Auvergne Holiday Cottages view
Auvergne Holiday Cottages Introduction text
AuvergneLarge1 - Places To See

Besse was an important town in medieval times, many traces of its age are still evident. Now also has cafés, small, interesting shops, an Attac supermarket (good wine selection, crowded at peak times but may stay open through lunch in the holidays; cheapest local petrol and diesel), a real pizzeria, ski museum (see page 16), several hotels and restaurants (see pages 8 to 10), and two old churches. The street market is on a Monday. Children recommend the play area. Cash dispenser at Crédit Agricole.

Super Besse is a typical small modern ski resort, crêpes, cable cars, bob luge and bobble hats. There is a swimming pool and skating rink. The cable cars run most of the year (weekends only from March to end of June) but stop for lunch from 11.30 to 2 pmish, going up to the Puy de la Perdrix at 1800 metres (5,800 feet); sun, cold and wind at the top can be more pronounced. Madame Serre’s café/bar is the one we prefer, it’s called Lou Cantou (“lou” is Occitan for “the”, a cantou is a type of chair).

Riom-ès-Montagnes, a country market town; shops, Post Office, banks, cash dispenser (at Crédit Agricole, bear left before the Mairie, 200 metres on left); the Quincaillerie (hardware) and Gamme Vert (farm shop on outskirts) have a selection of proper bells for your cows. The small Casino supermarket in the centre (lots of fruit outside) is good; Champion, on the right as you come in from Condat, is now much cleaner than previously; it has some good wine. The swings, etc. were recommended by the Tong family with children of 2 and 4. Large street market on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month; livestock in the cattle market. Modern Hotel, see Eating out, pages 8 to 10. Visit (free) the Avèze factory and taste their gentian liqueur.
St Flour is pleasant rather than remarkable, altogether quieter than Salers; was fortified; museum see above; cafés; good ice cream from the bakery; signposted city walk. The cathedral is said to have the only black Christ in France, the statue is life sized, we have not seen it.

Salers is a striking country town, grey stone houses with roofs of lauzes (shaped flat stones). The Lucases avoided the busy time by driving through the southern mountains, reaching Salers in late afternoon, dining on pounti, a speciality at the Hotel des Ramparts, and returning by Riom-ès-Montagnes.

Murat has a good approach from the north; an old town with narrow streets; interesting antique shop, small museum of local fauna (see page 18) and good Friday market.

La Bourboule is a spa specialising in the treatment of allergies especially in children; plenty of shops, cafés, a covered market (halles), the river running through is the young Dordogne. What can I add to their leaflet's claim “You will be able to put your vital node to rest in La Bourboule”.
ND-du-Port_Clermont5 Egliseneuve16
Condat_Brocante2 Besse18 Le Mont Dore, also a spa on the Dordogne, which rises at a spring on the slopes of the Puy de Sancy above the town, is smaller than La Bourboule; a pleasant place with a feeling of busier bygone days. Winter skiing, walks, cable car onto the Sancy.

(orgues are cliffs formed from old volcanic cores) at 400 metres has a lowland climate; not perhaps worth a visit in itself, but just beyond is the huge dam, 390 metres across, second tallest in France at 120 metres, retaining the lake mentioned under Château de Val, above. For those interested in birds, stand on the bridge and watch the brown crag martins.

Marcenat is a quiet, pleasant country town with a fascinating exhibition about lightning.

Allanche has remains of early fortifying walls and a Roman bridge (it’s the smaller one, the Tourist Office used to get it wrong, but there’s now a proper sign). Excellent antiques fair in 1st week of August. Famous too for its estive (see article on page 33), one of the few remaining, the spectacle even draws film and TV crews. By 1996 the cattle were heavily outnumbered by stalls, musicians and tourism consultants. However the traditional Auvergnat dancing was beautiful and truly memorable and the estive remains a highly colourful and enjoyable social event. See it soon, before the messy, real cows are replaced by hygienic, inflatable ones on wheels. In 2003, on 24 May.

Chaudes-Aigues has hot springs, providing central heating to many houses in the town, and other curiosities. Can be seen as part of a grand day out including the Truyère gorge. There is another one of those sad memorials in memory of the doctor and his son who were shot just outside the town by the Germans during the last war.

Issoire is a pleasant town with a particularly striking abbey church - St Austremoine. In April ’96 we went to see the local poultry show; as it was shut from 12 to 2 (of course), we lunched inexpensively and very well at the Hôtel Le Paris behind the Office de Tourisme, but don’t go looking for it because sadly it shut in 2000 (the poultry show is still held every year though). Easiest approach is via Besse, then if you have the inclination, come back over the high country - more direct but slower - e.g. up the Courgoul Gorges (D26) or via D32 Solignat. Good Saturday street market.

The village of
La Chaise Dieu is unremarkable in itself but has a great, rather austere monastic church. In the gloom, the Scott family missed the world famous Dance of Death frescoes, and the celebrated tapestries were away at the cleaners; carved woodwork adorns the organ and the pews are amazing but we found the whole slightly forbidding. A nice little shop opposite sells dried mushrooms in astonishing variety.

“A strange town in a strange setting”. Since early times the starting point for pilgrims from all over Northern Europe, Le Puy en Velay exudes history and must be one of France’s more unusual towns, with extraordinary volcanic pinnacles, one with a 10th century church on top, adding to its oddity and charm. Removed from a pagan altar by the Romans for their own temple and now part of the cathedral, the Fever Stone was believed to cure those sleeping the night on it. Thousands of pilgrims still set out on foot via the Lot, across the Pyrenees to Santiago da Compostella on the western coast of Spain. The road via St Flour that looks direct on the map is very slow, an easier approach is via Besse, down a pretty river valley, round Issoire and on - allow 2 to 2½ hours. Natives of Le Puy are called Ponots.

A large, industrial city,
Clermont Ferrand has all the amenities, shops and supermarkets you’d expect. For a treat, visit one of France’s oldest chocolate shops - near the cathedral. Several good museums, one with an exceptional collection of oriental carpets. Railway station and airport. Head office of Michelin tyres which has extensive factories there.

Aurillac, Cantal’s county town, is probably not worth a visit in its own right. Known as a traditional centre for umbrella making. The National Heavy Horse Stud is on the outskirts - see Haras National.

Brion is a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. From spring to autumn, cattle fairs are held which attract people from far and wide. Eat at stalls or picnic atop the extinct volcano overlooking the fair field.

The Parc des Volcans d'Auvergne is Europe's largest National Park, 120 kms north to south, “protected because of its special beauty and fragility”.

Two distinct ranges of mountains lie within the Park, both rising over 1,800 metres (6,000 feet). The northern part, in the Department of Puy de Dome, is more developed and more densely populated. The southern part, especially that in Cantal, is quieter, more rural.

Among animals found are moufflon, chamois, marmots, red & roe deer, wild boar, edible & hazel dormice, pine and beech martens and red squirrels.

Birds include many species now rare or gone from Britain, crested tits visit our bird nuts in winter, shrikes generally nest by the house, black kites and honey buzzards can be seen easily and red kites are commonplace, distinguish them from buzzards by their forked tails.

Not at all knowledgeable about butterflies and moths, I am indebted to Maureen Pearson for getting me started and especially to Leslie Whiteside for her interesting contributions.

The sheer quantity of wild flowers and their great variety never cease to amaze and delight. From daffodils as far as the eye can see, to hay made more with flowers than grass, to the carpet of wild thyme underfoot scenting the evening.

Books, ask if you would like to refer to:
The Mammals of Britain and Europe by Maurice Burton
British Birds by John Gooders and Terence Lambert
Petersen’s Birds of Europe (French edition)
The Illustrated Flora of Britain and Northern Europe, superbly illustrated by Marjorie Blamey
The Concise British Flora by Keeble Martin
Pocket Guide to Mushrooms and Toadstools
Les Champignons Comestibles by Fernand Nathan (in French)
A Passion for Mushrooms by Antonio Carluccio
and many others on creatures great and small.

The mountains were formed at very different times. The southern range is all that remains of a single, huge volcano, some 50 kilometres across, mostly eroded away by ice and time to form the high, grassy plateau known as the Cézallier.

The northern range is much younger. The rest of this note will be completed in due time!