~ Panorama from Puy de Dôme ~
Regional Nature Park of the Volcanoes of Auvergne is the largest regional nature park in France, comprising more than 395,000 hectares of glaciers, lakes, gently rolling countryside, plateaux .... and of course volcanoes. Popular activities include hiking, cycling, riding, rock climbing, hand gliding and hot air ballooning, and though this region of Auvergne receives many visitors the huge expanse of space ensures that even in July and August you can find empty trails and quiet corners to enjoy the stunning and varied scenery.
The Volcano Regional Park is located in the Auvergne region of central France, on the north-western corner of the Massif Central. Spread over two French departments, the park is more than 120 km long from North to South and contains four separate chains of extinct volcanoes.
Although relatively unknown outside of France, this is beginning to change as easyJet and Ryanair open up this region to visitors. The nearest airport is at Clermont-Ferrand which is only 10 minutes drive from the Park. Rodez airport also offers good access to the southern Cantal region of Volcano Regional Park.
When travelling by car approach Clermont-Ferrand by route A71 from Paris or the A72 from Lyon. Driving from Paris should take approximately 3 hours, and from the south coast the duration should be 4 hours.
Volcano Nature Park is accessible by train using the frequent services to Clermont-Ferrand Station.
Website: www.parc-volcans-auvergne.com (opens in a new window)
With a highest point of 1,800 meters the scenery of the Volcano Nature Park is not as spectacular as that of the Alps, but it is no less beautiful or varied. The idyllic rolling highlands support picturesque farms and are littered with steep wooded valleys, ideal for hiking and panoramic picnics. Of course there are volcanoes too - thankfully extinct! - which shape the surrounding landscape by forming crater lakes, cones and solid lava flows. There are also plateaux, river gorges, glaciers and peatland to add to the remarkable variety of geographical features in the Park, which help to support a wide range of flora and fauna. For example you can expect to see eagles, otters, Mouflon and many other species as you hike through the hills, and there are numerous visitor exhibitions featuring the wildlife of this stunning region.
The huge expanse and varied landscape of the Volcano Natural park and Auvergne support a wide variety of activities including hiking, rock climbing, horse riding, mountain biking, cross country and downhill skiing, hand gliding, para gliding, hot air ballooning and water sports. The two main locations for downhill and Nordic skiing in this area are Puy de Dome and Cantal which offer good pistes and trails for intermediate ski enthusiasts. The Auvergne has something for everyone!
The main attraction of the Volcano Natural Park is the extensive network of hiking trails which traverse the ridges, valleys and mountains of this corner of the Massif Central. Of the volcanic chains the best for hikers is the southern-most Monts du Cantal as it is the largest in area, has the most comprehensive collection of well-signposted paths and some of the widest ridges in the Park. And due to its size it never feels crowded, even in the height of summer.
For the less active there is sightseeing in the nearby fortified towns, atmospheric castles and churches, health spas and Volcania theme park (see below). This part of the Auvergne has all the charm and natural beauty of rural France.
The Volcano Nature Park contains no less than four chains of extinct volcanoes, each one with distinct characteristics and features. The Chaîne des Puys (Monts Domes) lies at the northern end of the region and its main highlight is the magnificent crater of Puy de Dôme which rises to a height of 1,465 metres (4,792 feet) and is easily reached by car or on foot. This range is the youngest in the Park having been created approximately 6,000 years ago.
The central chain is the Monts Dore area which contains the highest peak in the Park - Puy de Sancy at 1,886m (6,188ft) - as well as the most spectacular scenery including many crater lakes. The southern volcanic chain Monts du Cantal is renowned for its extensive network of hiking trails and accessible lanscape, and as it is much the largest of the chains has the space to absorb the many visitors to this beautiful region.
The volcanoes of the Auvergne make this a distinctive region of France by mixing the spectacular volcanic formations with the beauty of a traditional and tranquil countryside.
The Auvergne is a quiet, rural region in central France whose main industry is farming. The beautiful landscape is populated with small, scattered villages and a few towns including the main capital of Clermont-Ferrand which is located in the Puy de Dôme department. The whole area is not well known to Britons as they usually pass through on their way to the south coast.
The cuisine of the Auvergne is typically rustic with hearty dishes for the farming community dominating local menus, such as 'Aligot' and 'Truffade'. The area is also renowned for its cheeses: St. Nectaire, Cantal and in particular Bleu d'Auvergne which have all received prestigious AOC classification, and the 'Route de Fromage' showcases farms that produce these excellent cheeses using traditional methods. The famous Puy (green) lentils are also from the Auvergne, which grow extremely well in the rich volcanic soil.
The capital of the Auvergne is Clermont-Ferrand, a medium-sized town in the Puy de Dôme department which
is probably best known as the home of Michelin tyres, who employ 20,000 people in the region. It also hosts a
film festival, and is the birthplace of Audrey Tautou (of Amelie movie fame). It is not particularly renowned
as a tourist destination in its own right, but it has a pleasant central square with cathedral, shops and
cafes. There is also a new tram system which the locals are very proud of! The location of Clermont-Ferrand is
very dramatic as it is ringed by the mountains of the Sancy Range and the Puy de Dôme itself, and as such
is a convenient base for exploring the nearby mountains.
Vulcania is a the only entertainment park in the world with volcanoes as its central theme, and is located 15km west of Clermont-Ferrand. It is open from March to November - check their website for opening times and up-to-date prices. Note that they have occasional closure days so it is best to check beforehand before visiting.
The attractions at Vulcania are housed in an artificial 'cone' which includes an IMAX cinema showing a spectacular 3-D depiction of volcanic eruptions, the Rumbling Chamber and Etna Room. With more than 30 attractions, a volcanic garden, geyser fountains, shops, information centre, library and play area, there is more than enough to keep the whole family entertained.
Website: www.vulcania.com (opens in a new window)
~ View from Puy de Dôme in Winter ~