The volcanic plateaux and river gorges of Haute-Loire are a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts offering activities ranging from fishing for trout on the upper reaches of the River Loire, through to walking, cycling and even hang-gliding.
Go cross-country skiing at La Chaise Dieu and Les Estables (at 1344m the highest village in the Massif Central). The latter also has snowboarding and some alpine skiing in winter.
Winters can be harsh in high altitude Haute-Loire but this little-known southerly department of the Auvergne also offers visitors 2000 hours of sunshine annually and the delightful town of ‘sweet’ Brioude - gateway to the gorges of the River Allier where canoeing is popular - holds a French record for the least rainfall in a year.
Follow the D16 scenic route from Brioude to Langeac and take the tourist train across the gorges. Blesle makes a good base for ‘green tourism’ exploring the lush countryside sprinkled with lakes and forests.
Visit amazing Le Puy-en-Velay - a starting point for the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage - its churches and statues balanced fantastically around the town on rocky volcanic pinnacles. Religious traditions here are strong and Haute-Loire is particularly know for its Renaissance churches and Black Madonnas - ancient statues of walnut or cedar thought to have been brought back from the Orient by the Crusaders.
Deep in the wooded uplands of the Livradois-Forez Natural Regional Park the huge Romanesque/Gothic abbey in the little village of La Chaise-Dieu is particularly worth a visit - have fun testing its echo room.
Many of Haute Loire’s villages such as Moudeyres have museums of folk art and traditions. Visit Retournac’s lace museum and the Musee du Jacquemart in Langeac which bring to life this vanishing craft.