons that have nothing to do with a blog about traveling around the deep heart of France.  In fact, if it weren’t for the places I saw and the people met in my travels, I think it would have been easy to be miserable under the weight of the world’s problems in 2017!  For this round-up, I’ve enjoyed walking back through my memories of some of the best, most interesting places I saw this year.  These don’t necessarily represent most popular posts for 2017 — just my personal selection of the stories and places I’d like most to revisit in the months ahead. This may seem like a sneaky […]

La Roque Gageac Dordogne Perigord Noir

La Roque Gageac is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

La Roque Gageac stretches out in a straight line along the banks of the Dordogne – an easy walk of 30 minutes will get you from one end of town to the other.  But this is officially one of France’s “most beautiful villages”, and if you walk past too quickly you’ll miss some of the rich history and outdoor sports opportunities this place affords. For this week’s visit, we’re in the Dordogne (the Perigord Noir, to be more precise), one of France’s most popular tourist regions.  La Roque Gageac is only 6 miles from Sarlat-le-Caneda, a very short drive from two other “most beautiful villages” (Beynac-et-Cazenac and Castelnaud-la-Chapelle) and the extraordinary exotic gardens at Marqueyssac.  (You can see a spectacular […]

La Garde Guérin France

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

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, once used for the annual process of “transhumance” (moving […]

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. 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 soaked in perspiration.  But this is another […]

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. 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 the east in the 3rd […]

5 More Videos to Make You Fall in Love with the Deep Heart of France

Since I started this blog, I’ve tried several ways to explain 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, you’ve also had a taste of some of central France’s best cultural offerings – from the incredible International Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrand to the great MuPop Museum of Popular Music in Montlucon and the classical music festival held every August in La Chaise-Dieu.

St. Saturnin Auvergne

DESTINATION: St. Saturnin

Today we are in the little village of St. Saturnin.  It’s not always easy for a modern imagination to take in a place like this.  St. Saturnin is technically in the “urban area” just 10 miles south of Clermont-Ferrand, but it feels much more isolated.  We’re in the Park of the Volcanoes in the wildest region of France, and this is a village with a population that never rose above 1,500.  You have to put your imagination into overdrive to picture the spectacle that must have played out in these winding narrow streets when this little town played host to some of the kingdom’s most famous (and notorious) figures. How did they get here?  Since at least the 900s A.D., […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Why You Need to Go To 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 question was about German culture and […]