The region of Auvergne consist of the four French Départments of Allier, Cantal, Haute-Loire and Puy-de-Dôme. The main town is Clermont-Ferrand.
Auvergne, one of the historic provinces of France and since 1960 an administrative region, lies in central France, extending over much of the Massif Central, and takes in four départements (Allier, Cantal, Haute-Loire and Puy-de-Dôme). Its chief town is Clermont-Ferrand. With its distinctive volcanic cones, its ranges of hills rising to almost 1,900m/6,200ft and the valleys between them, varying in form according to the extent of erosion, this is one of the most interesting parts of France. Less developed for tourism than some other regions, it has much to offer the visitor - large nature reserves, thermal springs emerging from the volcanic soil, numerous lakes either volcanic or artificial, rivers and mountain streams, the sources of the Loire, the Allier, the Lot and the Dordogne, excellent winter sports facilities, numbers of fine churches in the characteristic
Auvergnat Romanesque style.
From the economic point of view Auvergne is one of France's problem areas. Its plateaux, largely deforested, are suitable only for extensive agricultural use (dairy farming, producing such well-known cheeses as Fourme d'Ambert, Cantal and St-Nectaire). In the few larger towns like Clermont-Ferrand, St-Etienne, Le Puy, Rodez, Aurillac and Tulle, which lie in a ring around the region, there is some industry, namely metal-processing, pharmaceuticals, uranium mining and coal. Clermont- Ferrand has been a center of the rubber industry since 1832 (Michelin works).
In pre-Roman times the people of Auvergne, the Arverni, occupied a leading place among the Gallic tribes, and it was the Arvernian chief Vercingetorix who led the fight against the Romans (52 B.C.). In 471-475 the region was conquered by the Visigothic king Eurich. From the early 11th century it was a county owing allegiance to France, and the Counts of Auvergne were at times also Margraves of Septimania and Dukes of Aquitaine. In the middle of the 12th century Auvergne was divided into two: one part, which the king had taken into his own hand in 1213 and made a duchy, passed to the Bourbons by marriage in 1425 and to the crown in 1527, while the county, held by the La Tour family from 1422, passed by inheritance to Catherine de Médicis in 1524 and later to Louis XIII.
In northern Auvergne, to the west of Clermont-Ferrand, is a sparsely forested plateau in the Massif Central, lying at over 600m/2,000ft, known as the Chaîne des Puys or Monts Dômes - a 30km/20mi long chain of some 60 extinct volcanic cones (puys, from Latin podium), the best known and highest of which is the Puy de Dôme (1,460m/4,807ft).
To the south of the Monts Dômes are the Monts Dore, a very much older (three million years) volcanic range, shaped by Ice Age erosion, which reaches its highest point in the Puy de Sancy (1886 m/6188ft). Perhaps the finest part of this range is the area round the spa and winter sports resort of Le Mont-Dore (pop. 2,400) with its valleys, waterfalls and lakes.
Farther south again are the Monts du Cantal, the ruins of a huge volcano which was the oldest part of the whole massif (around 20 million years old). Lava from the volcano, which was originally 3,000m/10,000ft high, extended over a radius of 70km/45mi, breaking down into a soil which nourishes fertile pastureland. The highest peak in the range is the Plomb du Cantal (1,858 m/6,096ft).
In the extreme south of Auvergne, between the valleys of the Truyère and the Lot, are the Monts d'Aubrac, a range of basaltic hills.
North of Clermont-Ferrand lies the Limagne basin, a valley of non-volcanic origin traversed by the Allier, with many mineral springs. The plateau is cut by numerous valleys, which form deep gorges like the Gorges de la Sioule, the Vallée des Couzes, the Gorges de la Rhue, the Gorges de l'Allagnon, the Gorges de l'Allier and the Gorges de la Truyère.
The Parc Régional des Volcans, the largest regional nature park in France, with an area of 345,816 hectares/854,165 acres, lies in the heart of Auvergne. The object of this park and of the recently (1984) established Parc Naturel Régional Livradois-Forez is to ensure that the native flora and fauna are not endangered by the increasing numbers of visitors in both summer and winter.