The French connection

Asked why Asheville needed a sister city in France, Barbara Hodgson says she’s had two great loves since she was a child: opera and all things French. Add in her travels in the country as an adult and a stint with the American Field Service during which she hosted French people at her Asheville home, and it’s no surprise that in the mid-1990s, Hodgson lobbied Asheville City Council to choose Saumur, a town of about 30,000 in France’s Loire Valley.

Mushroom museum, s’il vous plait: Saumur—and much of the Loire Valley—is known for its mushroom production. Hence the museum visited by one of the first Asheville Sister Cities delegations, pictured here. Photo courtesy Barbara Hodgson

In 1996, Saumur became Asheville’s third sister city.

Since then, Asheville/Saumur projects have included youth programs, culinary exchanges, social/cultural gatherings and university programs, says Hodgson. “You learn so much about other cultures—more than you would from reading a newspaper,” she maintains, showing photos of manicured gardens, the Cadre Noir (a world-famous equestrian school), an excursion to a mushroom museum (much of France’s supply is cave-grown in the area), wine tastings and a visit to a French hospital. “They believe that lots of light and [indoor] plants foster better health,” notes the retired nurse.

In 1999 and 2000, local boys’ and girls’ basketball teams participated in Saumur’s Jeanne d’Arc International Basketball Tournament, adds Hodgson. Also in 2000, six city officials from Saumur visited Asheville, taking home such ideas as creating their own Health Adventure (though the project has been stalled by funding shortages). Another trip—requested by Saumur officials—focused on environmental issues facing the city, she reports.

There have been culinary exchanges, too: Saumur has the Lycée Jean Bertin Culinary School, similar to A-B Tech’s culinary technology program, Hodgson points out.

Meanwhile, the Université Catholique de l’Ouest, near Saumur, has developed partnerships with UNCA and Warren Wilson College, she says. Hodgson hopes a scholarship program will evolve, with help from Rotary International branches in the two cities.

Having visited several of Asheville’s other sister cities, Hodgson emphasizes that it’s all about promoting world peace, which starts with meeting and getting to know each other, she says. “Each city is different, with different interests and different needs,” she adds.

This summer, watch for an Asheville celebration of Bastille Day, more culinary exchanges and plans for a Saumur trip. Vive la France!

Info: Asheville Sister Cities Inc., 33 Page Ave., Asheville NC 28802 (

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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