Auvergne Massif Central
There is so much to see in the Auvergne Massif Central! Located in the center of France, this region is sculpted by remnants of volcanoes. Its river gorges and volcanic peaks (puys) are just a few of the features that make it an ideal region for walking, hiking, rafting or hang gliding. Volcanic springs bubble here, and every where you turn there is the chance to experience these wonderful mineral waters. My little map shows the route we explored and the sights we enjoyed.
View Auvergne Massif Central France in a larger map
This picture shows some of the beautiful terrain and the Viaduct de Garabit. This viaduct supports a railway that spans the Truyère River. The viaduct was engineered by Gustave Eiffel in the early 1880s and is still used today. It is approximately 1850 feet in length and that big arch you see spans 541 feet. (Eiffel completed the Eiffel Tower in 1889.)
My favorite memory of the Auvergne Massif Central region (besides the cheeses) was our afternoon swim in an ancient volcanic crater.
Before you take your trip, I highly recommend reading Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. You can follow Stevenson’s incredible route from le Monastier-sur-Gazeille to Langogne yourself as it is marked on IGN maps (Institut Géographique National). On these maps Grand Randonnee (GR) indicates walks that will take several days or weeks to complete where as a Petite Randonnée (PR) can be completed in a few hours to one or two days.
It is in this area that we find the origins of Roquefort cheese at Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, south of Millau. The Auvergne Region of the Massif Central has five cheeses: Cantal, Salers, St Nectaire, Fourme d’Ambert, Bleu d’Auvergne (a saltier version of Roquefort). Please don’t ask me to choose between Cantal and St Nectaire because it is an impossible task. I adore both of them.
Have you ever eaten aligot? My first taste of aligot came when we were in thiz region. To make aligot potatoes are whipped and mixed with melted Tomme cheese and garlic. It is rich and creamy and tastes of heaven.
Clermont-Ferrand was a fascinating stop. Everything seems to be built of black lava rock, even the Gothic cathedral, Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption. There are two historic quarters here: Clermont, with beautiful fountains and pedestrian streets around the cathedral, and Montferrand. They were once separate until united by royal decree in the 17th century.
There are several Belle-Epoque spa cities in this region. Vichy is considered the queen of the spa towns and our time there was memorable. We visited several of the spas, tasting each type of water as a part of the experience – some good, some not so much. Vichy is a beautiful city and I could have easily spent days in the Eglise St Blaise looking at the frescoes on the ceiling.
St-Nectaire is another spa town whose spa waters are supposed to help with weight loss and stress. However, our reason for visiting was to experience the St-Nectaire cheese at its source and to experience a village where part of the village is at the top of the mountain and part is at the base of the mountain – the views were splendid!
While eating lunch, we watched this group of primary school age children with their backpacks head up the side of the mountain. Because of the trees and shrubbery it was difficult to tell how far up they walked but it was good entertainment while we enjoyed our lunch.
After lunch we toured La Maison du Fromage (sampling the St-Nectaire cheese and learning the process for making this cheese) and the Romanesque church in town.
On our way back to Vichy, we literally stumbled upon the Caves of St Julien a short distance out of town. Some of the caves are still in use but we were able to explore the abandoned caves where at one time the St Nectaire cheese was stored to ripen.
The Auvergne Massif Central is such an amazing region of variety and a great place for out of doors adventures.