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15 reasons Clermont-Ferrand is the best place in France

The Local France
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15 reasons Clermont-Ferrand is the best place in France
A general view of Clermont-Ferrand with the Mounts of Forez in the background. (Photo by THIERRY ZOCCOLAN / AFP)

Forget Bordeaux and Toulouse. Get Paris out of your head. Avoid Nice and Marseille at all costs. Clermont-Ferrand, the hidden gem of the Auvergne region, is the new French Riviera, argues Katie Warren.

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No, there are no palm trees or beaches. And no, they don’t produce the country’s best rosé. 

But Clermont is a twin city of Norman, Oklahoma. It’s also surrounded by a major industrial area.

Even better (if you can believe it), it’s the home city of mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal who tested a hypothesis concerning the influence of gas pressure on liquid equilibrium. The world-renowned Volvic water, sourced just north of Clermont-Ferrand, has an impressively neutral pH of 7.

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Not convinced? 

Okay, here are the real reasons Clermont-Ferrand is the best city in France. 

1. It’s surrounded by 40-kilometer long chain of 80 volcanoes. The last eruption was 8,000 years ago, and scientists say it's possible it's about time for another one. How’s that for living dangerously?  

2. In the historic city center sits a striking, jet-black 13th century cathedral made out of volcanic rock sourced from this nearby chain. There's nothing else like it in France. 

3. According to the beer price-tracking application, Mister Good Beer, several bars in Clermont-Ferrand charge under €5 for a pint of beer outside of Happy Hour, a bargain which is a rarity in other French cities. The 40,000 students take full advantage of this fact, making Clermont's nightlife surprisingly dynamic for its modest size.

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4. You can drink said cheap beer in the shadow of the medieval, Gothic cathedral (made out of, I repeat, lava stone) at Place de la Victoire, a lively square lined with bars.

5. A tyre factory might not seem like much of a draw, but the Michelin headquarters brings in professionals from all over the world. That, coupled with the two universities overflowing with exchange students, gives the city an international feel that's rare for its size and location.

6. Clermont's history as one of the oldest cities in France is evident in the old city, where you can find places like a beloved crêperie called "1513", named after the year the building was constructed. If you like old things, you can also check out the famous flea market the marché aux puces des Salins. But Clermont has no problem keeping up with the times with plenty of fun bars that cater to the students living in the city.

7. The residents, called Clermontois, are crazy about rugby. And for good reason: their team, ASM Clermont-Auvergne Rugby, won the French Championship 2010. At every home match, thousands of revellers in blue and yellow fill the streets and march to the rugby stadium as one loud, boisterous crowd. You don’t even have to care about sport to be part of the fun.

8. Le Rimbaud, a locally beloved bar with a terrace that stretches out over half the square, often filled with boisterous Clermontois, is the place to watch ASM play. Munching on their saucisson, bread and butter is almost a requirement.

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9. Jardin Lecoq is the city’s favourite picturesque garden, where free entertainment is provided by swans roaming around and sometimes attacking unsuspecting picnickers.

10. If you love cheese, there’s no better place than Clermont-Ferrand. The Auvergne region produces the best cheeses in France: Saint Nectaire. Bleu d’Auvergne, Cantal… (If you don’t love cheese, stop reading now and never set foot in Clermont.)

11. When it comes to art and culture, Clermont-Ferrand has options. Spend a day either at the contemporary art museum, La FRAC Auvergne, or head to the musée d’art Roger-Quilliot to admire paintings and sculptures dating back to the Middle Ages.

12. There are views like those in the images below from Parc Montjuzet, a 25 minute walk from the city center. 

13. Forget Cannes. The world’s leading short film festival brings nearly 150,000 people to Clermont-Ferrand each year, and the films are open to the public unlike the aforementioned snobby festival in the south. 

14. In fact, Clermont is nicknamed “France’s Liverpool” because of the abundance of music, theater, and film festivals every year, and its more than 800 artistic groups.

15. Clermont-Ferrand remains France's best-kept secret, so you won’t be bumping into hordes of tourists. At least, until they all read this article…

By Katie Warren

An original version of this article was first published by The Local France 2016.

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