La Roque Gageac Dordogne Perigord Noir

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

On the banks of the Dordogne 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 […]

La Garde Guérin France

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

La Garde Guérin is a REAL “Most Beautiful Village” 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, […]

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. A hike up a very steep hill 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 […]

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. A side trip into Burgundy 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 […]

St. Saturnin Auvergne

DESTINATION: St. Saturnin

St. Saturnin – A royal village in the deep heart of France 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) […]

Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

Medieval LAVAUDIEU is one of “France’s Most Beautiful Villages”

A Medieval Network of Power Brokers Many villages in central France have ancient roots.  It’s not uncommon in a place like Royat to find Roman ruins, or in places like Souvigny and St. Menoux to see traces of great Catholic abbeys that once dominated their territories.  But there’s only one place in the Auvergne where you can still see a Romanesque cloister that’s survived for a thousand years – and it’s in Lavaudieu, which also has the distinction of being one of France’s “most beautiful villages”. It’s hard to imagine now how powerful and pervasive the networks established by the great medieval abbeys would have been in their time.  The most famous is probably the one at Cluny, founded in […]

Central France - Auvergne - Clermont-Ferrand

Why You Need to Go To Central France

What's to Love About 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 […]

Usson - Deep Heart of France - Central France

Usson – the scene of Queen Margot’s 20-year Exile – is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

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 […]

Cantal - Deep Heart of France

7 Videos to Make You Fall in Love With the Deep Heart of France

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 […]

Medieval Montpeyroux is a “Most Beautiful Village of France”

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 […]

Medieval Charroux is one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

  Occasionally you’ll pass through a French town that proclaims itself to be “une ville franche” – a “free city”.  There are even a couple dozen towns in France actually named some variant of “Villefranche” or (in the areas nearer to Germany) “Fribourg”, which means the same thing.   Charroux is officially “one of the most beautiful villages of France”.  There’s been a town here since Gallo-Roman times, but Charroux has also been one of these “free cities” since at least 1245 AD.  That means it shares the characteristics of many of the other French towns that have this distinction: It was given its autonomy from the feudal lords who controlled its region.  In an area frequented by war, famine, […]

Medieval Blesle is One of France’s Most Beautiful Villages

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. The second thing to know:  […]