Created in 1985, Livradois-Forez Nature Park is one of the largest regional parks in France. It covers an area of 320,000 hectares to the east of the Massive Central spanning the departments of Haute-Loire and Puy-de-Dome. Clermont-Ferrand is one of its gateway towns. Landscapes vary from the exposed alpine moorland of Monts Forez in the north east to the high forested plateau of central Livradois, and Foret de la Comte and wooded valleys in the west and south west. Between oak and pine covered hills nestle the fields and river valleys of the Dore and Allier. Forests are home to red squirrel and deer, a place to gather mushrooms in autumn. The meadows and heaths are carpeted with wild flowers in spring and summer including wild orchids. Walking and horse riding are great ways to explore the park.
In the past men, used energy from cascading rivers like the Dore to develop skilled crafts of braid, lace and knife making. Today, 70% of France’s sharp instruments are still produced here along with climbing ropes and sheaths for electric cables. Following the Livradois-Forez ‘routes des métiers’ or craft road is an excellent way of exploring parts of the park where people continue to live and work following old traditions (includes 3 castles, 16 museums, 11 craft workshops and 11 farm producers including cheese-makers). The main park centre is in St-Gervais-sous-Meymont, tel: (00 33) 4 73 95 57 57.
On the western edge of the Massif Central, this unique landscape has almost 80 extinct volcanoes or ‘puys’ some active as recently as the end of the Ice Age. The park includes the Monts Domes chain, Monts Dore - rising to 1885m on Puy de Sancy - and Monts du Cantal along with high plateau pastures, creating an area rich in fauna and flora in a landscape of crater lakes, rivers, waterfalls and spectacular views. Sparsely populated, the park has only recently become more accessible to the tourist - great for green outdoor activities and nature lovers. The main ‘maison du parc’ is at Chateau de Montlosier south of Clermont-Ferrand, tel: (00 33) 4 73 65 64 00.Other information centres include museums devoted to aspects of the area such as shepherding.
The Monts Dore volcanoes in the south west are much older than those of the Monts Domes and the treeless upland areas are good grazing country for sheep and herds of beef and Salers cattle which produce the famous St-Nectaire cheese. Spring meadows are dotted with gentians and violets. Take the telepherique from Mont-Dome to the summit of Puy de Sancy (1885m), the highest point of the Massif Central. The River Dordogne rises here, carving its deep valley through the Monts Dore. The craggy heights are a great venue for rock climbers. The area is a popular venue for skiers in winter and walkers in summer.