A Weekend in Auvergne

Slow lane

New Yorkers are often accused of acting as if the city is the only place in the world. Though I was born in Manhattan and lived my crazy twentysomething years there, I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. By the name alone you can probably gather it was a far cry from the big city; I always knew there was life outside of New York’s borders.

The island mentality is not so much about ignorance of other locales, however. It’s more a questioning of whether the rest of the world really has much to offer. I mean, the whole world already lives in New York and you can find anything you want there – not to mention be whoever you want to be. What’s so great about anywhere else?

Le Puy en Velay, a stop on the road to Santiago de Compostela, a walk I'd love to do!

A similar phenomenon can reproduce itself in Paris if you’re not careful. The City of Light is another one of those wonder capitals. It sucks you in, seduces you, lulls you into a sense that there exists no other place on earth. It’s a paradox I’ll call ‘city inertia’. Always on the move discovering amazing things; so much so that you sometimes forget to leave.

Of course, when you do leave, you wonder just why in the heck you didn’t do it sooner.

Truth be told, though, I’m pretty good at leaving France. Low-cost carriers to some of the old continent’s capitals for cheap were reason enough for me to weather the expat blues.

But travelling in France – I do that less. (I know, I know – what is wrong with me?) I think it’s something to do with my idea of vacation equaling an escape from the French language. As my French improves, however, I become less demanding on that point.

Really, I’m just “going native” – the French are always planning weekends away. I think they’re onto something.

I know the people who live here! I will return!

So, when my friends, a Franco-American couple, asked if I wanted to visit Bruno’s ville natale in the Massif Centrale, I said, sure.

Of course, my ignorance shone bright. When it comes to French geography, I picture Paris – and then the rest of France in a bit of a cartoon blob. The Massif Centrale sounded, well, massive, but I couldn’t place it on a map.

I also had to ask about ten times before I could remember the name of the town: Le Monastier sur Gazeille.

“And the biggest city close by is Le Puy en Velay,” my friend Michal (and Bruno’s wife) said. Another stumbling block. I must have some sort of learning impediment when it comes to French names; I hear names like this and they disappear immediately.

But it sounded like a worthy adventure.

“We’ll increase the diversity by 200%,” Michal said, in describing the town of 1000. “I’ll be the only Jew…”

“And I’ll be the only person of color,” I finished.

Onward!

Yes, I know I look out of place, but please stop staring at me!

I’ve come to the conclusion that a weekend away really is the cure for most ails. My recent trip to Etretat and now to Auvergne (aha! I have now learned the more precise name of the region!) had me in full relaxation mode with just 2 days away, a feat I never would have thought possible before.

But when the agenda consists of simply eating, sleeping, and taking long walks, you’re pretty much guaranteed to reset your stress level back to zero.

The Cathedral in Le Puy en Velay definitely worth a gander

Bruno’s parents were lovely; his mom had been the math teacher for many years (EVERY person in the village in a certain age range had Denise as a teacher) and his dad was cute as a button. Everyone knew everyone and required three kisses. As this was the most strenuous activity required of me, I happily obliged.

The mountainous/volcanic (!) region means the weather is a bit iffy. Decked out in a heavy coat and scarf the last weekend in May, I also stripped down when the sun finally came out. All in a day’s work.

No complaints, however. I saw this:

And this wasn't even a clear day!

and this:

Red gate to heaven

I couldn’t help but think of the book title “How Green was my Valley” over and over again. (The Gazeille is the name of the valley).

My new resolve: whenever I’m invited somewhere, just go. No questions; just pack the overnight bag.

Michal and Bruno are soon moving to Aix en Provence. I’m sorry to lose some of my best Paris friends – but thrilled that they’re going somewhere I can easily make my second home (hope they mean it when they say to visit often!)

Swing set with a view

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13 Responses to “A Weekend in Auvergne”


  1. 1 Alison June 2, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Yay! Long live the weekend getaway! We’ve had some great ones too and I always wish I could do it more often. Having friends in Aix will be a great thing! Take me with you! :) I’ve also heard Brussels is a great getaway from Paris ;)

    • 2 paris (im)perfect June 2, 2010 at 4:41 pm

      Yes! I *need* to do the weekend getaway more! And I can’t believe I never told you – Brussels actually *was* one of my favorite weekend getaways! I had such a good time there. I spent like 7 hours one day at L’Archiduc (that makes me sound like a lush! I’m not!) and went to some party in a greenhouse in the middle of a park or something? It was so cool! A trip back now would be even better – then we could meet up!

      And yes, as for Aix, I am thrilled. My sadness at their departure is definitely lessened knowing I can zip down to the South at a moment’s notice now :)

  2. 3 Kind Reader June 3, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Yeah, this post really touched home. I am grateful to have lived nearly half my life in the country and the other half in a city. Getting to know the rhythms of life in each place and the different freedoms in their experience has made me appreciate both landscapes all the more. I think more and more that a balance of both in one’s life is best. This place you descibed sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing. Peace…Holly.

    • 4 paris (im)perfect June 3, 2010 at 10:26 am

      Hi Holly. I agree: if I could figure out how to balance the city/country more, I think that would be perfect. I really do love what both offer me. I think I’ll stay in the city and plan more escapes out!

      This area really *was* amazing. I totally recommend it for those looking for “authentic” France. Most of these pictures are from small villages I’m sure few tourists ever make it to – and yet the landscape is absolutely incredible! I’m so glad to have made my way to Auvergne. (And the train ride to get there is gorgeous, too – the Rhone/Alps train along the Loire River!)

  3. 5 Geary June 3, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    So glad you enjoyed venturing into rural France. In 1973 we bicycled across France from Cherbourg to Antibes. A three month trip. We took a train from the Loire Valley to Burgundy to cross the Massif Centrale. I was 33 at the time and discovered so many things like Chevre for example, still my favorite cheese.

    No longer up for such exertions, but am considering a trip to the Dordogne region near Bordeaux. Have you ever been there ?

    Geary

    • 6 paris (im)perfect June 3, 2010 at 7:25 pm

      Hi Geary,

      That sounds like a great trip! You’ve probably seen more of France than I have, then! Though I’m determined to rectify that now. Funny you should mention chevre – I brought back some fresh chevre from the region. It was delicious!

      As for your question, I’ve been to Bordeaux, but not yet to the Dordogne region. Add it to my list!

  4. 7 PigletinFrance June 3, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    L’Auvergne, lovely! I have family in law there but am yet to visit… your trip has encouraged me to go discover!
    I’m a bit like you, I hang around Lyon, les beaux-parents in Provence and then everywhere else I go is outside of France. We have so much to discover here, its amazing.
    Add Lyon to your places to visit, it’s the gastromic capital of France – an absolutely fantastic city! I’ll show you around :)

    • 8 paris (im)perfect June 3, 2010 at 9:01 pm

      You must go – especially if you have family there! It was such a lovely place.

      And be careful with that invitation – I usually take people up on them! If I know a local who can show me around, it always makes my trip! :)

  5. 10 pariskarin June 4, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Always, always good to have friends who live in other places, especially Aix! Score for you! Woot!

    I love the picture of the cows up there, lol. Fantastic!

    I am so glad you got to get out of town.

  6. 12 Michal July 28, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    o.k…. I’m procrastinating on my next to last day at work. Finally getting around to reading this post made me smile from the inside out. I’ll miss you dear friend, and Paris. Finding you here made it a lot closer to perfect.


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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