The French rail system makes the country and its history a day-tripper’s delight in this enchanting travelogue. Historian Caro (The Road from the Past: Traveling Through French History) recounts daylong outings from her Paris base camp to points near, by Métro, or far, by high-speed train. French architecture and civilization unfold through the buildings and towns she visits: churches progress from the first Gothic cathedral at St.-Denis to the secular temple of the Panthéon; grim medieval fortresses give way to airy Loire chateaus and splendiferous baroque palaces. Writing with a keen eye for the design and atmospherics of these places and their surroundings (especially local restaurants), Caro makes them way stations on a sprightly tour of French history, regaling readers with piquant stories of the people who built, conquered, and remodeled them. Almost despite itself, the book is a seductive evocation of the ancien régime: aristocrats were rapacious brutes, Caro allows, but she can’t resist their castles, tastes, and sexual intrigues. ("'Kill him! Here, take my garters and strangle the wretch,’" was the sentence Marguerite de Valois pronounced to one lover who murdered another.) The result is a charming, rapturous guide to la Belle France that tells you where to go—and why. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/28/2011 Release date: 06/01/2011 Genre: Nonfiction
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