I roll into Souvigny on a hot summer afternoon and it seems the whole town must be taking a siesta. The funk of rich vegetation moldering in the sunlight reminds me of an August afternoon on a farm in Virginia. A couple, murmuring in German as they walk toward one of the old houses, seem to be the only other tourists in town.
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 long, […]
This week I’m missing my “second home”: Clermont-Ferrand, capital city of the Auvergne, one time capital of France for a day, and the largest city in the deep heart of France.We lived there for seven years (split between two different expat assignments), and I’ve spent several weeks there every year when we weren’t living there for the last 19 years. Why do I like this place so much? Here are my 8 favorite things about Clermont-Ferrand: Notre Dame du Port. This is the older of Clermont’s two main churches, and it is rich in history – Pope Urban II launched the first of the Crusades during a conference here in 1095. So although I’m not at all Catholic I love […]
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.
It’s worth going to Saint Menoux just for its fine Romanesque church. In fact, there’s not much more to see in this bright little hilltop village near Moulins in the Allier département. But my curiosity was heightened as I drove west on the D945 on a brilliant sunny morning in September. As in so many places around France, there are big brown road signs signaling the attractions you can see in the area around you. These are usually straightforward: “Château de Billy,” for example, or “Forêt de Tronçais”. The sign for Saint Menoux was a puzzle, though. Featuring a line drawing of something that looks like a coffin, it says (with no other explanation) “Saint Menoux et son débredinoire”.
Note to all my readers: I’ve wrestled with whether or not to publish this post. It was written just BEFORE the horrible attack of July 26th in which Father Jacques Hamel was murdered and one of his parishioners gravely injured by two terrorists acting “in the name of ISIL” during services in the church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. Then an extraordinary thing happened: On Sunday July 31st, in churches all across France — including the Cathedral of Notre Dame de l’Assomption in Clermont-Ferrand, just up the hill from the subject of this post — Muslims joined with Christian congregations to demonstrate solidarity and to express their rejection of terrorists. As one imam of a mosque in Vichy explained, “By our presence, we […]
One of the things I love most about exploring the “deep heart of France” is finding events and experiences that translate the region’s rich history into something I can taste, touch, see or hear for myself. Today’s post is about one of the most extraordinary experiences you can have in central France, one which lets you go very far off the beaten path and be absorbed into one of the country’s hidden artistic delights.I’m talking about the great abbey church of La Chaise Dieu, where this August you can go for the 50th anniversary of an extraordinary classical music festival.