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Sifex France Guide to Puy de Dome

Puy-de-Dome is a region rich in variety, combining mountains, lakes and forests, spas, medieval villages and fine chateaux. It may be familiar to film-goers who have seen Les Choristes, which was set in the region and filmed at Chateau Ravel. To the west are the extinct volcanoes, the puys (volcanic peaks) of Monts Dore and Monts Dome, mountain country which offers wonderful opportunities for walking and climbing and riding. To the south east are Monts du Livradois and Monts du Forez, a wild and remote region, one of least populated areas of France. In between these extremes are the gentle valleys of the Allier and the Dore, a fertile land of orchards, vineyards and farms, called the Grand Limagne, limagne being the word for valley in the Auvergne. The department also includes large sections of two great regional parks, the Parc des Volcans’ d’Auvergne and the Parc Livradois-Forez.

At 1465 metres Puy-de-Dome is the highest of the Monts Dome range of puys, a sacred place of worship for the Celts, spectacular in every season, but most awe-inspiring with its winter mantle of snow. It is one of the most challenging climbs of the Tour de France, and you can walk or drive the spiral route to the top to be rewarded with incredible views of 70 peaks and 11 departments, not to mention shops, bars, restaurants, a hotel and even the remains of a Roman temple, which was only discovered during excavations for the summit observatory in the 19th century. The hot currents rising around the mountain make it a favourite spot for hang-gliding. In the south of the department are the Monts Dore, a much older range of mountains, which include the highest peak of the Auvergne, Puy de Sancy at 1885 metres. You can take a cable car to the foot, then follow a 30 minute path to the summit for a panoramic view. In winter there is skiing, both cross-country and downhill and dog sledding. Ballooning offers an even more dramatic way of seeing this impressive landscape. Mont Dore and La Bourbole are both spa towns in the valley below.

Clermont-Ferrand, the capital of the region, lies at its heart. It is an industry town, dominated by the huge Michelin factory, but as a major transport hub it makes good base for exploring the area. It is really two towns; Clermont has two architectural stars, one, the Basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Port, one of the finest Romanesque churches in Auvergne, noted for its superb carved capitals. The second is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, a Gothic building of black Volvic stone with stained glass windows and twin spires which soar above the town. Montferrand- the other half of Clermont-Ferrand - has a beautifully restored old quarter to explore. Not far from Clermont-Ferrand in the Puy range at Saint-Ours-les-Roches, is Vulcania, an underground volcanic theme park, where you can explore the depths of a simulated volcano, experience simulated earthquakes, and see dramatic exhibits of eruptions, including the destruction of Pompeii.

The Vallée des Rouets (cutler’s workshops) along the Durolle makes a fascinating tour, especially Thiers, famous for its knife making tradition which depended on the powerful waters of the river to sharpen the blades. Other sights not to be missed include Riom, built of sombre black volcanic stone, with its excellent regional museum and a particular treasure, the Vierge a l’Oiseau, a lovely statue in the Eglise Notre Dame de Marthuret. the Romanesque abbey and stained glass centre at Lavaudieu, and Notre Dame d’Orcival, another excellent example of the Auvergne Romanesque style and the location of a spectacular pilgrimage every seven years. The region offers abundant food for the body as well as the soul, in particular distinctive cheeses such as St Nectaire made from the milk of the Salers cattle which graze the rich pastures of the area.

© 2003-2006 Sarah Francis

Sifex France Guide to the Departments in Auvergne

Allier
Cantal
Haute Loire
Puy de Dome

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