Auvergne Holiday Cottages view
Auvergne Holiday Cottages Introduction text
AuvergneLarge1 - Visitor Information - Things To See

Perched on a pinnacle above Apchon, scramble up to the ruined castle which held out against the English in the Hundred Years' War (what did they do for water?). The imposing ramparts of Murol, a mighty fortress going back to Roman times (open certain days, sometimes with residents in period clothes - animations; a small collection of ancient rare breeds of livestock includes “Higland” cattle). Chateaux of a more conventionally classic line listed below. Little St Floret, on the Besse/Issoire road has the remains of interesting frescoes; the village is pretty, too.

Château de Parentignat is a fascinating mix of history and clutter, having been in the same family since 1707. Mostly 18th century, it is near exit 13 (A 75), 35 km south of Clermont. Open daily from 1 July to 3 September, and at weekends from 27 May to 1 October, from 2 to 6 p.m.. Greatly enjoyed by the Hutchings who “found” it.

Little remains of Besse's city walls apart from one of the gates (near the Hotel Beffroi, see Eating) and some short lengths past the Post Office. A trip to Cordès makes a pleasant day out and can be combined with other pursuits.
Of the eleven Cantal châteaux open to the public (in the afternoon plus some in the morning at holiday times), the most interesting are:
Anjony: 15th-18th C, 23 k N of Aurillac, open from February to November
Auzers: 14th-15th C, SW of Riom-ès-Montagnes, open from Easter to All Saints

La Trémolière: 15th C, 8 k N of Salers, open 15 June to 15 September
La Vigne: 15th-18th C, 10 k S of Mauriac, open 15 June to 15 September
Val: 15th C, 7 k N of Bort-les-Orgues, open daily (except Tuesdays out of season)
A list of châteaux is given in the “Sites et Patrimoine” leaflet.
Cheylade_Church_Ceiling1 ND-du-Port_Clermont1
ND-du-Port_Clermont5 ND-du-Port_Clermont4

There is an “ethno-botanic” garden at Antignac with plants from seeds from archaeological sites, traditional medicinal and food plants and other plant related things. The Margeride ecomuseum has a plants section. Other gardens at Chateau de Chassan and Ch. de la Vigne (Cantal): Ch. de la Batisse, Ch. de Cordez (laid out by the same chap as Les Tuilleries; remarkable hedges; chateau & gardens can be seen separately) & Ch. d’Opme in Puy-de-Dome: for a fuller list and descriptions, see the “Visitez un jardin en France/Auvergne” leaflet.

Opened on 20 February ’02 (the symmetrical date 20.02.2002 caused press comment), the new 110 million euro, science-oriented theme park is dedicated to volcanoes. The Narbeth’s enjoyed a visit in July with their girls aged 12 and 6, reporting that they spent 3 hours, there was plenty of parking, no queuing and many of the texts were in English but although it was midday and not especially busy, there were no audio guides in English available. Interesting if fairly scientific, so best for over 12’s unless they are volcano enthusiasts. Entrance charges are € 18 for adults, € 12 for children aged 5 or over, with under-5s free. Vulcania is northwest of Clermont, about an hour and a quarter by car. Initially open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., opening times will be extended in summer.

The squat, solid, primitive style of the 11th and 12th centuries, typical of the region, is known as Romanesque. The following three are all different and rightly famous:
St Nectaire: open daily except Tuesdays & at lunchtime
- atmospheric, note the extraordinary painted stone capitals (tops of the pillars),
Orcival: open all day
light and airy for its date, designed and built by an unknown master mason
St Austremoine: Issoire, also open all day, a former abbey church
unusual painted pillars, exceptional capitals, signs of the zodiac around the outside of the nave; our web site has photos of St Austremoine
Other large churches have mostly been extended later, the oldest part is usually at the altar end - as at Riom-ès-Montagnes which has a 13th century wood carving of Christ.
There are some lovely village churches, like unadorned Picherande or Tremouille (where our daughter Christabel was married in 1998). Look for stone (lauzes) roofs, low curved walls, small windows. On a rock outcrop, Fortuniés is the essence of an Auvergne country church, simple, tiny, unchanged, a jewel; since '94 a very slow restoration has been in progress, I do so hope it is not spoiled (Fortuniés is on the way back down the Santoire valley from Murat, bear right on the D23 towards Chalinargues, in a couple of kilometres you will see Fortuniés on your left).
Rebuilt after being destroyed by the English in the Hundred Years' War, Cheylade has a naïvely painted ceiling, 15th C, extraordinary, and unique in France.

You often have to put a ten or twenty euro centime coin into a slot to turn on the lights, not always easy though to find the slot in the dark. Church (and other) buffs will enjoy a day in Le Puy where there’s lots to see. The cathedral is interesting, it’s fever stone dating back to pre-Roman times. The beautiful and curious Church of St. Michael on top of a stone pinnacle is 11th century and contains exceptional paintings, making the climb up well worthwhile.
St Flour cathedral is said to contain a life sized black Christ, but I have not seen it.

The Chapel of Notre Dame d'Estaules is a stroll down the lane from La Borie, but following a theft is often locked. The curious round chapel of St Gorgon is on a pleasant walk (we did it with a 7 year old) or can be reached by car.

La Godivelle has a small, pretty church (dedicated to Saint Blaise) with one or two surprising gargoyles.
Strangely primitive stone crosses can be found here and there, as at Chancel, near La Fonte Sainte, a pleasant place for a stroll up to a bump with a super view - Di's father walked up aged 82.
In Clermont-Ferrand, 12th century Notre-Dame-du-Port replaced a 7th century building, unusual sculptures (much damaged) by the south door, and other interesting features. Begun in 1248, the cathedral, built of dark grey lava, is said by the Guide Bleu to be the finest Gothic building in Auvergne. It contains some very old murals and medieval windows. Nearby, a statue of Urban II recalls the first crusade.

Haras National d'Aurillac
Housed at Aurillac since 1806, France's, and probably one of the world’s, largest and most important stud of heavy breed stallions, numbering over 100. Guided visits from mid July to mid September, other times by appointment.

Allanche has a major antiques fair the first week in August. Every Sunday morning there is a flea market (interesting and other junk) and an antiques market in Clermont Ferrand - ask for directions. Antiquités are expensive antiques, brocante means ordinary antiques/collectables, dealers are known as brocanteurs.

The Syndicat d'Initiative (Tourist Office) in Condat organises (often free) visits. Adults and children much enjoyed watching cheese made on a farm. Apart from standard information, they also know of happenings such as antiques fairs and the interesting monthly cattle fairs at Brion.


Mont Mouchet has a National Monument to the Resistance which was very active in the Auvergne, tying up two divisions and inflicting heavy losses on occupying German forces. “Interesting and very moving”, the Museum is open daily from 1 May to 5 October.

Musée de la Haute Auvergne in St Flour (pronounced SAN FLOOR) centre: pre-history to 1900, traditional cheese making equipment, burons, daily life in the last century, religious art, musical instruments and a fine collection of Auvergnat furniture from beds to dressers; guide notes in English.

Musée du Ski in Besse: the evolution of skis and skiing which is rather older than you might suppose. Small, interesting.

Musée de la Radio et du Photographie at Lanobre, on the Chateau de Val road - gramophones et al., recommended by the Marchants. However, in 1999 we were told it was closed. Update needed please!

Ecomusée de la Margeride (said with a soft G), 12 k from St Flour. Spread across several sites, “with houses, gardens, objects, sounds and smells, with pictures and interiors, the museum tells the past and present story of the people in this mountain land...” The Hawkings family who went twice, write “exhibitions really excellent, well worth the trip”.

Musée de la Vigne et de la Vie Rurale at Plauzat on the way to Clermont.

Other more distant museums, described in the Musées d'Auvergne leaflet, include Antique Ceramics at Lezoux, Cutlery at Thiers, Agricultural Machinery at Ambert, Popular Arts and Traditions at Riom (by Clermont), and several in more conventional fields. There are two fine museums in central Clermont. Le Coq houses natural history and other exhibits, Bargoin has pre-history, Gallo-Roman, medieval and other antiquities and a quite outstanding collection of oriental carpets.

Special displays in the National Park:
¨ Maison de la Gentiane, Riom-ès-Montagnes; the story of a liqueur made from gentian roots; small garden of mountain plants; sample of Avèze.
¨ Maison des Fromages, Egliseneuve; cheese - with a glass of wine.
¨ Maison du Buronnier, Laveissière; about the men and women who raised cattle and made cheese in the burons (occitan word meaning a summer steading in the mountains); a century ago there were a thousand burons, this is one of the ten that remain.
¨ Maison de la Pierre, Volvic; go into the lava flow where the stone was hewn to build Clermont cathedral; futuristic music and lighting; slides.
¨ Maison des Tourbières, St-Aleyre-ès-Montagnes; Auvergne's upland peat bogs and sub-alpine wetlands.
¨ Maison de l'Eau et de la Pêche, Besse; lakes, rivers and their inhabitants.
¨ Maison de la Faune, Murat; wild animals of the Auvergne. Good place for a wet afternoon for kids. It has many local animals & brids and a good collection of local butterflies. You can get real home-made ice-cream at 15, Place Marchande afterwards (the patronne’s husband is Italian).
¨ Maison de la Flore, Col de Guery near Le Mont Dore; native flowers and plants.
¨ Maison de la Foudre, Marcenat; approach the mystery of electrical storms; video film, photos, objects struck by lightning. Small, quirky, interesting. Open June & Sept. 2.15 - 5.30 pm. July & Aug. 10.30 - 12 am & 2.15 - 6 pm. Admission: adults about € 3, children € 1.50.

Lac Pavin is one of a number of volcanic crater lakes, many circular. Accessible by car, it takes an hour to walk the footpath around it, within the steeply wooded crater. Pavin was the last active volcano in France and is said not yet to have finished cooling; to look at the ice in winter, you'd never guess. The small café is OK and the restaurant upstairs is good. A GR footpath leads to another crater lake, Montcinère, about 1½ hours walk. 1200 metres altitude.

Closed to the public at present because of a long-running law suit, the Tranchades de Laquairie are geological faults caused by a layer of lava slipping on a stable layer of granite - see walk 6 on page 27. Close by is the Roche Pointue, the remains of a small volcanic plug whose sides have been washed away by the River Santoire. Walk to it by parking at the bridge on the Riom road just outside Condat and follow the wooded valley for 15 minutes. The full circular walk takes about 45 minutes.

The Viaduc du Garabit lies south of St Flour. An early iron bridge of considerable size constructed by Eiffel. A grand day out can be had doing the circle St Flour / Chaudes Aigues / Truyères gorges / Sarran dam.

The Puy de Dôme, a unique volcanic bump near Clermont-Ferrand. Walk up or take the bus in July and August - at other times you can go up by car. There’s an information centre at the top plus a restaurant, several radio masts and the remains from a Gallo-Roman temple to Mercury. Relics from the temple, including a tiny bronze statue of Mercury, are in Musée Bargoin in central Clermont (near the obelisk). Excellent views of the chain of extinct volcanoes running away to the Northeast.

The Plateau de Gergovie where Vercingetorix, chief of the Celtic Arverni tribe (hence Auvergne) defeated the Roman army, has a visitor centre + film in English. Follow signs from the Clermont/Issoire road. Well spoken of.

The tiny water mill (Moulin de la Gazelle) near Ségur-les-Villas is authentic, fascinating and, astonishingly, free. Restored and lovingly re-built by enthusiasts, it is just up the Allanche road above La Gazelle - head up the Santoire valley from Condat towards Murat.

Parc Animalier, Ardes-sur-Couze - reported to be “Brilliant for children (& adults). Two year-old twins loved it apart from the over-friendly goats! Le Beffroi Restaurant in Ardes (off the main street) has excellent food though somewhat uninspiring decor. Brilliant coq au vin & local salade du Cézallier. Good idea to combine the restaurant with an afternoon visit to the zoo” (Summer 2000). Ardes is a 1 hour drive via La Godivelle and St. Alyre-ès-Montagnes.

La Monastère Znamenie, a Russian Orthodox convent, La Traverse near Marcenat allows visits on Sundays between 2 and 5 p.m. and in July & Aug. from 2 to 6 pm. They sell their own honey, spiced cakes, fabulously painted “eggs”, books they have published about their icons, and about Condat and Marcenat. For most people though, the most interesting part of the visit is seeing the superb ancient and modern icons in the chapel. From the D36, follow signs for La Traverse or (appropriately enough) La Godde. There are now seven nuns there (up from 3) and except for the massive outer wall, they did the building work themselves, including the copper onion dome. When Di passed by recently, a nun was working on the roof and when I enquired who drove the swing shovel, Sister Anastasia breezily said she did. Their pain épice is rather severe but we recommend their honey, especially because it is not mixed with sunflower honey, a widespread practice.


History on the ground: burial mounds, dolmens, bronze age settlements and more than one “English camp” dating from the Hundred Years’ War.
The Grottes de Jonas near Le Chiex, a fortified village of caves cut into a cliff face, includes a defensive habitation with interesting loo used by the seignior, and a church with just discernible murals reportedly the oldest in Auvergne.

Near Perrier is a group of caves that were lived in until the 1940s & are now being restored. Access is free, the site large and well suited to picnicking, if you don’t mind carrying your lunch.

From Condat station to remote forest glades, are reminders of a more recent invasion. Poignant plaques marking places where members of the Resistance were shot or seized never to be seen again. Even very remote memorials often have fresh flowers.