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Europe 2013 - Around the Auvergne

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Around the Auvergne

The road over the Col de Legal climbs to a high ridge then a steep drop into a wooded valley before climbing again to the popular town of Salers. We parked in the official camping-car places (no overnight stays permitted) and wandered around the grey stone streets where there are many shops selling gifts and the local speciality of Salers biscuits (rather like thin shortbreads) and Cantal cheese. After a lunch stop in a layby overlooking the deep valley of the Maronne river we climbed through forests to reach the junction and parking area at the Pas de Peyrol where the paved path and many steps to the top of Puy Mary starts. They were carrying out extensive roadworks so it wasn't at all peaceful. The three roads to the peak operate a one way scheme for motorhomes and coaches for access in the mornings and afternoons although some drivers seemed to ignore the signs. We walked a short way up towards the peak to admire the panorama with still some pockets of snow on the hills but it was blowing a gale so we drove down to the Col de Serre where there was another building site for a new visitor centre. As it was now mid afternoon we descended via Dienne to find the aire at Segur les Villas for a quiet night.

Salers Cantal
Maronne valley near Salers
Val de Maronne Cantal
Puy Mary Cantal
Path up Puy Mary

The next morning we drove to Riom es Montagne for a supermarket top up then decided to head through Condat and across low moorland hills covered in wild flowers to a nature reserve marked on the map by a lake at the remote village of La Godivelle. After a circuit of the narrow lanes we ended up at the small village of Valbeleix with distinctive red painted houses overlooked by the Roche Nité then we came across one of several modern art "constructions" dotted about the region. Our next stop was at Lac Pavin a distinctive flooded volcano where we enjoyed a walk around the circular lake before passing another strange artwork in a pond and reaching our night stop at the popular free aire at La Tour d'Auvergne. The cold damp weather returned the next day so after a short walk around the rather rundown town we drove to La Bourboule a spa resort and on to Le Mont Dore intending to take the telerifique to Puy Sancy but it was shrouded in cloud With a change of plan we returned to the town centre intending to enter the new aire at the campsite but the card operated barrier machine was "en panne" and the campsite office wasn't open so we parked on the street and walked around the rather empty town centre. Returning to the van after admiring a rather sad fountain, a notice had been put on the windscreen by the municipal police informing us that overnight parking was banned everywhere in the town so point taken we drove out and over the hills to Lac Chambon where we found a pleasant private aire at Camping les Bombes.

Le Mont Dore fountain
A fountain? at le Mont Dore

Another wet day followed as we continued north to Orcival with its large basilica, probably a pleasant town to explore in better weather and on to the new visitor centre at Puy de Dome. Access to the top is by electric tram these days but we had driven up the steep road to the peak many years ago. Overnight parking for motorhomes is free so we parked up for the rest of the day hoping the weather would improve but unfortunately it was still misty the next morning so we decided to head north. We thought we needed to top up our LPG so drove around the outskirts of Clermont Ferrand heading for a hypermarket shown as selling LPG on our satnav. Unfortunately the one listed at Riom was being rebuilt so after negotiating the busy dual carriageway back towards Clermont we arrived at an Auchan just as the filling station closed for lunch. With a couple of hours to kill we headed for the village of Châteaugay nearby with a large castle but really still in the suburbs. We returned at 2 pm to fill our LPG bottle to find it was only half empty so we had rather wasted a few hours and had to then retrace our steps, bypassing Riom and heading for Châtel Guyon where we found the aire near the town centre. The spa town with its casino was rather past its best but with some pleasant gardens.
The next places on the map to catch our attention were the Méandre de Queuille and the Viaduc des Fades so we set off on back roads to eventually reach the viewpoint over the horseshoe bend in the wooded valley of the the river Sioule, probably worth a fifteen minute stop and a further drive on a maze of lanes to the Barrage de Besserve just by the box section viaduct which when completed in 1909 was believed to be the tallest bridge in the world with masonry piers 92 metres high. We found our way to the main road at St Gervais d'Auvergne and drove along pretty wooded lanes through the Gorges de la Sioule and up to St Rémy de Blot where we parked overlooking the Château Rocher ruins for the afternoon before finding the free aire in the village for another peaceful night with one other camping-car and giant flowerpots.

St Remy de Blot church
St Rémy de Blot church

As the borne was not working (with a sign apologising for the lack of services) we set off to find the borne at St Éloy les Mines, an old industrial town and busy for a Sunday, and on to Néris les Bains where there was a street market and a popular boulangerie with a very long queue out of the door. We took a side road leading through smart villages, commuter towns for Montluçon and came across Hérisson, one of the delightful typical old French villages in a time warp that we love to stumble upon.

Valbeleix thatched house
Valbeleix thatched house

Modern artwork near Valbeleix    Modern artwork near Lac Pavin
Modern artwork in the Auvergne

Le Mont Dore cafe
Le Mont Dore cafe

   Orcival basilica  
Orcival basilica

Chatel Guyon Spa
Châtel Guyon Spa

Meandre de Queuille   Viaduc de Fades  
Méandre de Queuille                           Viaduc des Fades

Chateau Rocher   St Remy de Blot giant flowerpot
 Château Rocher                    St Rémy de Blot flowerpot


    Herisson church            Herisson old house
Hérisson - church  château  and old house             

After a stroll around the narrow streets we investigated the small basic municipal campsite but decided not to stay there as the rain had started again so continued our journey north through the massive Forêt de Tronçais to St Bonnet Tronçais where we parked overnight at the aire on the edge of the village. A short drive the next morning took us across flat countryside to the larger town of St Amand Montrond and the ACSI campsite.