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

A castle distinguished by its power 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 […]

Paradelles Auvergne Most Beautiful Village France

Learn about Pradelles – one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”

Pradelles: One of the Top 10?   Having just ranked my personal “Top 10 of the Most Beautiful Villages in Central France,” I have to ask myself: would I include Pradelles in that list? The honest answer is “probably not” – but this is still a town worthy of your consideration if you’re heading south toward the Mediterranean or to a week in Provence.  I’d put Pradelles in the middle rank among the “plus beaux villages” I’ve visited in France – not the richest in history, not the most spectacular landscape, but still well worth a stop for lunch and a 3-hour tour if you happen to be in this part of the country. The town’s official website puts it […]

Lavaudieu Auvergne Medieval Abbey

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

What are the "Most Beautiful Villages" in 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 […]

Arlempdes Auvergne Medieval Castle Chateau

Check out Arlempdes – one of France’s Official “Most Beautiful Villages”

Arlempdes: A destination far from the beaten path Arlempdes (pronounced Arlandes), is buried deep in the heart of France.  Although it is officially one of the 155 “Most Beautiful Villages in France,” it’s not exactly typical of the other towns you’ll find on the list. For one thing, it’s very small – the population is listed at 129 people, and I counted no more than 7 or 8 houses inside the town’s walls and perhaps 7 more outside.  It’s also very isolated.  The nearest autoroute (the A75) is 90 minutes away by narrow, winding country roads.  The nearest town of any size is Le Puy en Velay, 45 minutes away.  There are no stores in Arlempdes – no bakery, no […]

Tournemire Anjony Chateau Castle Auvergne Cantal

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

A medieval castle in the Cantal 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 […]

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


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 […]