Dominic Bliss explores incredible sights, indoors and out, in the Auvergne and suggests some local products to try. Note: this article is part of the megafeature “Explore Auvergne in the Massif Central“.
NOTRE-DAME DE FRANCE
Standing sentry high above the town of Le Puy-en-Velay is this statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. It was cast in 1860 from guns captured at the Siege of Sevastopol, during the Crimean War. Climb to the statue’s base or even inside its head for great views.
CHAPELLE SAINT-MICHEL D’AIGUILHE
Le Puy-en-Velay’s other great monument is this 10th-century chapel, perched atop an 85m high volcanic plug. You’ll find yourself transported into a sort of medieval netherworld as you climb its 268 steps to the top.
SALLE DE L’ÉCHO
In the lovely town of La Chaise-Dieu, within the grounds of the Église Abbatiale de Saint-Robert, there’s a very unusual building called the Salle de l’Écho, thought to have been originally used to hear the confessions of diseased lepers. Try it for yourself.
FUNICULAIRE DU CAPUCIN
Constructed in 1898, France’s oldest electrical funicular railway crawls at a steady pace – one metre per second, to be precise – from Avenue René-Cassin in the town of Le Mont-Dore, 175 metres up to the plateau of Les Capucins.
PUY DE DOME
The fitter among us might choose to hike to the 1,465m summit of this lava dome volcano. Mere mortals will prefer to ride the Panoramique des Domes cog railway. At the summit you can admire the flocks of paragliders circling the mountain.
CHAÎNE DES PUYS
The Chaîne des Puys is linked by a grande randonnée hiking trail, the GR 441. You don’t need to hike all 112km of it: instead, focus on the most dynamic section that skirts between Puy Chopine, Puy de Lemptégy, Puy de Côme and Puy de Dôme.
VIADUC DU GARABIT
Standing at 564m long and 112m high, this vast iron viaduct was designed by Gustave Eiffel five years before he created his famous tower. Visit after sunset, outside of winter months, and you’ll be able to see it illuminated.
Dark volcanic stone and gargoyles give this cathedral in Clermont-Ferrand a distinctly sombre feel. Its twin towers rise 108m into the sky and in summer you can climb the Tour de la Bayette for views towards the volcanoes.
To get a feeling of Vichy’s Belle-Époque heyday, you could do worse than visit the city’s splendid opera house, with its glorious Art Nouveau architecture. Around 20 shows are staged every year, ranging from opera, dance, concerts, ballets and comedy.
LES MYSTÈRES DE FARGES
Fans of fromage will love this cheese cave tour, not far from the town of Saint-Nectaire. The AOP cheese is cultivated in medieval caves below ground. This hour-long tour is fascinating and there’s a chance to taste the cheese afterwards.
MAISON DE LA FOURME D’AMBERT
Distinctive for its tall, cylindrical shape, the creamy blue Fourme d’Ambert is another AOP cheese you mustn’t miss. The Maison de la Fourme d’Ambert, in the town of Ambert, offers tours, tastings and cheese-making workshops.
ESPACE D’INFORMATION VOLVIC
Granted, it’s not quite the same as wine tasting, but at this visitor centre in Volvic you can taste the various mineral waters on offer, while learning all about the origins and bottling of this world-famous brand.
From France Today magazine
Lead photo credit : Chapelle St. Michel d'Aiguilhe
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