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TRAVEL NEWS

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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STRIKES

French pension strikes: What to expect on January 31st

The final day of January marks the second - and almost certainly not the last - day of mass strike action in the ongoing battle between the French government and unions over pension reform. Here's what to expect on January 31st.

French pension strikes: What to expect on January 31st

Unions have promised the ‘mother of all battles’ against Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the French pension system, including raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

5 minutes to understand French pension reform

However, the action for the moment is mostly concentrated into a series of one-day actions, with the first taking place on January 19th.

The next ‘mass mobilisation’ is scheduled for Tuesday, January 31st. It is supported by all eight French trades union federations, which means that support is likely to be high and disruption severe on certain services.

Workers in essential services such as transport must declare their intention to strike 48 hours in advance, allowing transport operators to produce strike timetables, which are usually released 24 hours in advance. We will update this story as new information is released.

Trains

Rail unions are strongly backing the action – on January 19th, 46 percent of all rail workers walked out, and unions say they expect a similar level of support on January 31st. This would likely lead to a similar level of disruption with around half of high-speed TGV trains cancelled and 9 out of 10 of local TER services. 

International services including Eurostar could also see cancellations or a revised timetable. 

Some unions have filed a provisional strike notice running from 7pm on January 25th to 8am on February 2nd, with the option of a renewable strike after that – however it is not yet known how well supported this action will be. 

City public transport

Workers on Paris’ RATP network also saw high levels of support for the previous strike – with most Metro lines running rush-hour-only services and some closed altogether, while buses ran a severely limited service. The full details of exactly what will be running will be revealed on Monday evening by RATP.

Other cities including Marseille, Nice, Lyon and Nantes will likely see a repeat of severely disrupted bus, tram and Metro services.

Ports

The CGT union representing port and dock workers are also set to walk out on January 31st, but have filed a strike notice running from January 26th. Full details of their action are yet to be clarified.

Schools

The major teaching unions have called for another 24-hour walkout, so some schools are likely to close. The January 19th action saw roughly half of teachers across France walk out.

Ski lifts

The two unions that represent more than 90 percent of workers in ski resorts have called an ‘unlimited’ strike beginning on January 31st. So far Tuesday is the only confirmed strike day, but others could be announced. Strikes in ski resorts generally mainly affect the operation of ski lifts.

Petrol stations

The hardline CGT union has announced extra strike dates for workers at oil refineries, and also threatened blockades. This can result in shortages at petrol stations as supplies of petrol and diesel are blocked from leaving the refineries and reaching filling stations.

Power cuts 

CGT members working in the state electricity sector have also threatened more ‘direct action’ including power cuts to selected towns. This is not a legitimate strike tactic – in fact France’s labour minister says it is “a criminal offence” and will be punished accordingly – but it could happen nevertheless.

On January 19th two towns – one in the greater Paris region and one in northern France – lost power for a couple of hours in what was described as a deliberate cut. The union says it intends to target towns that elected MPs who support the pension reform.

Mairies

The Communist leader Fabien Roussel has called on town halls to close on Tuesday in ‘solidarity’ with the strikes. The decision is down to each individual commune, but in Paris the mayor Anne Hidalgo has announced that the mairie will close for the day, so you won’t be able to keep administrative appointments, although city services like bin collection will run as normal.

Demos

January 31st will also see another day of marches and demonstrations in towns and cities around France. On January 19th more than 1 million people took to the streets and unions will be hoping for a similar turnout on January 31st. One striking feature of the demos on January 19th was the comparatively large turnout in smaller French towns that usually do not see large demos.

Other strike dates

The above information relates to January 31st only, and services before and after this date are expected to run as normal.

Some unions, however, have declared ‘unlimited’ strikes, so there could be disruptions on these services on other days – these include ski lift operators, truck drivers and oil refinery workers.

It is highly likely that further one-day or multi-day strikes will be announced for February and March, as the pension reform bill comes before parliament, you can keep up to date with out strike calendar HERE.

We will update this article as more information becomes available, and you can also keep up with the latest in our strike section HERE.

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