Visit the rustic and quiet Auvergne region of France
Anchoring the center of France is the Massif Central, a rugged plateau of ancient granite and hardened lava. The landscape is punctuated by volcanic peaks and deep river gorges. This is the land of the Auvergne, a region of natural beauty and dramatic landscapes, located midway between Paris and the Mediterranean sea.
The Auvergne is believed to have been inhabited since prehistoric times. In fact, regional artifacts suggest that the Celts lived here as early as 400 BC. Today, the Auvergne boasts some of France’s most beautiful Romanesque churches and Renaissance era palaces. The first cathedral built in the region was erected by Saint Namace in 450 AD in present day Clermont-Ferrand. The cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style beginning in the thirteenth century.
A major natural monument in the Auvergne is the Puy de Dome an extinct volcano which rises 1,465 meters (4,807 feet) above sea level. The peak provides breathtaking views of the Puy mountain chain and the green plains below. A winding road takes visitors to the peak, where remains of the Roman Temple of Mercury can still be seen. Blaise Pascal performed his famous experiment on the weight of air here in 1648.
The area is a paradise of outdoor activities, including skiing, rafting, biking, golfing, hiking, and hang-gliding. Lakes Guery, Aydat, Pavin, and Chambon provide excellent opportunities for water sports such as canoeing, fishing, swimming, and sailing.
The region is renowned for its cheeses. Widely-available selections include the blue cheeses Fourme d’Ambert and Bleu d’Auvergne, as well as Cantal, Salers, and St-Nectaire. Local dishes include pounti, a souffle-like creation composed of ham, eggs, vegetables, and cream.
A city of history
The city of Clermont-Ferrand is located at the northern end of the mountainous Massif Central; it is the capital of the Auvergne region of France. The city’s history dates back to the Roman era and was also an important city in ancient Gaul.
You don’t usually think of volcanoes when you think of France, but indeed they ring the city of Clermont-Ferrand. As with much of this part of France, the city was under Roman rule for centuries. It was renamed Clermont in the 9th century. Christianity played a major role in the cities rise. In fact, the First Crusade was proclaimed and launched from Clermont.
So why the hyphen with Ferrand?
Local nobles, fed up with religious rule, started the neighboring town of Ferrand in 1551. Ferrand came under Royal protection in 1610. In 1731 Louis XIV joined then two cities of Clermont and Ferrand by royal edict.
To this day, there are two downtowns, each with an old town area near their respective basilicas. The city is the world headquarters of Michelin tires and the company was founded here. As for local culture, there is a world famous Short Film Festival held every February and a jazz festival each October.
Local specialty foods lean toward meat and potatoes; most notable is the Truffade, a large grated potato pancake stuffed with cheese.
Visit the regional tourist office for more information about Auvergne.
Auvergne Region Map
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