My first impressions of Saint-Nectaire formed during a freezing, dark winter week I spent there several years ago – and those impressions weren’t necessarily all positive. For obvious reasons: the place is remote, 50 minutes southwest of Clermont-Ferrand, and the town relies heavily on summer tourism. We were there for a series of meetings with my company’s business partners, and by the time our day had finished everything except our hotel’s restaurant and a single pizza place was closed, and none of the other local attractions was available to visit. Last summer, though, I finally saw Saint-Nectaire as it is meant to be seen – and this time around I was charmed. The shops and tourist sites […]
On June 22, 1940, a somber caravan of cars and trucks arrived in Vichy, a spa town in the deep heart of France. They brought with them the principal political luminaries and the mechanics of bureaucracy for what remained of the French government after the Nazi army occupied Paris. Eight decades later, the town still struggles to restore its image as one of Europe’s most historic luxury resorts. Karen and I have spent a lot of time in Vichy over the years, but I’ve hesitated to write about it because it’s still hard for me to understand all the real complexities that make up the character of the place. On the one hand, it’s the lovely and luxurious spa […]
Karen and I just watched all five episodes of Lupin, the French series that is dominating the Netflix popularity charts around the world. We love a good “heist” story – and Lupin starts with a very good one – but it evolves into something even better: a story about a “gentleman thief”, a hero who operates outside the law but is driven by a bigger sense of justice and “doing the right thing”. (Think The Equalizer but with some elegance and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.) The series also makes for a good opportunity to practice your French, if you’re inclined that way; you can watch it dubbed in English, or reset the language to French and turn on English […]
This year the 107th running of the Tour de France has a special interest to those of us who love the mountains and gorgeous landscapes of central France. The Tour will stop in my old hometown, Clermont-Ferrand, on Saturday, July 11th, where riders will set out on the 197 km (118 mile) trip to Lyon. But the day before (Friday, July 10th), they will first have to tackle one of the Tour’s famous mountain passages, starting in the beautiful spa town of Châtel-Guyon and climbing a total of 4,400 meters on a 191 km ride through a chain of volcanoes on the way to the Puy Mary in the Cantal. That announcement brought to mind several memories of our experiences […]
I’ve come to Bourbon-l’Archambault on a market day, which means there’s not a parking place left in town and traffic stops completely while people weave around the cars to cross the street. In fact, I came here to see the Chateau de Billy, the town’s most prominent feature. But it’s quickly clear that the Chateau is in its own separate little village, although effectively merged with Bourbon-l’Archambault. And it’s quickly clear, too, that there’s much more than I’d imagined to this community in the Haut-Allier region of the Auvergne. It all starts with the water – hot and full of minerals, bubbling up at a constant 1310 Farenheit (550 Celsius) from underground volcanic sources at several points. Archeologists here have […]
To understand the little town of Royat, imagine yourself strolling through an elegant park with a crowd straight from a painting by Renoir – men in straw boaters and morning coats, women in flowing dresses with bright flowers and velvet hats. Imagine, as the local guides say, “walking in the footsteps of Napoleon III, the Empress Eugénie, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), King Leopold II, or the Maharajah of Patiala…” In short, imagine yourself stepping back into the glory days of Belle Époque France – but in a place far from the chic salons of Paris.