Auvergne Attractions

Parc Regional des VolcansParc Regional des Volcans

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

Aurillac, France

Aurillac, the old capital of Auvergne (pop. 30,551) has a picturesque old town which grew up round the abbey of St-Géraud, founded in the 10th century and rebuilt after its destruction in the mid 17th century The first French Pope, Silvester II (Gerbert; 10th-11th century), came from its monastic school. The church of Notre-Dame- des-Neiges (14th century, restored in 17th century) has a fine 17th century Black Virgin. The 19th century Château St-Etienne, which has a wing dating from the 11th century, now houses the Maison des Volcans, with a collection of minerals and displays illustrating volcanic activity.

Alleuze, France

The ruined castle of Alleuze (13th C) lies south of St-Flour in a setting of great beauty.
Alleuze became a base for the bishops in this area of Saint-Flour. The castle was built on the top of a hill in a valley, providing great views.

Bort-les-Orgues, France

The little town of Bort-les-Orgues (pop. 3,534), prettily situated in the Dordogne valley, has a church of the 12th-15th centuries. Near the east end of the church are remains of the old town walls. 3km/2mi to the southwest are the "organ-pipes" from which it takes its name - massive columns of phonolite 80-100m/260-330ft high extending for some 2km/1.5mi. The Barrage de Bort pounds water from the Dordogne and its tributaries, forming a reservoir with a capacity of 477million cu. m (105 billion gallons). On the bank of the lake (water-sports) stands the 15th century Château de Val.
Bort is also a good setting-out point for the Dordogne Gorges as far as the Barrage de l'Aigle, a reservoir some 85km/53mi southwest.

Brioude, France

Brioude (pop. 6,818) lies in the plain of the Allier. The Basilique St-Julien (11th-12th century) is the largest Romanesque church in Auvergne, with multi-colored masonry, frescoes in the porch and the nave, and richly decorated capitals. Also in the town is the recently opened Maison du Saumon, a large salmon aquarium.

La Chaise-Dieu, France

Between Le Puy and Thiers is La Chaise-Dieu (from Latin Casa Dei, the House of God), with the most celebrated church in Auvergne. A monastery was founded here in the 11th C and rapidly grew. The three-aisled church of St-Robert, built in the 14th C, has a Gothic cloister. The interior, with shallow vaulting, is divided into two by a Late Gothic rood screen (15th C). The choir, which has carved oak stalls (15th C), contains the tomb of Pope Clement VI. The church also has fine early 16th C Brussels and Arras tapestries and a famous wall painting, 26m/85ft long, of the "Danse Macabre" (15th C). The little walled town of Conques (pop. 500), on the southwestern borders of Auvergne, is huddled around the beautiful Romanesque church of Ste-Foy (11th-12th C).

Clermont-Ferrand, France

Issoire, France

In Issoire is the church of St-Austremoine (12th C), the largest Romanesque church in Auvergne after St-Julien in Brioude. The choir has polychrome mosaic and sculptural decoration.

Moulins, France

The town of Moulins (pop. 22,667), which grew up in the 10th century around a castle, takes its name from the many mills which once lined the Allier. In the 14th century it became the chief town of the district of Bourbonnais, which was raised to the status of a duchy. In the center of the picturesque old part of the town is the Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville, in which is the Belfry (1455), with a remarkable jacquemart ("Jack-o'-the-clock", a clock with animated figures). The Musée de Folklore et du Vieux Moulins displays old craftsmen's tools, a model of a peasant's house, traditional costumes and furniture.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame has a late 15th C choir in Flamboyant style and a 19th C nave. The ambulatory has fine 15th and 16th C stained glass, and in the sacristy is the famous triptych by the Master of Moulins (late 15th C). Opposite the cathedral is the Tour Mal Coiffée, the keep of the old ducal castle, of which the Pavillon d'Anne de Beaujeu on its north side was also a part. The Pavillon now contains an interesting museum of art and archeology. To the north of the cathedral is the mausoleum of Duke Henry II of Montmorency (1653).

Orcival, France

25km/15mi southwest of Clermont-Ferrand, between the Monts Dômes and the Monts Dore, is the village of Orcival, which grew up round the church of Notre-Dame, founded by the abbey of La Chaise-Dieu in the 12th century and partly rebuilt in the 15th and 19th centuries. This is one of the finest Romanesque churches in Auvergne. In the choir is a much revered 12th century statue of the Virgin enthroned. Near the village is the Château of Cordes (15th and 17th century), with gardens laid out by Le Nôtre.

Le Puy, France

Puy de Dôme

A fantastic view of the Chaine de Puys, with the craters from their ancient volcanic activities now covered with pastures of rolling grass, can be obtained from the peak of the Puy de Dôme.
Pascal also conducted one of his two experiments that proved the existence of a vacuum.

Puy de Pariou

This young volcanic crater still shows signs of the lava flow that erupted from it.

Puy de la Vache

Puy de la Vache is a volcanic crater noted for its long ridge of volcanic rock that was formed when one side of the crater broke, releasing a flood of lava.

Puy de Sancy

The highest peak in Auvergne and in the Massif Central, the Puy de Sancy (1,886m/6,188ft), can be reached with the help of a cableway, from which it is a 20-minute climb to the summit (wide-ranging views). The Dordogne rises in the Puy de Sancy massif.

Riom, France

The old town of Riom (pop. 19,324), on the western edge of the fertile Limagne basin, was for many years capital of Auvergne, and is still one of its major towns.

Sainte-Chapelle

In the northwest of Riom old town, now ringed by boulevards, is the Palais de Justice (Law Courts), on the site of the old castle of the Dukes of Berry. The Sainte Chapelle (1382-1388), all that survives of the castle, has three fine 15th century windows in the choir. Northeast of the Palais de Justice is the Musée Régional d'Auvergne (folk art, everyday objects, furniture). The town's main street is the Rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville, in which are a number of handsome old houses and the Musée Mandet (1640), with a collection of pictures. The 16th century Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) has a beautiful courtyard and contains memorabilia on the history of the town, and the Maison des Consuls (1530) has a richly sculptured facade. Near the Carrefour de Taules, the main street intersection, are a clock-tower (15th and 16th century) and the 16th century Hôtel Guimoneau, which has an attractive courtyard.

St-Amable

The church of St-Amable has some Auvergnat Romanesque features (nave and transepts; 12th century) and Gothic elements in the choir (13th century). The facade was added in the 18th century. The church of Notre-Dame du Marthuret (14th-15th century), to the south of the old town, has fine 15th and 16th century windows. In a chapel on the south side of the church is the "Virgin with the Bird", a fine piece of 14th century sculpture.

Surroundings

Mozac

1km/0.75mi west of Riom is Mozac, with a fine 12th century church in Auvergnat Romanesque style which belonged to a Benedictine abbey, and a beautiful Black Virgin (12th century).

St Flour, France

The old fortified town of St-Flour (pop. 9,200) lies at an altitude of 881m/2,890ft on a petrified lava flow. The impressive Gothic Cathedral of St-Pierre-et-St-Flour, built of black basalt, was founded by the abbey of Cluny in the 11th century. It possesses a large crucifix of black wood (13th or 15th century) known as the "Beau Dieu Noir".

Viaduc de Garabit

This iron viaduct spanning the Truyère, to the south of St-Flour, was built by Gustave Eiffel in 1884, and the experience he gained here no doubt stood him in good stead a few years later when he built the Eiffel Tower.

St Nectaire

Above the spa of St-Nectaire is one of the finest Romanesque churches in Auvergne (12th century), with over a hundred capitals depicting Old and New Testament scenes. The church has a rich treasury, including a gilded copper bust of Ste-Baudine (12th century).
The central feature of the St-Nectaire Abbey Church is the crossing tower.

Cornadore Caves

The Cornadore Caves were developed by the Romans, who took advantage of the sulfur springs for medicinal purposes. The arsenic and lime was thought to cure kidney diseases. A thermal center and numerous baths were installed in the caves, two of which are still on display. The caves also include natural wonders, such as limestone formations, stalactites, stalagmites, pisolites and aragonite flowers.
Address: Route de Murol, F-63710 St-Nectaire, France

Salers, France

The little medieval town of Salers (pop. 368), picturesquely situated at an altitude of 951m/3,120ft, has preserved its old walls, many old gabled and tower houses and some Renaissance houses. The 15th century church of St-Matthieu, which preserves a Romanesque arch, has old Aubusson tapestries and a Holy Sepulchre of 1495. The Maison des Templiers contains a small exhibition on the history of Salers and some material illustrating the folk traditions of the area. The Grande Place is one of the finest squares in France.

Renaissance Festival

This annual three-week festival transforms the town of Salers to the Renaissance period. From late July to early August visitors can see Salers as it was in Renaissance times, complete with period costumes, food and entertainment.

Cheese Presentation Festival

This week-long festival takes place in mid-August.

Vichy

In northern Auvergne, on the very edge of the region, is its only major spa, Vichy, which had its greatest days in the 19th C and for a brief period during World War II played a political role. By far the most important tourist resort in the hills is Le Mont-Dore, lying at an altitude of 1,050m/3,445ft below the Puy de Sancy. Other resorts are Chaptel-Guyon (a mineral and thermal spa), Bourbon-l'Archambault (thermal spa), Néris-les-Bains (thermal spa), Chaudes-Aigues (thermal spa), Royat-Chamalières (thermal spa), La Bourboule (thermal spa, with baths for children) and St- Nectaire (thermal spa).

Hérrison (Chateloy - Bourbonnais Music Festival)

The Bourbonnais Music Festival runs from late July to late August and includes a series of evening classical concerts in the Chateloy Roman Catholic Church.
Address: Sohier, F-03190 Hérisson, France

Chateau du Chareil-Cintrat, Chantelle, France

Château du Chareil-Cintrat was built in the 16th C with a sculpted interior decoration characteristic of the second French Renaissance. All the rooms are decorated with murals from 1560-1570 depicting mythological and astrological themes.

World Folklore Festival, Gannat, France

Festival de Gannat les Cultures du Monde is an annual 12-day festival that takes place from mid- to late July. Events includes performances by folk dancers, singers and musicians, as well as expositions and conferences.

Maison de la Pierre, Volvic, France

Maison de la Pierre in Volvic is an underground museum featuring a recorded commentary telling the various phases of volcanic eruptions. The feature attraction is the lava flow that descends from Puy de la Nugere.

Arboretum de Balaine

An exceptional selection of large tulip trees, oaks and other plants are found in the attractive gardens of Arboretum de Balaine. A windy path weaves its way through shrubs, small trees and across streams.
Arboretum de Balaine consists of over 20 hectares with 2,500 plants. The arboretum began as an English garden in 1804.

Bourbonnais Musical Nights

The Auvergne region hosts a series of performances in late July dedicated to classical music. Renowned orchestras from around the world travel to different towns in the region each summer to participate in this festival.
Address: 3 rue Jean-Joures, F-03200 Vichy, France

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