to the Loire regions
Puy-de-Dôme is the dominant peak of the Chaîne-des-Puys
The Puy-de-Dôme is the instantly recognisable
volcano which lends its name to the département.
At 1,465 metres, it is dominates the skyline to the west of
Clermont-Ferrand and is used by the locals as a gauge for the daily
weather; if it is clear during the morning, then chances are it will be
fine for the rest of the day, but if capped by cloud, it generally signals
that rain, or winter snow, is on its way. It is also normal in winter for
it to be below freezing in Clermont-Ferrand whilst (due to the phenomenon
of temperature inversion) the top of the Puy-de-Dôme is
20˚centigrade warmer and bathed in sunshine, as the colder (and
therefore heavier) air tumbles down from the slopes.
Situated 15 kilometres south of the spa town of
Vichy, this village enjoys a reputation for its naturally carbonated
mineral water, although it once had its own thriving wine industry. The
village itself has medieval origins with fortifications dating back to the
13th and 14th Century. It also has its own 13th
Century Château, which was once owned by Pierre Laval, the Prime Minister
of the notorious Vichy Government, who was born in the village.
Riom is a somber place, full of black stone houses.
Set out in a formal grid system, following a redesign within the original
medieval walls during the late 15th Century, a ring-road
circles the town where the walls once stood. The Romanesque church,
dedicated to Saint-Amable, dominates the centre and forms its focal point.
Takes its name from Château de Guy, after Guy II,
the comte d’Auvergne between
1194 and 1222 who constructed a stronghold on a hill in order to protect
the city of Riom. It’s a classic 19th Century spa town of
around 6,000 Brayauds, the name
given to the local inhabitants. Between May and October the population
doubles as it attracts visitors from all over France who come to take the
waters and seek treatment for various ailments. From the Medieval heart,
the spas were developed separately, in a wooded glade, and it is from here
that its twelve warm springs spout foul tasting waters rich in magnesium
chlorate; the highest concentration of any in Europe.
de Tournoël, Volvic
This is one of the most picturesque scenes in the
Auvergne. The feudal château sits on top of a volcanic mound, just
outside the town of Volvic, and enjoys fine views that extend along the Chaîne-des-Puys
and down onto the Limagne plain. From the outside it looks intact, but on
close inspection what remains is little more than a shell, following two
hundred years of pillaging by local builders in search of a ready source
of materials. The origins of the chateau go back as far as the 11th
Century to the Counts of Auvergne, although the original fortification was
destroyed early on following a raid by King Philippe Auguste in 1213. What
is visible today are the ruins of a château that was established in the
13th Century, but battered in history by a succession of
marauding warring factions. It was badly attacked by the Catholic League
in 1594 during the Wars of Religion and again in 1632, when it was
captured by Gaston d’Orléans in his battle with Richelieu. Centuries of
neglect and harsh weather have left it in a poor state, although the
current owners, who purchased the château in 2000, are slowly attempting
to restore it. The château is open for visits. Consult the website for
prices and opening times.
rue des Ramparts
T: + 33 4 73 33 53 06
Châteaugay is a fine hilltop village, eight
kilometres north of Clermont-Ferrand, which sits on top of a basalt ridge
looking down over the Michelin testing track and with distant views across
the Limagne plain to the Monts du Forez on the opposite slopes. It is best
viewed in the morning as the sun strikes its 14th Century Château.
It was erected in 1381 by Pierre de Giac, Chancellor
to Charles VI, and embellished in the 15th Century during the
Renaissance. It passed from the Giac family to that of Lacqueuille who
kept it until the Revolution when it was seized by the state and renamed
Bel-Air. Like at Tournoël, it looks intact from a distance, but whilst
some of the building is occupied, it’s essentially in ruin, although
open to visit. Elsewhere on the outskirts of the town, is the Rue des
Caves, a network of old caves dug into the volcanic rock. Built originally
for winemaking and storage, they were used as prisons during the reign of
Napoleon I. One or two are still occupied, notably by local vigneron,
Roland Rougeyron, who uses them for storage.
Clermont-Ferrand is the capital of the département
of Puy-de-Dôme and the only city of any significance in the whole of the
Auvergne Region. It is a major industrial centre of around 250,000
inhabitants as well as being, since 1830, the home of the Michelin tyre
man. Although still not one of France’s most desirable destinations, I
suspect much has changed since Englishman Arthur Young, a distinguished
man of letters, visited the city in 1789, finding it to be ‘One
of the worst built, dirtiest, and most stinking places I have ever met
The city has two main attractions, the first, the church of Notre Dame du
Port is believed by many to be the finest example of Auvergne Romanesque
architecture, whilst the cathedral of Notre Dame d’Assomption is made of
black volcanic rock. Its foundations date back to the 5th
Century, although its Gothic and Romanesque influences come from the 12th
and 13th Centuries.
This would have once been a thriving village
community made up of countless wine growers, but is little now more that
an industrial southern suburb of Clermont. It’s worth a visit if only to
view the network of 800 separate caves, unique within France that would
have all at some point in history been occupied by vignerons.
They stand on a hillside, in the Rue des Grandes Caves and the Rue du
Paradis, due, apparently, to the high water table found below the town
itself. Today, the caves are mostly graffiti-covered and abandoned, with
some beginning to collapse, whilst a few are still in use for the raising
of wine and the affinage of
de Vigne et du Vin de Basse Auvergne
24 bis, Avenue Jean Noëllet
T: + 33 4 73 44 83 50 (mairie)
T: + 33 4 73 27 60 04
F: + 33 4 73 27 91 35
A wine museum has been established in the town in
cellars that date back to around 1660 and once belonged to Gilberte de la
Roche-Brillant, who christened them with the name Cave à Madame. It is full of objects associated with the vine and
wine from the late 19th Century and visits are combined with
tastings and sales of local wines. It opens every day from mid May to mid
October and has limited weekend opening times in the winter months.
Unfortunately (and bizarrely), it is not possible to visit as a private
individual, but only through an organised tour, for which there is a
modest entrance fee.
View from the Plateau de Gergovie
This broad, long 734 metre high basalt plateau was
created by a lava flow and dominates the southern flanks of
Clermont-Ferrand. It was once the hill fort of the Arverni tribe under the
command of Vercingétorix and, in 52BC, the site of a famous Gallic
victory over Caesar who lost 700 Legionnaires in the battle. Until 1862,
when its camp was excavated under the orders of Napoléon III, it was
known as the Plateau de Merdogne. Apart from the commanding views of the
Limagne plain and Clermont-Ferrand, there is a museum here and a 26 metre
high monument, crafted from Volvic lava and erected in 1900, dedicated to
the Gallic leader.
Plateau de Gergovie
T: + 33 4 73 79 42 98
Listed, justifiably, as ‘One of the Most Beautiful
Villages of France’, Montpeyroux is situated just off the main
Clermont-Ferrand to Issoire motorway and can be clearly seen from the
road. It stands on its own small dome, surrounded by medieval
The village is constructed from arkose granite, the local
reddish tinged stone that glows in the late evening sun. At its centre
there is a pretty little Romanesque church and a tower dungeon which dates
back to 12th Century and can be visited for a modest fee.
Abandoned vineyard terraces, which span its southern slopes, have lovely
views down to the fast running Allier below. There are a couple of places
here to eat and stay (see eating and sleeping section) and the village is
well worth dedicating a couple of hours to walk around and enjoy.
Issoire is located on the river Couze, its medieval
centre set within what was once a walled citadel. The walls have long
gone, replaced instead by a busy inner ring-boulevard with streets that
radiate inwards like wheel spokes to the central place,
filled on Saturdays with market stalls. Issoire has existed since before
the time of Charlemagne, when it was famous as a centre for learning,
although most of the old town was destroyed during the Wars of Religion in
the 17th Century.
The town is a worthy detour, if only to see the old Benedictine abbey of
Saint-Austermoine, one of the great Romanesque churches of the Auvergne.
It is named after the founder, the first bishop of the Arverni
tribe, who built a place or worship here in the 3rd Century.
Partly restored, the exterior carries fine sculptures and mosaics
depicting the signs of the zodiac, whilst the interior is strikingly
decorated, with its intense red painted columns with detailed motifs being
added in the mid 19th Century. One column, laded in images of
grape bunches, is testament to the importance of the vine in the communes
around the town during this time.
Boudes – Vallée des Saints
A geological site and local curiosity that is
signposted within the village. Access is on foot and requires a stiff walk
up the hill behind the town, before following a trail into narrow valley.
Here, weird statuesque pinnacles have been formed by the natural erosion
of the red Sidérolithique clays, giving it the alternative name of the Petit Colorado (as in Grand Canyon). A hot water spring that is the
source of the river Chaudron has been a site venerated as a place of
pilgrimage since the time of the Gauls.
Situated 15 kilometres west of Clermont-Ferrand,
this 57 hectare theme park combines rides with education.
Parc Européen du Volcanisme
Route de Mazayes
T: + 33 4 73 19 70 00
Parc Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne – At 400,000 hectares, this is the
largest national park in France, stretching between Clermont-Ferrand and
Aurillac to the west, but is centred on the Puy-de-Dôme.
Place de la Fédération
Tourist Information Offices:
T: + 33 4 73 38 59 45
1 Avenue de l’Europe
T: + 33 4 73 86 01 17
Place de la Victoire
T: + 33 4 73 98 65 00
Place de Général de Gaule
T: + 33 4 73 89 15 90