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Part one: Enjoy the charm of the French countryside while partaking of the gastronomic delights of Lyon

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

When I decided to write the monastery book on France, one of the cities I didn’t want to miss was Lyon. It is a history-filled city with art, architecture and of course, wonderful gastronomic delights. The Institution where I stayed is situated on the grounds of a verdant 15-acre parkland on a hill dominating Lyon. Conveniently located on the west side of Lyon, the facility is accessible to the Perrache and Part-Dieu high-speed train stations. Once an old estate built in 1680, it is for all intents and purposes a stone’s throw from Lyon.

While on a mission to Gaul in 43 BC, one of Caesar’s lieutenants founded a Roman colony and named it Lugdunum. It became the capital of Roman Gaul and is now the core of present-day Lyon. Its most provocative artifact from the Roman period is the bronze Claudian Table granting citizens the right to become Roman senators. The table is part of the priceless collection of the Musee de la Civilisation Gallo.

A lovely city in the Rhone Alps, Lyon offers a cornucopia of diversions, from its world famous cuisine to its medieval and Renaissance old square. It is organized into nine arrondissements and the best way to explore the city on foot. Fourviere hill, the “praying hill” is defined by the extravagant 19th century Our Lady of Fourviere Basilica, beloved symbol of the city and a revered place of pilgrimage. Mosaics and stained glass opulently fill the interior. Easy access is provided by a funicular railway, la ficelle, which travels to the top of the hill and amazing views of the city below.

The cost of the rooms is quite reasonable with rates starting at about 35E per person/per night including breakfast.

The cost of the rooms is quite reasonable with rates starting at about 35E per person/per night including breakfast. Other meals can also be arranged for an additional charge. Men and women are welcome. Each single, double and dorm rooms have private baths and views of the park. The institute is accessible to the handicapped.

To be continued…

For more information go to: Monasteries of France









France – Burgundy: Antiquities, fine wine and acclaimed architecture comprise the highlights of this area of this 10th century Basilique

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Palais des ducs de Bourgogne (Dukes of Burgundy's Palace

The Basilique crowns the top of a hill and can be seen from miles away. Its long and turbulent history hasn’t kept it from becoming a resplendent structure of truly imposing dimensions. Founded in the 10th century, it passed under the rule of Cluny in the 11th. UNESCO has recognized the church as a World Heritage Monument. Considered one of the great pilgrimage churches of France, the façade and portals are richly adorned with bas-relief. Beyond the finely sculpted Romanesque interior portals, the columns of the nave are crowned with carved capitals considered masterpieces.

The nearby city of Dijon is Burgundy’s ancient capital as well as its commercial and cultural hub. As the Roman settlement of Divio, it was regularly pillaged and burned. Since the Middle Ages, it has remained untouched. Its old quarter is a network of ancient alleys squeezed between well-restored medieval and Renaissance structures and small squares.

Seat of the flamboyant Dukes of Burgundy, Dijon is centered on the Palais des Ducs. The cobbled courtyards, stone towers and sweeping staircases of the palace house the Musee des beaux Arts, nicknamed “Le Petite Louvre” for its extraordinary wealth of French and Flemish art.

The Jewish community of Dijon dates back to the end of the 12th century when the Jewish quarter consisted of the medieval synagogue and cemetery that was destroyed after the Jews were expelled from France in 1306. A new community was established after the French Revolution. The Musee d’Archeologie preserves an important collection of 12th and 13th century Jewish tombstones. Dedicated in 1879 the synagogue was used as a warehouse during the German occupation. The lovely 19th century edifice was spared from destruction during WWII but the original pews were lost.

From Dijon, the Routes des Grands Crus runs thirty miles in a nearly straight line through the storybook wine villages of the Cote d’Or. Waist-high vines line the edges of the road. The hub of this route is the ancient town of Beaune whose center is a medley of cobbled lanes and alluring squares. Once the region’s main town, its medieval ramparts are still almost intact.

Spend the night or a week at an ancient abbey considered one of the most beautiful Romanesque structures in France and bask in the beauty of the Midi Pyrenees and its lovely, inviting bastides.

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

The abbey-church was a popular stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, in what is now Spain.

The abbey’s church is celebrated for its tympanum depicting the “Last Judgment.” It is embellished with 124 carved figures. There is also a gilded wood reliquary studded with precious stones that is one of the oldest statues of the Christian era.

Nearby Conques is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is among the very few sites in France that can boast such a grand heritage. Stroll through its city streets and take note of the fact that Conques is a place that seems to have traveled through time unchanged. A stop on the route to Santiago de Compostela, the allure of the village is highlighted by its Romanesque -style abbey church. The area encompassing the church is a picture postcard setting of slate-roofed, half-timbered houses.

Close to Conques, Rodez lies on a hill with wide horizons dominated by the late 13th century red sand stone Cathedrale Notre-Dame, an outstanding edifice of northern Gothic style crowned by a 240’ tower. The interior preserves a finely worked 15th century screen, a 16th century “Entombment” in polychrome stone and a double row of sculpted stalls. There is a sense of history in Rodez as seen in the town’s ancient quarter, now a pedestrian zone, retains its old world charm.

Among the main reasons to visit this part of France are the bastides. “new” towns built by feudal lords to attract settlers and soldiers in the 13th century. The bastides  are defined by a central marketplace bordered by arcaded houses, an adjacent church and checkerboard streets. More than three hundred bastides are strewn in an enchanting galaxy across the entire southwestern part of France.  Of special note, no two are alike, yet all share the same basic grid design; a central market and market square with a network of streets and lanes radiating out in perfect symmetry.

The bastide Villefrance-de-Rouergue is a landscape of architectural charm, old world sensibility and charm. A regimented alignment of roofs, narrow lanes, a central arcaded square and a church form the heart of the village. A fortified town, it was founded in 1252 by Alphonse de Poitiers, brother of King Louis IX. The ancient core is overshadowed by the stalwart bulk of Cathedrale Notre-Dame. Built in southern Gothic style, the church is marked by a massive 15th century belfry. The Penitents Noirs Chapel has a gilded wooded altarpiece and 15th century choir stalls.

Montauban is one of the finest and earliest bastides. Built of pink bricks by the Count of Toulouse, it traces its founding to 1144. Also a fortified village, excellent examples of the golden age of the 13th century are obvious in its place Nationale and bishop’s palace, now the Musee Ingres.