July, 2010

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Natural wonders and beguiling small towns and villages add to the allure of the Maison

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

The appeal of the maison can be attributed to the compelling landscapes of the region

The appeal of the maison can be attributed to the compelling landscapes of the region. Located in a small market town, it is a maze of old streets. Its markets and fairs are some of the most important in the region. On a steep bluff overlooking one end of the town is the 11th century keep of the Chateau St.-Etienne, locale of the fascinating Musee des Volcans.

The Maison is within the Massif Central, a dense cluster of mountain ranges covering nearly 33,000 square miles and encompassing almost a sixth of France. It is a place where rivers run through impressive gorges and forests range from dense woodlands to spacious oak groves. France’s most diverse geological region, the Massif Central is home to the Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans where several hundred volcanoes can be seen. These magnificent geological features are linked by high plateaux and vast flows of lava eroded by glaciers dating back to the Quaternary period. As an interesting aside, no two volcanoes are the same, a fact quickly revealed in the park. Among the different types, scoria cones are the most common. Also known as Strombolian cones, they are easy to recognize. The crate sits atop a cone formed by a “scoria,” the volcanic spray and pozzolan spray thrown out during an eruption. “Maars” are circular crates that can measure several hundred yards in diameter. The ash, blocks of earth and volcanic spray thrown out by the explosion are left around the crates in the shape of a ring or crescent and form the maar. Dome volcanoes are often formed following very violent eruptions. After the initial eruption that opens the crater in the ground, the lava rises to the surface. Since it is too thick to flow, it accumulates to form a dome. Lastly, “Planezes” are very old lava flows transformed into low plateaux.

Due north of the maison, the 16th century town of Salers crowns a steep escarpment. Classed as one of “The Most Beautiful Villages in France,” Salers reflects its 16th century heyday in cobblestone streets, 15th century ramparts and handsome Renaissance houses of gray volcanic stone, many with pepper-pot turrets, mullion windows, towers and carved lintels. The structures completely encircle Grande Place and remain as examples of the extraordinary architecture of that period.

For more information: Monasteries of France

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Seascapes, extraordinary tides and the flavor of fishing ports exemplify the monastery’s milieu

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

I didn't have a picture of the monastery so I thought I'd show you my dog Cooper carrying my coffee mug.

Facing the sea, the monastery is secluded in its own parkland. Founded in the 16th century, it preserves a small museum of sacred art. It is situated in one of the great old Breton ports built on the slopes of a steep valley. An 11th century castle and a circuit of walls originally protected the town although little is left of either. In the old part of town, however, the cobbled streets and ancient houses evoke the town’s medieval past.

Brittany’s ancient Celtic name was Armorica – land beside the sea. A seascape comprised of 750 miles of glorious Atlantic coastline it is highlighted by hundreds of bays and inlets rimmed by stunning high cliffs and fine sandy beaches. Small fishing ports where brightly painted boats nestle beneath half-timbered or stone houses dot the entire region. Like many a seafaring place, Brittany is a land of legends, from mysterious megaliths to Merlin the Magician, legends imparted in a tableau of forests and castles and elaborately carved stone churches.

The waters of the English Channel around Roscoff experience a tidal phenomenon. Twice a day coastal landscapes change as the tide goes relentlessly in and out, the result of the combined action of the moon and sun. The gravitational pull that these two heavenly bodies exert on the sea causes the tide to withdraw from the coast. The tide goes back approximately six hours later, covering scenery that just a short time before had been left exposed. When the earth, moon and sun are in syzygy (lined up in a row), a maximum pull results in the extraordinary spring tides. The rise and fall during this time is a rare and magical sight.

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