The Auvergne, once a remote and inaccessible area, has retained much of its wild and unspoilt character making it the ideal choice for nature lovers. Its volcanic landscape (the largest in Europe) with verdant mountains and dramatic gorges, lakes and wide plateaux, bear testament to its ancient past. Yet this region in the heart of the Massif Central, is only 3 hours from Paris. On one of the main routes of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrims, there are more than 500 Romanesque churches in the region and over 50 castles dating from the Middle Ages through the reigns of the Dukes of Bourbon and Auvergne, a proud reminder of the region’s prestigious past.
Of its ten Spa towns, the most famous is Vichy on the Banks of the Allier with its parks, restaurants, opera house, horse racing and vast lake. It has retained the charm, elegance and atmosphere of the twenties when it was first fashionable, with architecture from art nouveau to neo gothic and much wrought ironwork. Better known for its part in World War II, and despite the devastation caused, there is a total absence of any reference to this in terms of monuments or museums. The region enjoys fine cuisine as well as splendid AOC cheeses, especially those of the Cantal and the famous Puy Lentils of Le Puy en Velay. The capital of the Haute Loire, a starting point for pilgrims to Compostela, Le Puy with its 13th Century Cathedral is a remarkable sanctuary town where hand-made lace is still made.
In terms of leisure activities, the choice is endless. There are eight ski resorts and over 1,300 kms of cross country skiing. For the golfer, seven 18 hole golf courses and nine 9 hole golf courses await. There are many footpaths for hiking and trekking, many routes for cycling tours (over 32 tours in all) and 10 mountain biking centres. This rugged and unspoilt land naturally has its share of wildlife, flora and fauna. Clermont-Ferrand, with its black buildings of volcanic rock, nestled at the foot of the Puys range, is the capital and a lively university and cultural town including a cathedral, churches and a museum. With its four volcanic masses, the youngest of which is 10,000 years old, the Auvergne is unique. Travelling to the Auvergne By plane: Flights from Southampton to Clermont-Ferrand with Flybe. By train: From London to Saint-Etienne (via Paris, Lille or Lyon) by Eurostar and TGV. Copyright: Sarah Francis