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Ten reasons to visit France’s Auvergne area

Whether it's French residents looking for a great staycation spot or tourists wanting to go off the beaten track, France's Auvergne region has a lot to recommend it.

Ten reasons to visit France's Auvergne area
Photo: Auvergne-Tourisme.

The Auvergne region of central France was actually voted one of the top must-visit destinations in the world by Lonely Planet magazine back in 2016, but it still remains much less well known than areas like the Côte d’Azur or the Alps.

But for our money it’s a must see. Here’s why:

Volcanoes

Don’t panic – none of Auvergne’s 450 volcanoes have erupted for well over 6,000 years, but they have left their mark all over the region, from the distinctive stone rock of local architecture to Vulcania, an educational volcano theme park located near the Chaîne des Puys mountains.

Visitors can hike, bike or take the train to the top of the tallest peak, the Puy de Dôme (‘puy’ means volcano in the local dialect), and survey the surrounding area. You can also visit Clairvic spring, the source of Volvic mineral water.

READ ALSO Readers recommend: the hidden gems to explore in France this summer

Eco-friendly breaks

In the Auvergne you don’t have to be satisfied with simply admiring the beautiful landscape, but can also help to protect it if you opt to stay in one of Nattitude’s gites, hotels or campsites, or in a CosyCamp site.

Both companies offer alternative accommodation options with a focus on saving energy, using local produce and promoting the fitness and wellbeing of their guests.

Castles

The Auvergne is home to over 500 castles, each one a reminder of a moment in France’s history from the ancient Gauls onwards.

The ruined medieval fortress of Bourbon-L’Archambault is one of the oldest feudal ruins in Europe, while the ivy-covered Château de Sédaiges in Marmanhac is still inhabited by the descendents of the family who built the castle in the 1400s. For true castle enthusiasts, staying overnight is possible in this and several of the region’s other castles, such as the 15th century Château de Riau which has its own moat and dungeon.

City Breaks

Despite the rural landscape and untouched feel to much of the Auvergne, its cities are also worth a visit, and five towns in the Auvergne have been labelled official Villes d’Art et d’Histoire (Towns of Art and History).

In Moulins, the hometown of Gabrielle Chanel, you can visit the Grand Café where she used to sing, and the mountaintop city of Clermont-Ferrand offers visitors views across the Chaîne des Puys mountain range and varied cultural offerings such as its International Short Film Festival.

If you’re visiting during the rugby season, Clermont-Ferrand is home to one of France’s best teams, Clermont Auvergne, which boasts world class players, a good selection of half-time snacks and a particularly good fans’ band.

The food

As you’d expect from the home of the Michelin brothers, Auvergne has a reputation for hearty, delicious cuisine.

The region is responsible for producing a quarter of France’s AOP cheeses; the cows’ mountain flower diet is said to improve their flavour.

Other local specialities include stuffed cabbage, cured meats, and aligot, a local dish made of cheese, mashed potato and garlic, which was traditionally served to pilgrims on their way to Spanish shrines.

READ ALSO The six best French cheese dishes

Spa towns

Vichy is the most famous of the region’s spa towns; it was a favourite of Napoleon III and the water is said to help cure digestive problems and migraines.

But there are plenty of lesser known gems in the Auvergne for those looking for health treatments and relaxation. Why not visit the Roman baths of Néris-les-Bains, or Chaudes-Aigues, which boasts Europe’s hottest springs and a spa centre with waterfalls and a musical bath.

Winter sports

What it lacks in luxury chalets and trendy après-ski spots, the Auvergne makes up for in reasonable costs, minimal queuing and stunning settings for a variety of snow sports.

Try alpine skiing on a volcano, fishing expeditions on a frozen lake, or more niche sports like luge or dog sledding.

Churches

The Auvergne has plenty of medieval ruins and historic buildings in the Romanesque style; five of its Romanesque churches are labelled ‘Major Churches’ due to their architectural style.

But a conceptual art project, Horizons, has added a modern twist to the Auvergne landscape for the past few years. Sculptures and other artistic creations have been put up in the region’s natural spaces, offering surprises for lovers of nature and art.

Hiking and Biking

The best way to explore the varied terrain of the Auvergne and to take in its magnificent views is on foot. It’s possible to find demanding trails for experienced hikers as well as easy routes – labelled with yellow butterfly markers – suitable for novices, children and even pushchairs.

Water and wine

Thanks to its volcanic roots, the Auvergne is home to more than 100 spring and mineral waters, the most famous being Volvic.

It takes more than three years for the rainfall in the area to permeate the lava-coated valleys around the source, supposedly leading to pure, high quality water.

And for those who prefer something stronger, the wines of Saint-Pourçain and Côtes d’Auvergne have both been awarded AOC status, and were enjoyed by French kings and the popes in Avignon.

The only drawback is that it’s not particularly easy to access. The nearest airport is Lyon but you can also get a direct train from Paris to Clermont-Ferrand, which takes about three and a half hours.

Here’s a map of where the actual Auvergne is:

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TRAVEL NEWS

Direct London to Bordeaux rail service ‘to open in five years’

New direct high-speed rail services connecting London and major tourist resorts in France could be up and running in five years after all, the chairman of Eurotunnel’s parent company has suggested.

Direct London to Bordeaux rail service 'to open in five years'

Jacques Gounon, the boss of Getlink, which operates the Eurotunnel infrastructure and the Eurotunnel shuttle service, said he hoped a direct Eurostar passenger service between London and Bordeaux would begin running through the tunnel within five years, and said there were long-term plans to add a new line between the English capital and the French Riviera, amid ongoing questions over the future viability of private jets in a climate crisis.

“We’re working on a London-Bordeaux route,” Gounon told Europe 1’s La France Bouge programme, adding: “There is a market in the long term, the more we talk about decarbonisation and the end of private jets, which is London to Côte d’Azur because it remains a highly attractive place for the British.”

The timing of any future service remains unknown, Gounon admitted. “In the field of railways and Franco-British diplomatic relations, the slightest progress means a bit of technique, a lot of conviction.” 

And, confusingly, Gounon’s comments on Monday ran contrary to the previously reported future plans of Eurostar.

A London-Bordeaux route has been in the pipeline for some time. A feasibility study on the adaptations required for making Bordeaux Saint Jean station ready for international passengers was launched in 2018; while merger plans unveiled earlier this year between Eurostar and Thalys indicated that the plans were moving apace.

Earlier this month, Eurostar announced Gwendoline Cazanave would take over as CEO from Jacques Damas. It also announced plans to focus on core routes: London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.

At the end of August, it announced it would stop its London to Disneyland Paris routes in the summer of 2023 due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit. The company had said it had “taken the decision to no longer operate the direct London-Marne-la-Vallée route in the summer of 2023,” but no decision was made for the following year. 

“We will review our options for 2024 in the course of next year,” the train operator said.

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