In the regional natural park of Auvergne there are 80 volcanoes spread over an area 32km long and 4km wide. They are a sort of living open air museum, the fires that once raged in them, long burned out. Over time, nature has covered them in wild flower pastures, shrubs, forests and brilliant greenery and they now form a unique and distinctive plateau of peaks and slopes, cones and craters. Known as the Chaine des Puys, the area is a UNESCO listed world heritage site.
It’s an area which is ideal for walking and hiking, with routes to suit all levels.
Puy de Dôme
The Puy de Dôme is nicknamed the Giant of the Domes. Appearing to burst through the land, it’s the highest volcano in the Puys chain and is the symbol of Auvergne. The Romans chose it’s summit as the ideal place to build a temple to Mercury. You can’t help but pity the workforce who had to drag the materials 4,850 feet up those slopes. You can still see the remains of the temple at the top.
If you’re fit enough, a walk provides fabulous views. Or hop on the electric cog train that winds up to the top in a rather more civilised 15 minutes. From here, you’ll have a birds eye view over the regional natural park and the Auvergne volcanoes with the chain of Puys, the Dore mountains and the mountains of Cantal. On a fine day you can see as far as the city of Clermont-Ferrand, and beyond, the mountains of Forez. Puy is a geological term used locally in the Auvergne meaning volcanic hill.
A classified “Grand Site de France”, Puy Mary is one of the most visited sites in Auvergne. And it’s a classified Grand National Site of France. Located in the south of the volcanic natural park, this iconic pyramid rises 1,787 metres above sea level and was formed some 6.5 million years ago. There are superb views from the top which look over the mountains of Cantal, the dome of Puy Griou and the Plomb du Cantal. It’s not an easy walk to the peak but there are plenty of places to stop en route and get your breath back.
Puy de Sancy
At 1,885 metres, Puy de Sancy is the highest point of the Massif Central. It’s also the tallest volcano in metropolitan France. The alpine crest, steep slopes and jagged ridges contrast with the other peaks of the Massif Central. Take an exhilrating cable car ride almost to the top. It carries you more than 450 metres in four minutes! Then continue the 20 minute climb to the apex on foot, via a wooden staircase.
Puy du Pariou
You might recognise this rather small 8,000-year-old volcano. With its characteristic silhouette, It’s the star of Volvic water commercials. Reaching 1,290 metres above sea level, this volcano has two hiking trails (around 2 hours there and back) to the top where you have fabulous views over Clermont-Ferrand. You can even descend into its centre to explore the bottom of the crater (allow about an hour to walk down and back).
Puys de la Vache and de Lassolas
Twin volcanoes, born from the same eruption share key characteristics: their stony slopes indicate that their craters are not closed. The red earth of these volcanoes is Mars-like and they are great for a hike. A tour of Puy de la Vache takes about 1h30 (3 km), and Puy de Lassolas takes about 2h30 (5 km).
Puy de Lemptégy
Born 30,000 years ago, the Puy de Lemptégy was mined for its volcanic slag leaving it open in an unusual and striking way. The colours and layers of strata can be clearly seen which has made it a popular visit. It is like an amphitheater of volcanic history. You can enter the volcano on foot or take the 2.5 hour little train guided tour, an immersive experience which includes a simulator ride.
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