The summit of Puy-de-Dome, a 1,464m extinct volcano of the Monts Domes, was once a place of worship for Celts and Romans, and for sorcerers’ rituals. Today, the summit is still a place of enchantment - though now sporting a restaurant, museum and information centre - for all who enjoy its panoramic views. However you get there (the ascent is a gruelling leg of the Tour de France), best arrive early or late to avoid the crowds. Fittingly, this famous high point in Auvergne’s lunar landscape gives its name to the department of Puy-de-Dome.
Experience the power of volcanoes at Vulcania interactive theme park near Clermont-Ferrand. Puy-de-Dome’s sparsely populated upland forests, volcanic ‘puys’, rivers, lakes and waterfalls, all part of the Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans, have only recently become more accessible to the tourist. Summers here offer a huge variety of outdoor activities, from hiking to ballooning and in winter French skiers for years have made for the highest point in the Massif Central - Puy Sancy (1885m) in the Monts Dores. The resort of Super-Besse also offers nightclubs and shopping and Mont-Dore spa has relaxing therapies. Romans used these sulphurous springs, now popular with Parisians.
The black towers of Cathedrale Notre Dame in regional capital, Clermont-Ferrand, reach out, dwarfed dramatically by the overshadowing Puy de Dome. Here, the old quarter takes its colour from local volcanic rock rather than grime from Clermont-Ferrand’s industrial past, linked to Michelin tyre manufacture. Industry has declined, and today’s city sports a university, boutiques, markets, street cafes and museums. Science Musee du Ranquet displays seventeenth century calculating machines.
Puy-de-Dome’s signature black basalt can be admired in the Renaissance architecture of Riom and Romanesque buildings of Orcival and St Nectaire. The latter gives its name to the nutty flavoured cheese popular in France, whilst the nearby market village of Besse holds festivals in July (Montee) and autumn (Devalade) marking the movement of herds to and from high pastures.
Learn more about Puy-de-Dome’s heritage from the Routes des Metiers - trade route - in the Livradois-Forez Regional Nature Park. The Limagne plain, east of Clermont-Ferrand, produces cereals, vegetables and orchard fruits, and hillside vineyards supply the local Cotes d’Auvergne wines. Internationally, the region is better known for its mineral waters - visit Volvic, the source of Puy-de-Dome’s most famous.