Beautiful scenery, hot springs, delicious cheese and wine, not overcrowded and what is the crime rate? The Auvergne region in France certainly has a lot going for it!
Where is the Auvergne region?
This region is situated more or less in the middle of France, which was once described by the Auvergnats as ' the Auvergne with a bit of land around it'. The neighbouring regions are – clockwise – Burgundy, Rhône-Alpes, Languedoc-Roussillon, Midi-Pyrénées, Limousin and Centre. There are four departments: Allier (3), Cantal (15), Haute-Loire (43) and Puy-de-Dôme (63). The capital is Clermont-Ferrand, an industrial city – e.g.Michelin tyre company – which was built on an extinct volcano. The Basilique de Notre Dame-du-Port and the petrifying fountain caves of Les Grottes du Pérou both deserve a mention. Not far from Clermont-Ferrand is the Parc Régional des Volcans d'Auvergne which, as the name suggests, has numerous old volcanic craters and lakes, hot springs and pillars of volcanic rock. More information to be found at the tourist board.
What is there in the Auvergne region?
A large part of the region covers the Massif Central, a fantastic mountainous plateau with the volcanic Auvergne Mountains at its core. It feeds France's four main rivers, the Loire, Seine, Garonne and Rhône. As its valleys are very fertile dairy and argriculture are the main occupations but there is also a healthy wine industry. Thiers is the centre for knife making and it also boasts a cutlery museum. Le Puy is known for lace making.
Some say that this traditional region is more French than the rest of France and as many of us associate France with cheese (and wine) for which the Auvergne is famous, this could just be true.
You will come across some stunning scenery in Auvergne with its many rivers, large oak forest, extinct volcanos, gorges, waterfalls, gentle farmland, thermal and mineral springs but it is also rich in culture and history. Tourism is important and the spa towns of Vichy – who has not heard of Vichy or Volvic mineral water – Néres-les-Bains and Bourbon-l'Archambault attract many people seeking cures, the latter especially against rheumatism. The springs of Chaudes-Aigues claim to be the hottest in Europe.
A spectacular place is Puy-en-Velay, beware of all the steps, and so is Salers just two of the many picturesque villages and medieval towns in the region.
Overall the Auvergne is sparsely populated , around 1.3 million, and Cantal, with its castles, is one of the most isolated departments of France. Haute Loire is also known for its peace and quiet and it may be interesting to know that the Auvergne has the lowest crime rate in France.
Its a great area for walking, biking, canoeing, fishing etc. and skiing in winter, especially cross country skiing. The markets selling tempting local produce, agricultural fairs, fetes with folk dancing and street theatre are another feature. There is so much to do, basically if you like the outdoors this is a great region.
Climate of the Auvergne region:
The summers are often quite hot, with thunderstorms, whereas the winters tend to be long, expect snow to fall and it can get very cold.
Property in the Auvergne:
As yet there are not so many international buyers but that is likely to change as property is not expensive and bargains can still be found here. Haute Loire is probably slightly more expensive than the rest of the region.
Food and wine in the Auvergne region:
We have already touched on the mineral waters and the enormous cheese selection such as the Cantal, Bleu d'Auvergne , Fourme d'Amber, Salers and so many others. Le Puy is justifiably proud of its lentils, Saint-Pourcain of its wine but other things to try are 'Aligot', a puree of mashed potatoes, Cantal cheese and butter, the fresh water fish and the stew of this region, la Potée Auvergnate, with meat like sausages, bacon, pork, some vegetables and potatoes. The fruit tarts look very enticing too.
Vercingétorix, the famous Gallic warrior who faced Caesar's invading forces, Lafayette - French soldier and statesman, who was born and died in Auvergne – not only known for his battles against the English in America but also for becoming leader of the revolution that dethroned the Bourbons. Ironically, Bourbon-l'Archambault the birthplace of the the kings of France's ancestors – the Bourbons - is also in Auvergne.
Getting to the Auvergne region:
You can fly from the UK to Clermont-Ferrand airport but we could not find any direct flights. You may want to look at Lyon or Limoges, although not in the Auvergne region, for direct flights. To get some idea of flights have a look at skyscanner. As always, beware of the low cost airlines, we do not know how long the service will last.
It normally takes about 6.5 hrs to travel from Calais to Clermont-Ferrand, about 3 hrs from Paris and roughly an hour from Lyon.
Unfortunately the TGV high speed trains do not serve the region but you could take the TVG to Lyon and then take a regular train to your destination in Auvergne.