Guide to the Loire regions

Côtes d'Auvergne


Attractions


Le Puy-de-Dôme is the dominant peak of the Chaîne-des-Puys

Puy-de-Dôme
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.  


Châteldon

Châteldon
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.   


Towards Riom

Riom
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.  


Châtel-Guyon

Châtel-Guyon
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. 

Château 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.

1 rue des Ramparts
Volvic
T: + 33 4 73 33 53 06
Contact@tournoel.com
www.tournoel.com  


Châteaugay 

Châteaugay
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
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 with’.

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.  


Caves at Aubière

Aubière
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 Auvergne cheese. 

Musée de Vigne et du Vin de Basse Auvergne
Christine Krakowski-Guillot
24 bis, Avenue Jean Noëllet
Aubière
T: + 33 4 73 44 83 50 (mairie)
T: + 33 4 73 27 60 04
F: + 33 4 73 27 91 35
Christine.krakowski@ville-aubiere.fr
www.ville-aubiere.fr
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

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.
Maison de Gergovie
T: + 33 4 73 79 42 98
www.ot-gergovie.fr  

Montpeyroux
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 fortifications. 

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
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.

Vulcania
Situated 15 kilometres west of Clermont-Ferrand, this 57 hectare theme park combines rides with education.
Vulcania Parc Européen du Volcanisme
Route de Mazayes
T: + 33 4 73 19 70 00
bienvenue@vulcania.com
www.vulcania.com


Le 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.

 

Tourist Information Offices:
27 Place de la Fédération
Riom
T: + 33 4 73 38 59 45
www.tourisme-riomlimagne.fr

1 Avenue de l’Europe
Châtel-Guyon
T: + 33 4 73 86 01 17
www.chatel-guyon.fr

Place de la Victoire
Clermont-Ferrand
T: + 33 4 73 98 65 00
www.clermont-fd.com

Place de Général de Gaule
Issoire
T: + 33 4 73 89 15 90


Issoire

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