Clermont-Ferrand, in case you don’t know it, is a charming city with a two thousand year history right in the middle of France “at the crossroads of the main highways of Europe”. It is also at the heart of the Michelin company, so we are here while my husband attends meetings at his head office. As happy as I am to sit at a table on the cobblestones of the old quarter, drinking wine and eating the excellent local cheese, I am at risk of turning into a complete pudding.
Fortunately, Clermont-Ferrand is also within reach of the Auvergne volcanoes: a chain of eight dormant volcanoes (or Chaîne des Puys, in French) at the edge of the Massif Central. Looked after by the Maison du Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne, this area offers some great hiking opportunities. I was lucky enough to find an obliging local resident willing to accompany me on a couple of wonderful forays into the “Monts Dome” range.
These mountains are not particularly high (the Puy de Dôme is the highest at 1465m), but they stand out in stark relief against the surrounding plateau. On Monday, in changeable weather and under ominous clouds, we walked 1.9km up the well-graded Chemin des Muletier or ‘Mule Train’ path, through the hazel, oak and alder trees, to the top of Puy de Dôme. This sounds easy enough, but the 350m rise in elevation is much more difficult with jet-lag and and after a surfeit of wine and cheese!
Today (Thursday), we walked up the Puy de Pariou. Not only is the walk relatively easy, with a reasonable gradient and a total altitude of 1209m, but we were blessed with glorious sunshine, clear skies and great views across to the neighbouring Puy de Dôme.
It was a beautiful way to enjoy a couple of spring days in the heartland of central France.
Enjoy the season!