French Odyssey Part 2 – Volcanoes & Villages   6 comments

So I exaggerated a little in my previous post. I had you picturing steaming vents, bubbling mud-pools, lava flows and ash clouds all with the smell of sulphur in the air. This is rural central France so of course there is nothing of the sort.

We were in fact visiting the Monts Dome region outside Clermont Ferrand, a chain of “Puys” or old volcanic cinder cones. We tried to get to the top of the Puy de Dome (the highest one – there is a road to the top) last year but they are building a rack railway so it’s effectively “closed”. On a whim we parked the car a couple of miles away and followed a trail into the woods that we thought might take us to the top of one of the smaller ones and we discovered the delightful Puy de Pariou, a cinder cone with its own crater. This year, rather than waste a glorious sunny day looking for maps and trying to find something new, we went back to what we know, packed a picnic and headed off into the woods.

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Out of the car at last

All of the Puy rise out of high level almost alpine pastureland of green fields bedecked with wild flowers. The lower slopes are heavily forested but the summits are bare, so the views from the top are terrific.

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Between the Puys

This time went for a circular walk and strolled through the lower forest, collecting black volcanic rocks as we went and spiralled around the back to a wide open grassy meadow between Puy Pariou and several other smaller cones nearby.

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Alpine like meadow

The air was crystal clear under an electric blue sky, warm enough to sit and enjoy the sun but cool enough to walk without overheating. After a day and a half in the car it was great to get outside and stretch the legs. I really fancy a much longer walk here armed with a map as it looks like there are numerous paths winding along, over and between all the cones and away from Puy Pariou (which is well-known and quite busy) it looked deserted, perfect for a long amble in the sunshine. All the time the Puy de Dome with its radio mast dominates the skyline to the south.

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Puy de Dome

The climb to the top from this side is via a wooden walkway to protect the fragile soil. It’s a little un-natural but adds to the sense of excitement for the kids.

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Counting the steps

When you crest the summit, which is in fact the rim of the crater the views around in all directions of the numerous wooded volcanos with their eroded summits is stunning.

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Jane and L on the crater rim

The contrast between the green hills and the blue sky is electric.

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The Northern Puys

What really catches your eye though is the deep grassy crater in the middle which I guess is at least 100 feet deep. It really does feel like the ancient volcano it actually is.

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The crater - I think it's extinct

As there was a strong breeze blowing we decided to have our lunch down in the crater.

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Lunch before the next eruption

It was quite busy, not a place for calm reflection but there was a happy atmosphere with kids looking at the volcanic boulders and revelling in the fact they were playing in a volcano. We chilled out with our first proper picnic of the holiday before me and D did a circuit of the crater rim and then followed Jane and L back down to the car.

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Puy de Dome

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The crater from the south

We’d taken it easy so it was 3pm when we set off for our next overnight stop. We’d chosen the same place as last year, the wonderfully named Logis de France, Hotel Le Portalou in La Canourgue. Driving through this part of France midweek, even on the autoroute is a joy. Empty roads, sunshine and ever-changing scenery are a far cry from the over-crowded UK motorways. We stopped off for a cuppa at the Viaduc du Garabit, one of Gustav Eiffel’s creations and mighty impressive it is too.

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Viaduc de Garabit

We waited patiently for a train to travel over but to no avail. Jane took over the driving for a while giving me a chance to look at the view and irritate the kids by taking photos of them.

Once we’d checked in we went for an early evening stroll around the village. It’s a typical french village with stone houses, narrow alleyways and historic buildings.

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La Canourgue - our hotel is on the right at the end

Pride of place goes to the Clock Tower. There are also numerous little streams running through and under the village such that you turn a corner in an alleyway to be confronted by a stream flowing out from under a house before disappearing under the next one.

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Water, water everywhere

As with most French villages the place is always pristine and bedecked with flowers making it a pleasure just to wander the streets and drool over the restaurant menus.

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La Canourgue - Main square and fountain

I’ve not seen this place mentioned in any guidebooks hence the reason it’s pretty quiet and unspoilt. We returned to our huge and lovely family room to chill before a splendid meal in the hotel restaurant.

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Jane and L enjoying the evening

We were ready for the next stage of our adventure, a kayak trip down the Tarn Gorge. To be continued….

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6 responses to “French Odyssey Part 2 – Volcanoes & Villages

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  1. Blimey – you’ve gone onto overdrive.
    Nice pictures. It never occured to me but I have all the maps you would need of this area – if you’re going back let me know. As you know TBH and I camped for a week in the Puy de Dome area and loved it. We climbed a few of the volcanos, couldn’t say offhand which ones. I remember the walking being very pleasant and pretty quiet too. The year after we walked from Volvic to St. Fleur, across the Auvergne North to South on a GR. We climbed Puy de Dome itself but whilst we were in the north of the region the weather was foul. The Cantal part of the Auvergne is good too, with some nice ridge walking, but that was very busy when we walked through there.

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    beatingthebounds
  2. The whole of the Massif Centrale is top notch, loads of interetsing stuff, mountains in the north, rivers and gorges (as you’ll find out) in the south. That’s the trouble with France, big place, so much nice stuff to see. Trying to narrow down the options for a holiday there is pretty tricky

    Didn’t know you’d been to the area twice. It’s a good place to take the kids. Plenty of easy walking, rivers, lakes, castles and some attractions as well. There is even a volcano attraction called Vulcania (all high tech and exciting) that looks good and an old Puy that’s been quarried out so you can see all the volcanic rocks and they take you round on a little road train

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  3. Love the music on the video… very apt 🙂
    Long time since I heard it and I cant remember all the words so off to google now.

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    • Thanks David – glad you enjoyed the tune. I have several of the traditional reggae versions but they didn’t seem to fit. Managed to find and download this bluegrass version and it works a treat. Really enjoying putting these little productions together

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  4. Perfect walking to be achievable for children without being much for them and brilliant places for leisurely picnic lunches. That’s what family holidays in France are about.

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  5. This would be a great area for some easy strolling, away from the better known ones they look deserted. As you can probably tell from all my walking/outdoor posts, I love to stop, eat and take in the scenery. The kids give me a great excuse to do it longer and more often 🙂

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