Short films, hot springs, and plenty of cheese

My epic weekend in Auvergne (a region in central France which is home to a string of dormant volcanoes, numerous former French presidents, and one of the coolest girls I know – my friend Sofia!) really began on Friday night, when I nearly missed my 3 1/2 hour train from Paris to Clermont-Ferrand, and ended up eating Oreos for dinner. Luckily for me, this was the last bit of processed food I ate all weekend, because Auvergne is home to some of the best food in France!

It all started at breakfast, which consisted of fresh brioche, homemade jams (made by Sofia’s dad!), and homemade yogurt (made by Sofia’s brother!) Really, I have never met a family with so many culinary talents, and as a result a took pictures of every single meal I ate with them. I am sure they found this very odd but, in my opinion, great art must be documented!

The view from Sofia’s home in Tallende



After breakfast, Sofia and I met our friend Valentin at the train station and we set off on a tour of Clermont-Ferrand’s old town and cathedral, before checking out a session of the city’s international short film festival (we got the usual eclectic mix of Parisian gigolos and animated foxes). Perhaps more memorable than the films themselves was the elderly woman sitting in the row in front of us, who casually answered her cell phone and carried on an extended conversation with her friend, despite the repeated shushing of the entire theater. I guess when you reach a certain age, you simply stop caring about what other people think!

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Looking good, despite the 50 mph winds.
So many interesting characters, both on screen and off!

Next it was time for lunch at Sofia’s, where I fawned over everything from the cheese, to the squash and carrot soup, to the spinach and lardon quiche, to the raspberry tart with vanilla ice cream…actually, I am still fawning over that lunch! Once we stuffed ourselves with all that deliciousness, we drank some tea and played some pretty competitive card games (which I mostly lost, of course).

France’s future top hand model.


All this eating and relaxation turned out to be very necessary, because next we changed into an unusual combination of winter coats and swimsuits and journeyed to the  hot springs in the mountains about 45 minutes north of Tallende. I had never swam in hot springs before, but once we arrived even I could tell that these were the most hipster hot springs in existence. To get there we walked down a muddy forest path until we came upon what looked like a Cold War-era steel bunker next to a roaring river. Then, in near-freezing temperatures and rain, we (courageously, I thought) took off our clothes and descended down a ladder into this bunker, where the hot thermal water rushed mysteriously out of the mountain. Inside it was completely awesome; the water was hotter than the average jacuzzi and the outside air so cold and fresh that I never wanted to leave. We stayed until it was almost too dark to see and then dressed as fast as we could (I just threw on a towel and my coat) and ran up to the car. It was such a cool experience, I wish I had some pictures, but regardless I know I won’t forget it anytime soon!

By this time we were growing increasingly hungry, so we went to a traditional Auvergne restaurant called Auberge de l’Âne. I’m sure we (or at least I) looked like we had just trekked for days in the wilderness, but all I cared about was eating some delicious truffade, which Wikipedia defines as “a sort of thick pancake made with thinly sliced potatoes that are slowly cooked on goose fat until tender, then mixed with thin strips of tome fraîche”. It was a gooey symphony of cheese and saucisson, which we probably needlessly followed by a sweet dessert of œufs à la neige. In short, it was a perfect meal with good wine and even better friends.

Before truffade: Smiling on the outside, hangry on the inside.
But then dinner arrives…
…and we are deliriously happy!

On the way home we drove through some beautiful starlit villages complete with castles and Romanesque churches, and spent the rest of the evening eating (again?!) Sofia’s delicious banana cookies, watching a bit of the French version of the Voice, and playing some more card games. The weekend was only halfway over and already it was for me the best Saturday of 2016!

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