The volcanic peaks of the Auvergne provide both easy and challenging hikes while the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail in the Cevennes is perfect for a longer walking holiday in France
The Auvergne encompasses much of the Massif Central, providing thousands of waymarked paths throughout this beautiful region studded with the remnants of the ancient volcanoes that once burnt in the heart of France. The scenery is as varied as it is breathtaking – there are shaded river valleys and pretty villages to stroll though, and grassy hills take the more energetic hiker up to 1,900 metres (in the Monts Dore) to enjoy far-reaching views. In 25,000km², this gem of a region provides opportunities for every active visitor.
So which region should you choose to suit your ability and aspirations? The answers lie in a guidebook with a selection of over 40 routes, Walking in the Auvergne published by Cicerone.
As the guide tells us; “The volcanic peaks in the Cantal and Monts Dore means there are interesting objectives for those seeking both easy and challenging excursions in the mountains. In contrast to the Cantal and Sancy ridges, the distinctive pimple-like hills of the Monts Domes rise individually to form a bumpy ‘join the dots’ picture. These are ideal for shorter hikes. To the northeast the gentler hills and vales of the Montagne Bourbonnaise serve up an unforgettable slice of quintessential rural France, where the tranquil beauty remains unspoilt. This area boasts picturesque medieval villages and superb paths through wooded glades, blooming hedgerowed fields and summits with attractive rocky outcrops. Further south, the Livradois Forez and Velay offer a network of trails through pristine forests, connecting the fascinating religious and historic monuments of the region.”
When you are not walking, this sparsely populated region has three main centres to explore; Vichy, Clermont-Ferrand – one of France’s oldest cities – and atmospheric le Puy-en-Velay. It is an area steeped in history and proud of its regional identity and produce, which includes some fine cheeses, wine, beef, fish, tasty local cuisine and of course Puy lentils!
If you prefer to explore a little further south of the Massif Central, and into the Cevennes, then the 272km Robert Louis Stevenson Trail will provide twelve days of fantastic walking, a journey similar to that which Stevenson made on a donkey named Modestine in 1878, staying in small inns and gîte accommodation, or you can camp using a good network of excellent sites along the route.
The trail between Le Puy-en-Velay and Alès has become increasingly popular in recent years and can be tackled any time between Easter and October when accommodation is available, but avoiding the peak season between June and August is recommended if possible.
Choosing the Massif Central for your next holiday in France is something you are unlikely to regret, as you become seduced by the soft light bathing this open and interesting landscape, while enjoying good fresh food and local wines at the end of each day of walking in the fresh air.