LivingTravelThe Auvergne region of France

The Auvergne region of France

Auvergne, in the heart of France, is one of the country’s hidden destinations, long separated from the rest of the country by its mountains, forests and wild landscapes. Today it remains a region still largely intact. Romanesque churches with black Madonnas, gorges to traverse and valleys to hike, rivers to fish and swim and remote plains for cross-country skiing – this is the Auvergne, a beautiful region where the skies are pure and full of stars at night.

About the Auvergne region of France

The Auvergne is the core of the vast Massif Central in central France. It is a region of contrasts, stretching from Moulins in the rich northern Bourbonnais region to Le Puy-en-Velay and Aurillac in the south of the much poorer and more rural Haire-Loire. It is a wonderful and wild part of France made up of now extinct volcanoes, or puys , that run from the Puy-de-Dome in the north-west of the Cantal to the south-west, making this the largest volcanic region in Europe. Heavily wooded, the dramatic slopes are dotted with river valleys: the Allier, the Loire rising on the slopes of the Gerbier de Jonc and the Dordogne rising from the Monts-Dore.

Still relatively undiscovered by tourists, it is a place to hike the high plateau and descend into the rivers, observe some of the most beautiful landscapes in France, and visit cities with pure medieval architecture. It is also one of the great starting points for pilgrimages to Santiage de Compostela, from Le Puy-en-Velay. Made up of the four departments of Allier, Puy-de-Dome, Cantal and Haute Loire, Auvergne is worth discovering.

In the reorganization of the regions in 2016, Auvergne became part of a larger region, Auvergne-Rhône-Alps. It was feared that the wealthiest neighbor would swallow up the Auvergne, but the former right-wing and effective mayor of Le Puy en Velay is now director of the entire region, so more funds could be available for the Auvergne.

Arriving in the Auvergne

Clermont-Ferrand is the largest town in Auvergne and is an ideal starting point for a holiday in the area.

  • Clermont Airport is in Aulnat, 7 kilometers (3.5 miles) east of the city center. The airport has connections to Paris Orly or Charles de Gaulle, Lyon, Nice, Corsica and other European cities, but only from May to October flights to Southampton from Flybe.
  • Clermont-Ferrand is 423 kilometers (262 miles) from Paris and the drive takes around 4 hours.
  • If you are coming from the UK by car, take the ferry to Calais. From Calais to Clermont, the distance is 720 kms (448 miles), so it is best to interrupt the journey. Either take the longer route avoiding Paris and stay in Reims or Troyes en Champagne, or consider combining it with a visit to the Loire Valley and its castles and gardens.

Auvergne cities

Clermont-Ferrand, the most important city in the region, is better known as the home of Michelin tires. But it is an ancient city that dates back to Roman times. It has a charming medieval quarter where Clermont’s reputation as a villa noire (black city) is evident. The cathedral was built from the region’s black basalt volcanic rock, as were many of the old buildings on the winding streets. There is a lot to see like the Michelin adventure (Michelin’s surprisingly fascinating museum); there’s good shopping, an annual International Short Film Festival in late January / early February that is the largest of its kind in the world, and a lively and growing nightlife.


Cities north of Clermont Ferrand

Moulins. On the banks of the River Allier, 90 kms (55 miles) north of Clermont, Moulins is the charming capital of the fertile Bourbonnais region. It has a medieval cathedral with wonderful stained glass windows, a Black Madonna, a magnificent triptych by the Master of Moulins, probably painted in 1498, some notable museums, and the famous Scène National Costume Center (National Center for Costume), which has just opened a section of Nureyev, showing the costumes and personal belongings of the great dancer.

Vichy. Known for the puppet government of Marshal Pétain during WWII and for its famous springs, Vichy, 50 kilometers north of Clermont-Ferrand, is a charming and fairly quiet town with beautiful buildings from belle époque , Art Nouveau and Art Deco .

Ciudades al sur de Clermont-Ferrand

St-Nectaire is made up of two parts: the old village of St-Nectaire-le-Haut with a Romanesque church and the small spa of St-Nectaire-le-Bas. Is more famous for its cheese Saint Nectarios and its belle epoque strange city hotels has a faded grandeur that leads directly to the 19th century.

Aurillac in the Cantal has two great claims of fame: the manufacture of umbrellas and its extraordinary Street Theater Festival in August. But it’s also full of old, winding streets lined with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants that keep the city alive all year long.

St-Flour in the Cantal, just 92 kms (57 miles) south of Clermont, is a charming old town with a long history. It was the seat of a bishopric 14th -Century and became important during the Middle Ages. The city has a cathedral with an impressive interior and a bishop’s palace that houses the Museum of Upper Auvergne with furniture and musical instruments. There is a very good market here on Saturday mornings.

Le Puy-en-Velay is dominated by extraordinary monuments perched on the rock spiers that rise from the city: the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the terracotta Madonna, the Chapel of Saint Michael and a vast statue of Saint Joseph. It was once a deeply religious city, one of the great medieval starting points for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It is also famous for lace, lentils, and verveina (verbena) that the local Pagès distillery uses as their best-known flavored alcoholic beverage.

Top Attractions in Auvergne

The Chaîne des Puys offers spectacular scenery, mineral waters such as Volvic Spring and the Regional National Park of the Volcanoes crowned by the Puy-de-Dôme that the extremely energetic can hike.

In the southern part, take the Plomb du Cantal cable car from the Le Lioran resort for a spectacular view of the mountains.

Vulcania is a magnificent theme park dedicated to volcanoes. Interactive and definitely dramatic, there’s a 3D movie about the eruptions in Auvergne, a Dragon Walk, and more. It is at the foot of the Puy de Lemplegy, just 26 kms (16 miles) west of Clermont-Ferrand.

More about theme parks in France.

Tourist train through the gorges of Allier . Take the train from Langeac to Langogne through the fabulous gorges of the Allier and the national park. In the 2-hour journey, the train goes through 53 tunnels and snakes alongside the Allier River.

Mont Mouchet Museum of the Resistance. Follow the story of the Maquis resistance in June 1944, which raised German divisions on its way north to Normandy and the D-Day landings.

Sports in the Auvergne . The area has something for everyone. You can go rafting, cross-country skiing, hot air ballooning, kayaking, swimming, cycling and walking along the well-marked large randonées (numbered GR routes). Check with each local city and town for information.

Auvergne food

The Auvergne is not the place for subtle and refined food. This was a peasant culture and the food is suitably robust. The best-known dish is pot é e auvergnate , a kind of pot-au-feu made from cabbage, potatoes, bacon, beans, and turnips. Chou farci is cabbage stuffed with beef and pork. Equally filling is l’aligot , mashed potatoes mixed with cheese.

The cheese is very good, from St. Nectaire cow’s milk to Bleu d’Auvergne and taking Laguiole, Cantal and Fourme d’Ambert. Local sausages made from pork are also worth buying and there are endless varieties of wonderful honey from bees that live in the forests and fields of the region.

Where to stay

The most interesting hotel in the region is the Chateau de Codignat, 40 kms (24 miles) east of Clermont-Ferrand. It is a wonderfully romantic castle hotel with a very good restaurant located in the middle of nowhere.

There are a number of very good bed and breakfasts; check with local tourist offices for lists and information.

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