I grew up in “sunny” France… but not just anywhere in France, in the most wonderful and beautiful region of all French regions. I was indeed born and raised in Auvergne, right in the middle of the country. To most people, Auvergne is known for its cheeses, its cows and its long winters (and all of this is true :p), but this region also holds many treasures. And I’m going to transport you at the very heart of one of them: the Auvergne volcanoes.
A little introduction
As seen on the map, Auvergne is right in the middle of France, which is pretty convenient to travel, with no super big distances. The region is composed of 4 departments: Allier, Puy-de-Dôme, Cantal and Haute-Loire. The biggest city is Clermont-Ferrand (this is where I am from) and is located in the Puy-de-Dôme department. As I was saying earlier, the region contains many volcanoes, which is very nice because those are the only ones located in metropolitan France. I feel quite lucky to have grown up in such a beautiful scenery.
- The oldest and biggest volcanoes of the region are the Monts du Cantal (Cantal mountains), which are a group of extinct volcanic peaks. The numerous eruptions have actually given birth to the largest volcano in Europe (2,700 m²) and it’s a pride to have it in Auvergne. The highest peaks are Plomb du Cantal (1,855 m) and Puy Mary (1,783 m).
- Then, there are the Monts Dore, in the south of the Puy-de-Dôme department. Those volcanic peaks are also very old and deeply eroded, like the Monts du Cantal, but are slightly smaller in volume and size. But you can find the highest peak of Auvergne there: the Puy de Sancy (1,885 m). This volcanic massif is overflowing with beauty and activities. You can ski, hike or chill around a lake of volcanic origin, such as Lac Pavin (crater lake or maar), Lac Chambon (volcanic dam) or Lac du Guéry (volcanic dam).
- And, last but definitely not least, the Chaîne des Puys, also located in the Puy-de-Dôme department. It’s a group of about 80 volcanoes, aligned on a north-south axis, and it’s about 30-35 km long and 3 -5 km wide. It’s overlooking Clermont-Ferrand and its surroundings. This chain is very different from the other two for several reasons. First, those volcanoes are quite “young”. The oldest one is about 100,000 years old and the last eruption occurred about 7,000 years ago. This is considered as young in the volcano world because a volcano is usually several million years old. So those ones are kind of newbies! Then, the chain is quite unique because of all the various volcano types you can find there. It’s pretty unusual to find so many volcanoes, of different types, in the same place. In the Chaîne des Puys, there are mostly scoria cones, but you can also find lava domes and maars. It’s very easy to differentiate a cone from a dome: a cone has a crater on its summit, whereas the summit of a dome is quite round-shaped. A maar is a volcanic crater formed by the explosion occurring when groundwater comes into contact with hot magma. It’s then filled with water and becomes a crater lake. The biggest and most famous volcanoes of the Chaîne des Puys are: Puy-de-Dôme, which is the highest (1,465 m), Puy de Pariou (1,209 m) and Puy de Côme (1,253 m).
Okay, no more talking, now let’s go walk on some volcanoes! Because who says volcanic region, says a zillion hikes to go on. So we’re going to stay in the Chaîne des Puys and climb a few volcanoes.
Hike at the heart of the Auvergne volcanoes
I’m going to talk to you about my favorite hike in the volcanoes: it starts at Puy-de-Dôme and ends at Puy de Pariou. It’s about 10 km long (one way) with some steep sections (volcano climbing parts). So, it’s going to be easy if you’re an experienced hiker, not super easy but not that hard if you’re a regular hiker, but, let’s be honest, it’s going to be really hard if you’re a beginner and not in shape :p But you’ll see, the view is definitely worth the effort! Choose a sunny and bright day to fully enjoy the view.
Before getting to the nitty gritty, let’s talk about what you should bring with you on that hike.
- The most important is to wear appropriate footwear, either it’s hiking boots or running shoes. The top priority is to be comfortable in them and to avoid slipping with every step you take. A volcanic soil is pretty fragile and the hiking trail is quite gravelly, so be cautious on your way up or down.
- Don’t forget water! You must have enough water until you make it to the summit, where you can refill your bottle(s). The way up there can take 45 minutes, an hour, or more, depending on your pace. So stay hydrated, especially during hot summer days!
- Talking about those hot summer days (yes it can happen in Auvergne! :p), you might want to bring sunscreen with you, unless you want to look like a lobster for the next few days 😉
- Also, I would advise to bring a jacket or sweater with you. Even if you go on this hike during summer and it’s hot, you might be glad to have a jacket once at the summit. Don’t forget you’ll be 1,465 m high and the air is quite colder up there, and there’s also more wind.
- This one is optional but you also can bring some food to have a picnic on the summit of Puy de Dôme. There are plenty of picnic areas there and it’s really nice to eat while overlooking the Chaîne des Puys 🙂 But there also are some restaurants so it’s actually up to you!
- To finish, don’t forget to bring your camera to immortalize the stunning views. And also to prove to everybody that you did it, you climbed a volcano!
So now that you have everything you need, let’s start the hike!
Step 1: climbing Puy de Dôme
The starting point of this hike is located at Orcines, a small town near Clermont-Ferrand. The hiking trail, called Chemin des Muletiers, really starts on the parking lot of the Col de Ceyssat. You can either go there by car or you can take a shuttle in Clermont-Ferrand. There are several stops so you can take it at different places and different times. For more information, click here. The shuttle won’t take you directly to Col de Ceyssat but to the train station of Panoramique des Dômes. There are some marked hiking trails leading to the real starting point of the Chemin des Muletiers. The Panoramique des Dômes is a 5 km long electric rack railway, taking you up to the summit of the volcano. You can choose to take it to avoid all the sweating and out-of-breath parts of the hike but, to be honest, you will miss out on stunning views. And you won’t live the whole volcano hiking experience! Plus, it’s quite expensive to take this train, especially in summer. You can check the prices here. So my advice would be to gather your courage and climb that mountain!
So, once you’re on the parking lot, you can start your journey. The Chemin des Muletiers is a curvy path, climbing up the volcano flanks up to its summit. It’s not very long, about 2 km, but it’s quite steep (about 360 m of incline). You might want to stop a few times on the way to enjoy the view (or because you can’t breathe anymore!). Once you’re on the summit of the Puy-de-Dôme (congrats, you did it!), the view is just astounding! Before you lays a beautiful panorama of the Chaîne des Puys volcanoes, the Sancy massif (Monts Dore) and the city of Clermont-Ferrand.
After your effort to arrive there, take a break on the summit and relax! There are actually some things to do and see up there. You can find some restaurants, gift shops offering local products, picnic areas and a base for paragliding over the Chaîne des Puys. Seeing them from the air is a really great way to discover our volcanoes. You can fly from February to October with an instructor. This activity is for everyone (children and adults), it’s about 15-20 min long and it’s €80 per person. If you want to know more, visit this website. On the summit of the Puy-de-Dôme, you also can find the remains of Mercury temple, built during the 1st century to the glory of Mercury, god of travelers, merchants and thieves. These remains were discovered in 1872, during the construction of the observatory, which you can also see up there. There is also a big antenna (which makes this volcano recognizable among others), allowing residents of Clermont-Ferrand and its surroundings to receive TV and radio (I’m very thankful for this antenna :p). So that pretty much sums up what you can do and see on the summit. Anyway, now you have to make your way down Puy-de-Dôme and up Puy de Pariou.
Step 2: going down Puy-de-Dôme and up Puy de Pariou
To go in the direction of the other volcano you’re going to climb, you need to take another path, called Le chemin des chèvres. At first, you have to walk along the railway of the Panoramique des Dômes. Then, your path takes a different direction and you’re going to face a huge set of wooden stairs. You have to go down those stairs, and believe me, it’s not going to be easy! Why? Well because after climbing a volcano flank for about 2 km, your legs feel a bit weak and tired. So this slope will be pretty hard on your calves, but you’ll survive :p You’ll survive because, if you turn around, you’ll have another great view before you. Indeed, the Puy-de-Dôme is right here, majestically overlooking you! And you feel so proud of yourself for climbing it! So you have to go down the stairs and then enter a small forest. It’s finally a flat path so your legs thank you. You keep walking on an open space, eyeing the Puy de Pariou, thinking it’s still very far :p But you finally make your way at its foot and start your second volcano climbing of the day!
Step 3: climbing Puy de Pariou
This climb is slightly different from the previous one. You don’t have to walk on a gravelly path this time. Wooden stairs have been built on the flank of the Pariou to help preserve its very fragile soil. So you go up those stairs (about 500) and your legs begin to hate you again! But, just as I told you before, when you arrive on the summit, the view makes the effort worth it. Contrary to the Puy-de-Dôme, the Puy de Pariou is a scoria cone, which means it has a crater on its summit. This crater makes this volcano quite special! Puy de Pariou is like the supermodel of the Chaîne des Puys because of its crater’s measurements: a diameter of 200 m and a depth of 90 m. This actually makes it the deepest crater in metropolitan France. So you can have a walk around the crater or go down inside it (there are some stairs… AGAIN! :p) It’s very nice to go inside the crater, it gives you another angle of the volcano. Plus, not many people can say they have been inside a crater 😉 Then, there is a small path around the volcano flank, which leads you to the finish line of the hike. This one is fairly easy compared to what you’ve already accomplished. It’s also a very nice walk in a forest, it doesn’t feel like you’re walking on a volcano.
The finish line
Congrats, you’ve made it to the end! The finish line of this 10 km hike is again a parking lot. It’s called Parking des Goules and it’s right at the foot of the Puy de Pariou, on the other side of the road. To go back to the city, you can either have someone pick you up by car, or take another shuttle. There are specific times and several stops along the way. To know more, go on this website. You might also be very brave (and a bit crazy according to me :p) and want to turn back and go on the hike again, but on the other way around. Good luck with that one! 🙂
I hope you liked my first article about my region. There’s more to come and I would love for you to join me on my adventures in Spain, the USA and New Zealand. So stay tuned! 🙂