Beynac Beynac-et-Cazenac Dordogne France Castle Chateau

8 Cool Things To Do This Spring in the Deep Heart of France

It feels like winter has fought to hold on longer than it should this year in France.  There’s been snow from Paris to the Mediterranean several times over the last few weeks, and the temperature tonight in Clermont-Ferrand will likely be close to freezing.   In fact, the arrival of spring in France this year reminds us of a lesson we learned the first time we moved there.  We arrived in the Auvergne in early March 1997, and the weather was glorious – warm, brilliantly sunny, and welcoming.  “Wow,” we thought, “we are REALLY going to like it here!” A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, we awoke to snow blocking out the sun, and when we went to the […]

Beynac Beynac-et-Cazenac Dordogne France Castle Chateau

You need to see Beynac – a Castle Fortress that’s also a “Most Beautiful Village” of France

There are thousands of castles in France.  Most of them are very small, built to be the medieval homes of some minor aristocrats or to protect travelers along a stretch of road. (We’ve covered many of these smaller places on this blog – the fine chateau at Tournemire, for example, or the family castles at Val, Domeyrat, Arlempdes, and Billy.) At the high end of the range, you know some of the others already – the great, graceful palaces like Chambord and Chenonceau in the Loire Valley that retained some of their defensive structures but that obviously focused more on the royal luxury of the kings and queens who lived there. There’s another category of castle, though:  the ones that […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Paris Is Not France – 3 Great Reasons to Visit Central France

From the feedback some of you have given me,  I know the idea of exploring France outside of Paris can be a little overwhelming.  After all, Paris is perhaps the greatest single tourist destination on earth, and you could go there dozens of times without exhausting all the incredible things to see and do in the capital city. (Believe me – Karen and I have tried!)  The idea that there are thousands of other possibilities, some more interesting than anything you can find in Paris, can really be intimidating when you’re organizing future trips. And it’s certainly true that, for most people in the world, Paris is the single image that comes to mind when someone says “you should see France”.  […]

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 […]