15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Auvergne
A place of spectacular natural beauty, the Auvergne countryside is a relaxing retreat in rural France. Even though Auvergne is a popular French vacation destination, the region's tourism industry is less developed than other areas of France. This unspoiled region has two of France's largest nature reserves: the Regional Park of Volcans d'Auvergne with its dramatic volcanic cones and the Regional Park of Livradois-Forez with its diverse flora and fauna. This rugged and scenic landscape features impressive volcanic mountains, idyllic valleys, crater lakes, rushing rivers, tranquil streams, and unspoiled forests. Ideal for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers, Auvergne's regional parks offer opportunities for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, skiing, and other active sports.
While Auvergne's primary draw is nature, cultural attractions abound. The region is dotted with castles, splendid churches, and quaint villages, and several towns are famous for their cheese. Auvergne also boasts the fashionable spa towns of Vichy and Le Mont Doré as well as the Volvic spring water bottling source, thanks to the area's thermal springs and pristine water. The bustling capital of Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand is an elegant city with an interesting history dating back to the Crusades.
See also: Where to Stay in Auvergne
1 Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d'Auvergne
This expansive nature reserve is a place of refreshing open space and gorgeous landscapes, offering a peaceful escape in rural France. The diverse scenery features striking volcanoes, calm valleys and plateaux, crater lakes, lush forests, pristine rivers, and thermal springs. Visitors come to the park for rest and relaxation, leisure activities, and adventure sports. With wonderful well-groomed trails, this nature reserve is a hiker's paradise. Other outdoor activities include mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, river rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. The parkland encompasses dramatic volcanoes from the Cantal Mountains to the Puys (volcanoes) that make a majestic statement about the power of Mother Nature. The most magnificent of the volcanoes is the Puy de Dôme, which rises up dramatically from the verdant valleys. By hiking up to the peak of the Puy de Dôme, visitors can enjoy a fantastic view of the Chaîne des Puys, with the craters from their ancient volcanic activities now covered by pastures of rolling grass. At this high-altitude location, the famous scientist Pascal conducted one of his experiments that proved the existence of a vacuum. Another impressive volcano is the Puy de Sancy, the highest peak in Auvergne and in the Massif Central at an elevation of 1,886 meters. The summit can be reached by cableway and then a 20-minute climb to the top. The journey finishes with a rewarding panoramic view of the awe-inspiring landscape.
2 Parc Naturel Régional du Livradois-Forez
About a two-hour drive from the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Park is another wonderful nature reserve, the Parc Naturel Régional du Livradois-Forez. This parkland is known for its exceptional biodiversity of flora and fauna. The pristine mountain forests are populated with pine and beech trees along with rare ferns. The forests are also home to amazing bird species, including grouse and owls, as well as wildlife such as deer and bobcats. Other interesting aspects of the scenery are the heather moors and plains that appear more like the Northern European tundra. This natural park is an inviting place for hiking and bird watching. The rich and contrasting scenery of forests, plains, and wetlands offers insight into a marvelous ecological environment. A visit to this nature reserve is sure to rejuvenate the mind and spirit.
3 Clermont-Ferrand and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
Perched on a hill and protected by ancient walls, Auvergne's capital is a picturesque city with quaint old quarters. Clermont-Ferrand also has a fascinating history associated with the medieval Crusades. The idea of the Crusades was first envisioned here. The First Crusade was proclaimed by Pôe Urban II in 1095 and developed into a fervent ideology of conquering the Holy Lands. In the city's skyline, you can count 50 towers that represent the medieval city's churches. The most magnificent place of worship in Clermont-Ferrand is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l'Assomption, which is considered one of the great Gothic cathedrals of central France. Built in the 13th and 14th centuries, this magnificent cathedral was constructed from dark volcanic stone. The cathedral is renowned for its beautiful stained glass windows, particularly in the choir chapels and the rose windows in the transepts. The crypt is from an earlier 10th-century church and contains a noteworthy 4th-century sarcophagus.
Another important church is the Basilique Notre-Dame-du-Port, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. This 12th-century basilica was a stop on the "Way of Saint James" medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The basilica has interesting architectural features, such as the choir with its aisle and ring of chapels. Other details include the carvings of human figures and animals at the top of columns. The crypt houses a 17th-century Black Virgin, a copy of a Byzantine original that drew many pilgrims in the 13th century. For a feel of the city's life outside the churches, spend some time at the Place de Jaude. In the heart of Clermont-Ferrand, this bustling square is lined with monumental buildings and filled with fountains and magnolia trees. The city becomes even more lively in August during its annual Country Dance Festival.
4 Le Puy-en-Velay
Le Puy-en-Velay has a dramatic setting of striking volcanic formations, which provide stunning sites for the town's most important landmarks. Impressively situated, the town's churches were important stops on the medieval Santiago de la Compostela pilgrimage route. The Chapelle Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe, is amazingly perched on top of a steep pillar of lava rock. The church itself was built from volcanic rock and adorned with Byzantine-style mosaics. The impressive Cathédral Notre-Dame is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built at the end of the 12th century, the cathedral features a blend of Romanesque and Byzantine influences. A flight of steps made of multicolored volcanic stone leads up to the cathedral's entrance. Inside, captivating 13th-century Byzantine paintings line the heavy vaulting. The interior of the Cathedral strikes visitors with its somber and sacred ambience, enhanced by the dark coloring of the stone, the dim lighting, and the high cupolas. The object of many pilgrimages throughout the centuries, the Black Virgin has a place of importance on the Baroque high altar. One of the most iconic sites in Le Puy-en-Velay is the statue of the Notre-Dame du Puy (Virgin Mary) that stands on top of the Rocher Corneille above the old town. This magnificent geological structure is a 755-meter high volcanic chimney, formed by erosion of the softer rock surrounding it. From the top of the Rocher Corneille, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the valley.
Five kilometers from Le Puy-en-Velay, the Forteresse de Polignac is a worthwhile excursion. Magnificently situated on a volcanic hill and surrounded by fortified walls, this exceptional historic monument inspires visitors with its breathtaking location and views of the surrounding countryside. Another easy trip from Le Puy-en-Velay is the Lac du Bouchet, a crater lake at an altitude of almost 1,219 meters. The journey takes you by way of the Pépinière de Taulhac, offering an impressive view of a bend in the Loire.
This lovely Belle Epoque town was a fashionable spa resort in the 19th century, when visitors flocked to the thermal springs renowned for their health benefits. Thermal baths were popular as well as leisure activities such as golf and tennis. Within the city of Vichy is the Thermes des Dômes spa that was founded in 1903. This spa offers thermal baths in the famous mineral-rich Vichy waters that are said to cure illnesses. Outside of Vichy, visitors will find a wide range of spa resorts. The largest resort is Le Mont-Dore outside of Clermont-Ferrand. Inspired by the Caracalla baths in Rome, the exquisite neo-Byzantine spa facility offers a variety of spa treatments, hydrotherapy, and a swimming pool. Châtel-Guyon is a modern resort with a mineral and thermal spa. Bourbon-l'Archambault is a thermal spa that focus on rheumatology and gynecology treatments. The Bourbon-Lancy spa is an elegant historic resort that has hosted famous guests, including Julius Caesar, Catherine de Medicis, King Louis XIV, and Maupassant.
Situated on the edge of the Limagne basin between the Livradois Forez nature park and the Auvergne volcanoes, Riom is surrounded by a beautiful verdant landscape. This historic town was for many years the capital of Auvergne and is still one of the region's most important towns. The city center is lined with boulevards featuring elegant old mansions. One of Riom's must-see sites is the Palais de Justice (Law Courts) on the site of the old château of the Dukes of Berry. The only part of the ancient castle that remains is the Sainte-Chapelle (built from 1382 to 1388), illuminated by three splendid 15th-century stained-glass windows in the choir. Riom also has an excellent museum of folk art and regional culture, the Musée Régional d'Auvergne. This museum offers insight into the traditional rural life of Auvergne during the pre-industrial era. On the town's main street, the Rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville, is the Musée Mandet, housed in two mansions-one from the 17th century and the other from the 18th century. This museum has an exceptional collection of more than 6,000 pieces including paintings, sculpture, and decorative objects from antiquity to the 21st century. Riom's 16th-century Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) is worth a look to see its lovely courtyard and small exhibit of memorabilia on the history of the town.
Those who appreciate historic churches will want to visit the Basilique Saint-Amable. This church was built on the site of a chapel erected in 450 by Saint Amable, whose relics are the object of annual processions in June. The basilica was constructed in the 12th century in the Auvergnat Romanesque style with Gothic elements added to the choir in the 13th century. The church facade was enhanced in the 18th century. To the south of the old town is the Église Notre-Dame Du Marthuret built in the 14th to 15th centuries. The church features exquisite stained-glass windows and the "Virgin with the Bird," a noteworthy 14th-century sculpture. Nearby in Effiat and Mozac, visitors can see the Royal Estate of Randan as well as the Château Portabéraud and Château de Denone.
Perched at almost 914 meters on a volcanic promontory, the ancient fortified city of Saint-Flour has a unique character and charm all its own. Saint-Flour has earned the title of Pays d'Art & d'Histoire ("Country of Art and History") because of its rich cultural heritage. The city's history began in the 4th century when the Bishop Florus arrived on an evangelical mission. During the Middle Ages, the city of Saint-Flour flourished as the religious capital of the region. The medieval walls are still visible surrounded by volcanic rock. Thanks to its altitude, views of the surrounding landscape are spectacular. Saint-Flour has a majestic Gothic cathedral, the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Flour, which was built out of black basalt. The cathedral was founded by the abbey of Cluny in the 11th century and possesses a large crucifix of black wood known as the "Beau Dieu Noir" (translates to "Beautiful Black God").
Another noteworthy attraction in Saint-Flour is the Musée de la Haute Auvergne, located in the old Episcopal palace. The museum features archaeological collections, folk art and furniture, and traditional crafts. A visit to Saint-Flour is also well spent by wandering the city's pedestrian streets that are lined with boutiques, restaurants, and cafés. A short drive south of Saint-Flour lies the ruined 13th-century Château d'Alleuze. In this setting of great natural beauty, the Castle of Alleuze was once the base for the bishops in the area of Saint-Flour. The castle was built on the top of a hill providing great views of the surrounding valley.
8 La Chaise-Dieu
The most important tourist attraction of this picturesque village is its exceptional Benedictine abbey, which is the most celebrated church in Auvergne. The site began its history as a monastery in the 11th century, when Robert de Turlande founded the abbey and was joined by his disciples. After devoting his life to Benedictine charitable causes, Robert de Turlande was canonized in 1070 as Saint Robert. The church that stands today was constructed later, beginning in 1344. The three-aisled medieval church has an inspiring Gothic interior with high, narrow vaulting. Featuring ornate 15th-century carved oak stalls, the choir contains the tomb of Pope Clement VI. The church also has beautiful tapestries and displays the famous wall painting "Danse Macabre" ("Dance of Death").
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. The Basilique Notre-Dame d'Orcival was founded by the abbey of La Chaise-Dieu in the 12th century and partly rebuilt in the 15th and 19th centuries. One of the finest Romanesque churches in Auvergne, the basilica contains relics that have been venerated by pilgrims since the 6th century. In the choir is a much revered 12th-century statue of the Virgin enthroned. Another site worth visiting near Orcival is the Château de Cordès that dates back to the 15th century. This impressive Gothic-style château has a dining room constructed out of Volvic stone and decorated with Aubusson tapestries. The Château de Cordès is especially renowned for its formal French gardens designed in 1695 by Le Nôtre.
The little medieval town of Salers has earned the title of "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France," for being one of the most beautiful villages. Picturesquely situated at an altitude of more than 914 meters, Salers is still surrounded by its ancient walls. The historic town is distinguished by its houses topped with turrets and its elegant Renaissance mansions. Many of the houses are built from dark lava stone, giving the town an austere look and feel. The town's central square, the Grande Place, is considered one of the finest squares in France. A must-see site in Salers is the 15th-century Église Saint-Mathieu. This church was constructed in the region's typical Romanesque style and is decorated with old Aubusson tapestries. Another noteworthy feature is the Holy Sepulchre of 1495. History buffs will want to visit the town's Maison des Templiers, which has a small exhibition on the history of Salers and the folk traditions of the area. In the summer, Salers hosts a gastronomic festival that draws crowds who arrive to sample local specialties.
The town of Moulins takes its name from the many mills which once lined the Allier River. Established in the 10th century, Moulins became the chief town of the Bourbonnais duchy in the 14th century. At the heart of the quaint old section of the town is the Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville with a remarkable jacquemart ("Jack-o'-the-clock"), a charming 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. Another important monument in Moulin is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l'Annonciation, which dates back to the 15th century. The cathedral was designed in the Flamboyant Gothic style with stunning stained-glass windows. In the sacristy is the famous triptych by the Master of Moulins. Opposite the cathedral is the La Mal Coiffée, the ancient ducal palace of Moulins and the Pavillon d'Anne de Beaujeu. The pavillion now contains an interesting museum of art and archeology. Also near the cathedral is the mausoleum of Duke Henry II of Montmorency.
Surrounded by the plains of Allier, the small village of Brioude boasts the largest Romanesque church in Auvergne. The Basilique Saint-Julien is an exceptional church that was built from the 11th-12th century. Constructed with multicolored masonry, the basilica has a breathtaking Gothic interior. Frescoes decorate the porch and the nave, and the columns have richly decorated capitals. Another interesting attraction in Brioude is the Maison du Saumon et de la Rivière (House of Salmon and the River), located in a beautiful setting on the Allier River. Here, a salmon aquarium houses 800 fish of 35 different salmon species. The Maison du Salmon et de la Rivière also educates visitors about the biology of salmon fish and the history of salmon fishermen.
Above the spa of Saint-Nectaire is one of the finest Romanesque churches in Auvergne. The Église de Saint-Nectaire was built in the 12th century in a beautiful location on top of a bedrock hill. The church has an impressive architectural design of more than a hundred capitals that depict Old and New Testament scenes. The central feature of the Saint-Nectaire Church is its harmonious interior with a 20-meter high cupola. The church also has a rich treasury, including a 12th-century gilded copper bust of Saint-Baudine. Besides its church, the town is also famous for its Saint-Nectaire cheese that has a special designation of Première AOP Fermière d'Europe.
Aurillac is the old capital of Auvergne and the current capital of the Cantal département. This picturesque old town grew up round the abbey of Saint-Géraud, founded in the 10th century and rebuilt after its destruction in the mid 17th century. The first French Pope, Silvester II came from its monastic school. The 14th-century Église Notre-Dame-des-Neiges has a fine 17th-century Black Virgin. In the town's Château St-Etienne, the wing dating from the 11th century now houses the Maison des Volcans (House of Volcanoes) with a collection of minerals and displays illustrating volcanic activity.
The second largest Romanesque church in Auvergne after the Basilique Saint-Julien in Brioude is located in Issoire. The Basilique Saint-Austremoine is a stunning 12th-century church with a lavishly decorated interior. Visitors have the impression of entering a jewelry box, because the basilica sparkles with vibrant stained-glass windows, colorful polychrome mosaic patterns, and intricate sculptural decoration.
Where to Stay in Auvergne for Sightseeing
We recommend these charming Auvergne hotels in Vichy, Clermont-Ferrand, Salers, and Le Puy-en-Velay:
- Vichy Celestins Spa Hotel: luxury Art Deco hotel, park and river views, indoor and outdoor pools, marble bathrooms, medical spa with saunas and steam room.
- Mercure Clermont Ferrand Centre Jaude: mid-range pricing, central location, contemporary style, floor-to-ceiling windows.
- Logis Le Bailliage: affordable Salers hotel, boutique property, individually decorated rooms, outdoor heated pool, full-service spa with whirlpool.
- Ibis Budget Le Puy-en-Velay: budget rates, steps from the train station, sleek decor, clean rooms, great showers.
Other Places of Interest
Arboretum de Balaine
Created in 1804 as an English garden, the Arboretum de Balaine consists of more than 20 hectares with 2,500 plants. The gardens display an exceptional selection of large tulip trees, oaks, and other plants. Visitors discover the plant life by taking a windy path that weaves its way through the garden's shrubs and small trees and across streams.
Address: Château de Balaine, 03460 Villeneuve sur Allier
In the beautiful Dordogne Valley, this picturesque little village is a good starting point to explore the Dordogne Gorges. The town's most important monument is its church that dates back to the 12th century. Bort-les-Orgues means "organ pipes," however the village is also known as the "Ville Fleurie" because of its abundance of public spaces that are enhanced with flowers. Also worth a visit is the Château de Val, a ten-minute drive away in Lanobre. This fairy-tale 15th-century castle is one of the most well-preserved châteaux in the region. The rooms have been lavishly refurbished with great attention to detail. The Château de Val also hosts weekly concerts in July and August.
Château du Chareil-Cintrat
A worthwhile excursion from Vichy, the Château du Chareil-Cintrat is a monumental castle that exemplifies the spirit of Renaissance art and humanism.The Château du Chareil-Cintrat was built in the 16th century with splendid sculpted interior decoration, characteristic of the second French Renaissance. All the rooms are adorned with murals from 1560-1570 depicting mythological and astrological themes.
Address: Chareil-Cintrat F-03140
Maison de la Pierre: House of Stones
Located in Volvic, north of the Chaîne des Puys, the Maison de la Pierre is an underground museum featuring a recorded commentary telling the various phases of volcanic eruptions. This animated museum also allows you to discover the lives of stone quarry workers at the end of the 19th century. A special attraction features a lava flow descending from the Puy de la Nugere.
Address: 2 Route du Pont Jany, Volvic
Musée des Manufactures de Dentelles (Lace Museum)
This museum allows visitors to discover the history of lace making, through its exceptionally large exhibit of more than 450,000 pieces (including more than 100,000 different types of lace).
Address: 14 Avenue de la Gare, Retournac
Registered as one of France's "Site Remarquable du Goût" (awarded to sites with exceptional food products of the French terroir), Roquefort is a unique village famous for its cheese. In a breathtaking location in the Grands Causses Regional Natural Park, the tiny village clings precariously to the base of the Combalou Rock. Natural caves of Combalou Rock offer the perfect conditions for ripening the renowned Roquefort cheese, which has been crafted in the same way for a thousand years.
Viaduc de Garabit
This iron viaduct spanning the Truyère to the south of St-Flour, was built by Gustave Eiffel in 1884 before he built the Eiffel Tower. The steel structure with its monumental arch is considered the most beautiful work of Gustave Eiffel. The Viaduc de Garabit is illuminated at night, which draws attention to its elegant poinsettia-red hue.
Vulcania Amusement Park
A short drive away from Clermont-Ferrand, Vulcania is an innovative amusement park dedicated to the "Adventure of the Earth" with special expositions about volcanoes. The park offers scientific discoveries, experiments, 3-D experiences, and educational films. There are also special galleries and activities for children.
Address: Route de Mazayes, 63 230 Saint-Ours-les Roches
Concerts and Festivals
Bourbonnais Music Festival (July - August)
The Bourbonnais Music Festival hosts evening performances focused on classical chamber music. The prestigious festival runs from late July to mid August and is held at the Église de Châteloy in Hérisson, in the Allier département about an hour drive from Vichy. Because the church is small and has excellent acoustics, it offers the ideal venue for this intimate concert series.
Address: Église de Châteloy, Hérisson
Classical Music Concerts of Vollore (July)
A series of musical concerts are performed every July in the romantic setting of the Château de Vollore and in other historic monuments, mostly small churches near the village of Vollore. The concerts include the highest caliber performances of traditional classical music as well as secular music such as Broadway musical numbers.
Music Festival in La Chase-Dieu (August)
Alternating sacred music and secular music, this high-level festival is held in exceptional patrimonial monuments such as the Saint Robert Abbey, which is at the heart of the event. The festival includes chamber, vocal a cappella, symphonic, and concertante music.
"Terroir" Products Festival in Saint-Flour (August)
This regional food festival displays the exceptional wealth of "terroir" products in the Auvergne region. The typical rural festival showcases the local agricultural heritage and exhibits farm animals. Visitors have a chance to sample artisan food products and culinary specialties.
Roi de l'Oiseau (King of the Bird) Festival in Le Puy-en-Velay (September)
The annual Roi de l'Oiseau Festival is based on a 16th-century archery competition. The modern festival runs for one week in mid-September and keeps the Renaissance tradition alive. Events include a Renaissance ball, open-air feast, dancing bears, acrobats, fire-eaters, food and craft stalls, and a "King of the Bird" horse riding competition. Residents also dress in period costumes to add authenticity to the celebrations.
International Folk Festival in Issoire (July)
This highly acclaimed folk festival brings together musicians, dancers, and singers from all over the world. The festival takes place in mid-July and features outdoor concerts and performances in pleasant venues.
International Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrand (January - February)
An important platform for new cinema and makers of short film, this festival, hosted by the Auvergne Film Commission, is primarily geared to industry professionals. Thousands of participants from all over the world are expected to attend. Visitors have the chance to watch short films from a variety of genres.
International Theater Festival in Aurillac (August)
Every year during August, the streets and squares of Aurillac are transformed into outdoor theaters and cultural exhibits.
Fêtes Mariales (Feast of the Assumption) in Le Puy-en-Velay (August)
The Fêtes Mariales is an annual two-day festival held in mid-August to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. This traditional Catholic celebration features a procession of the famous Black Madonna. The festival also delights visitors with street performances, regional crafts, and food stalls.
World Folklore Festival in Gannat (July)
Held in the village of Gannat located near Le Puy, "Le Festival 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 from all over the world. The festival also includes expositions and conferences.