The Auvergne (Dennis Aubrey)


I hate to interrupt Ann’s series of interviews with George Hoelzeman, but I thought that a quick report from France would be acceptable. We left the Provençal south of Arles and Roussillon and returned to one of our favorite areas, the Auvergne, in particular, the Puy-de-Dôme. Words can’t do justice to the beauty of the spring countryside with its fields of yellow dandelions, meadows, volcanic peaks and herds of cattle blending peacefully under a deep blue sky.

The high meadows of the Auvergne

We stay at one of our favorite small hotels, and in this case, with only three rooms, the La Cour Carree in Perrier barely qualifies as a lodging. It is, in reality, a wonderful restaurant with lovely rooms to make it convenient to eat here day after day. Once the domicile of a local winemaker, La Cour Carree has been elegantly arranged around a little shaded courtyard. The cuisine of Jean-Luc Villette is superb; always made with local ingredients and according to the local traditions and the gracious and friendly Mme. Villette runs the hotel.

The courtyard of La Cour Carree

When you eat there, try the wines of Annie Sauvat, a local vigneron whose wines of Boudes are featured at the restaurant. If you’re ever in the area, give La Cour Carree a try. Here is there information:

La Cour Carrée
17, Avenue du Tramot.
63500 Perrier

Of course, there is also a feast of Romanesque churches in the region. This time we are shooting old favorites — Saint Austremoine in Issoire, Saint Julien in Brioude, Saint Nectaire, and Notre Dame d’Orcival. We also went into Clermont-Ferrand to shoot the newly restored Notre Dame du Port, which is the sine qua non of Auvergante Romanesque, but PJ and I were both a bit disappointed by the recent renovations. Once a dark lady of the sonnets, she is now a bright spring maiden.

The restored Notre Dame du Port

Saint Austremoine in Issoire is a glory; colorful and bold, restored in the fashion that I always imagine PJ would have done the work. The decoration is based on the still-existing medieval remnants, and very well may be the closest representation of what some of these churches looked like in the middle ages; not dark and forbidding, but bright and welcoming.

Side aisle of the Abbatiale Saint Austremoine, Issoire

Brioude is another beautiful, brightly colored basilica, but this has less to do with the painting on the walls and pillars than with the (to my mind) wonderful modern stained glass that makes the space dance and caper in the changing light.

The explosions of color in the vaults of Saint Julien de Brioude

Saint Nectaire is another of our favorites, partly because of Notre Dame de Mont Cornadore, a wonderful vierge romane that resides in the basilica. But it is a great example of the Auvergne style of Romanesque, even if is is slightly too clean for my taste after its own recent renovation.

Looking back on the nave at the wonderful church in Saint Nectaire

Finally, from Orcival, not the church itself but the stunning Notre Dame des Fers, a vierge who known world-wide as one of the great examples of the Auvergne virgins. She is not simply painted, as in most of those found here, but covered in silver plate. She was once considered a Black Madonna, but after restoration, she was restored to her natural polychrome.

Notre Dame des Fers, Orcival, solace to the imprisoned

Tomorrow, we return to Madame Geille and Heume l’Eglise, both of whom PJ has written so eloquently in an earlier post, and then on to the Dordogne and the Abbey church of Souillac. More to come!

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