Welcome to Wednesday! Last week we visiting the beautiful Lourmarin area and today we are continuing on with our wanderlust Wednesday tour, as we are exploring the Auvergne region with the assistance of Fleur Challis Photography.
Exploring the Auvergne Region
The Auvergne region in the centre of France remains one of the most dramatic and mysterious areas – best known for its volcanoes – the Chaine des Puys which make up the Massif Central mountain range.
It has the largest volcanic area in Europe. The volcanoes are dormant, but not extinct, and consequentially the area is full of natural volcanic springs. These are situated with the Natural Regional Park of the Volcanoes of the Auvergne, and the scenic Parc Naturel Regional Livradois-Forez.
The Auvergne consists of four departments, the Allier, Puy de Dome, Cantel and Haute Loire. Clermont Ferrand is the region’s capital, and the largest town in the department, with an imposing black cathedral. Its easy to get around thanks to the town’s tramway system which has been in operation since 2006.
The Allier is in the North, and is probably best known for its famous spa town Vichy, and for being the home of the Vichy government during the second world war.
The Puy de Dome is in the middle, and is largely mountainous, with the Massif Central mountains and the ‘Chaine des Volcans’ offering the 1500 m Puy de Dome as its most famous peak. The most dominant is the Puy de Sancy, which at 1885 metres is the highest point in Central France. Beautiful towns famous for their alleged healing thermal springs are well worth a visit such as Saint Nectaire, Mont Dore, La Bourboule and Volvic, famous of course for its bottled water.
The Cantal area in the south west is the highest of the four departments, with a lot of it at 1000 metres altitude. The department is famous for its cheeses, notably the Bleu d’ Auvergne and Cantal.
The Haute Loire is the driest and sunniest department, very hilly and mountainous, with many forested areas. In the south, the Haute Loire borders the Ardeche and the top of the Cevennes mountains.
The Auvergne is gloriously unspoilt and could perhaps be compared to the Lake District, but without the crowds. You really can walk all day through forests, across countryside, up and down the puys, with perhaps just seeing the odd farmer or local to say “Bonjour” to.
All of the departments in the Auvergne boast stunning, often very dramatic scenery, and if you’re into outdoor pursuits, then this really is the place for you, either in winter or summer. For the really adventurous you could try hang gliding over a volcano, or there are two ski resorts – Puy de Sancy and Plomb de Cantal. Sancy is a fantastic place for mountain biking or hiking in the summer, with a variety of tracks and routes depending on how challenging you like it!
The food in this region is perhaps best described as robust, traditional hearty fare, with an emphasis on local meat, cheeses, and of course it is famous for the Puy Lentil! The region is also well known for its amazing beef – the Salers breed of cattle comes from the Cantal region. The Auvergne does in fact produce 1/4 of France’s AOC cheeses, and local wine is pretty good too, with its AOC Saint Pourcain and AOC Cotes d’Auvergne.
From Calais, the region is approximately 7-8 hours drive.
By train, the region is 3 hours from Paris, or two hours from Lyon. You can fly from to the capital Clermont Ferrand from London Stansted, Paris, Lyon, Porto, and Amsterdam. Ryan Air offer low cost direct flights during the summer.
Where to go:
The Chaine des Puys
The Chaine des Puys consist of a series of distinctive peaks, including more than 80 domes and craters which here erupted between 100,000 and 7,000 years ago, forming a chain stretching approximately 30 kilometres.
The distinctive shapes are easy to recognise even from some distance away. The highest point is the Puy de Dome at 4,806 ft which can be reached either by foot or the Panoramique des Domes rack railway for a panoramic view of the volcanoes, and overlooking the capital of the Auvergne, Clermont Ferrand.
The Massif du Sancy is a steep sided range of hills strewn with volcanic lakes, and is the result of the complex geological activity that occurred on the site between 4-5 million years ago and 250,000 years ago. The Puy de Sancy at 6,184 ft is the tallest point in the Massif Central.
The area has hundreds of kilometres of marked trails around lakes – Chambon, Guery, Servieres or in the Chaudefour Nature Reserve. Head to the Auvergne Tourism Agency for further information.
The views from the top of Sancy really are breathtaking, and the climb to the top is well worth it – the air feels so clean and invigorating – you can walk up or take the cable car for most of it, with a short climb to the top from there. The base is accessed via the beautiful town of Mont Dore, well worth a visit.
Fantastic walking, hiking, skiing, kayaking and mountain biking opportunities are to be found across the Auvergne – it is a great place to visit whatever the season – summers tend to be hot, with very cold winters – temperatures can get as low as – 20 C or more.
Vichy is the second largest town in the Auvergne, situated on the river Allier. Vichy is a very elegant spa resort, with its art deco architecture and thermal spas.
The hilltop town of St Flour is perched dramatically atop a volcanic outcrop, with basalt columns surrounding the city, linking the upper and lower towns. Surrounded by beautiful countryside, its great a base for walking and exploring historical and cultural activities.
The Auvergne produces some of the great cheeses, such as Bleu d’Auvergne – strong blue cheese made with raw cows milk from cows grazing in the Cantal and Puy de Dome, Saint Nectaire, Cantal and Salers. Follow the signs for the “Route des Fromages” to taste some of it, meet the producers and farmers along the way, and make some purchases!
Vulcania is a volcanic theme park set amidst 57 hectares of protected landscape. It offers the opportunity to learn all about the volcanoes right in the heart of it. Great for kids.
If you are visiting for winter sports or thermal spa treatments, La Bourboule and Mont Dore have both been established centres since the 19th Century.
The countryside is perfect for walking with its acres of forestry, lakes, and trails. Horseriding is a fantastic way to see the area.
In the Autumn, mushrooming is a great past-time, and the wild mushrooms are delicious. The local pharmacies are on hand for advice if there is any doubt about if they are edible!
The amazing Garabit Viaduct is a railway arch bridge spanning the river Truyere near Ruynes-en-Margaride, Cantal, in the Massif Central region. The bridge was constructed by Gustave Eiffel and was opened in 1855.
Romanesque art and heritage – the region has more than 250 buildings and the Romanesque heritage in the region is one of the richest in France and Europe. There are 5 major Romanesque churches of the Auvergne, noted for the uniformity and purity of their architectural style. The Notre-Dame-de-Port is located in the capital Clermont Ferrand, listed as UNESCO World Heritage.
Where to stay:
Ideal for honeymoons:
Upmarket B&B at the Chateau Royal de Saint Saturnin in the Puy de Dome
Stunning art deco hotel, gourmet restaurant with cookery classes available; in a city location, close to the region’s capital of Clermont Ferrand
15th Century moated Chateau with a sumptuous modern interior, close to Vichy
Rustic B&B in a quiet village, offering authentic, good value accommodation in the heart of the Auvergne. Optional Table d’hôte, including local dishes such as truffade, and fresh Cantal cheese from the neighbour’s farm.
Where to eat:
Local specialities in the region’s capital Clermont Ferrand – Lard et la Maniere
Traditional yet creative menu in the Cantal countryside, this hotel and restaurant serves specialities such as local Salers beef and Romanage Trout
Modern french cuisine in the heart of Vichy, La Truffade