A Weekend in Vichy

 

P6610172Last week, we headed east, five hours inland, away from the beach and our gentle undulating coastline, to the rugged landscape of the Auvergne-Rhone Alpes, a dramatic region of thick forests, mountains, dormant and extinct volcanoes.  Our initial destination was the genteel spa town of Vichy. 

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I have to admit I had not done my homework and I was completely unprepared, I had no idea what to expect. I knew nothing about the town except for its dark recent history during World War II when it was home to Maréchal Pétain’s collaborationist government, Vichy France. It has however put aside its embarrassing past and refreshed and revived its ancient spa roots.

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Vichy sits like a grand old dame on the banks of the river Allier. There is nothing hurried or pretentious about the town, despite its lavish architecture, everything seems to move at a more leisurely pace once one crosses the river.

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There is an enormous sense of tranquility, almost as if one steps back in time to the late 1800s. If I closed my eyes I could quite imagine horse drawn carriages replacing the cars and ladies in fine long dresses and layers and layers of petticoats.

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In the old part of Vichy, the architecture is pre 19th century but there are very few remnants of the medieval period.

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When Vichy became famous as a thermal spa resort in the 1800s the town’s architecture was modernised but the splendour of Vichy remains its Art Deco architecture (1925-1935), tall buildings and balconies with ornate railings overlook the dappled shadows of the plane trees that line the incredibly quiet streets.

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It felt a lot like Paris, but without the bustle, this overall feeling of calm and peace was quite astounding. In the 19th century Vichy was the stylish place to be, attended by many celebrities. Between 1861 and 1866 Napoléon III visited many times and just like in Paris and other large French cities, Vichy underwent a profound transformation.

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By building dikes along the river, 13 hectares of marshland were transformed into landscaped gardens and in the town centre chalets and pavilions were built for the Emperor and his court. Today these house small boutique shops and restaurants.

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After the Second French Empire, the Belle Époque marked another large construction campaign in Vichy. In 1900 the Parc des Sources was enclosed by a metal walkway which came from the World Fair of 1889. 700 metres long, it is decorated by a frise de chardons and was completed by the ironworker Emile Robert.

P6610174Aside from the War, one generally thinks of water when one hears the name Vichy. Beauticians have long championed the cause of mineral water, and recommend that everyone swallow at least two litres per day. Here you can drink the locally sourced and bottled mineral water, and indulge in every thermal and spa treatment imaginable. You can eat the local Vichy mints and buy the world renowned Vichy skincare range inside shops that yet again made us feel as if we were stepping into a bygone era.

P6610146La vie thermale had its heyday in the 1930s. The Art Nouveau-style Opéra, inaugurated in 1903, accommodated all the great names on the international scene. Vichy became the summertime music capital of France, but the war of 1914 would put a brutal end to this development.

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It was in the Opera building that the parliament of the French Third Republic decided to grant full powers to Maréchal Philippe Pétain, thereby terminating the republican regime and inaugurating Vichy France on July 10th, 1940.

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Today there is a vibrant café life

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and numerous restaurants offer a range of culinary delights

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and summertime alfresco dining on warm balmy summer evenings.

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One tip, if you are visiting France, we nearly always select the Plat du jour, the dish of the day, it will be fresh and the choice of virtually every French person. In this case, brochettes de dinde,  grilled turkey on a skewer which was marinated with spices and utterly delicious.

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Although when visiting Vichy today one cannot forget its wartime past, it is the architecture and the pleasure of walking around its small, restful and soothing centre with eyes wide open, be they those of a ten year old or an adult, that makes any stay memorable. There is so much detail to fascinate and captivate.

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We came across a show of vintage cars

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and despite blistering heat we strolled on, unable to resist the urge to look around the next corner, knowing for sure that there would be another incredible sight. For that is what Vichy does, it captivates without trying, and like that grand old dame, it doesn’t need to shout or be loud or brash, instead it sits quietly oozing a calm confidence.

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112 thoughts on “A Weekend in Vichy

  • Let me be the first to comment. Wow and wow again, like you I had no idea and would never have imagined a town like this, you said you would show us photos and you have indeed, brilliant photos and so informative, thank you so much.

    • I never imagined it would be like this either, it was a total shock and such a happy surprise, we loved every minute of it. In fact we didn’t want to leave, there was so much to see and I know we shall return, this time to sample the thermal baths! xx

    • Thanks so much Nadia, if you have never been, I would highly recommend it as a place to visit, and then go on to the volcanoes, I shall feature those on Sunday, all in all utterly incredible! It is a part of France I did not know at all and was totally surprised and captivated at the same time!xx

  • Such a beautiful city, & as you say, very like Paris. (My favourite city in the world). Another place on my ‘to do’ list! Gorgeous photos too. There is definitely a book in your blog Susan! xxx

  • Thank you, dearest. I thoroughly enjoyed that ! I especially like the way you intersperse history and opinion throughout. Your photography draws me into the scene, as well. Nicely done and thank you again. Perhaps one day…

    • Thanks so much, it is impossible not to be drawn into the history of Vichy, but it also left all of us with such an incredible feeling, like we never wanted to leave, it had an amazing effect on us all. If you do get the chance, do visit! xx

  • Wow – I had no idea it was so lovely. There’s no reason for it not to be, of course, but like my ideas about Vichy have been all tied up with WW II. I think I would like to visit!

  • What a lovely homage to a beautiful city. And beautiful it is … gracious and effortlessly chic – your pictures perfectly capture the glamour that Vichy exudes from her petticoated form. And your words match in their detail and vibrancy and enthusiasm. I do hope that many will now think a stop off in the region is a good idea rather than just bustling through enroute to who knows where. On behalf of the Auvergne Tourist Office, I thank you heartily 😉 xx

    • Thanks so much! It is an area I have never been to before, except on the autoroute via Clermont-Ferrand southwards! and I realise how much I have been missing out, it was utterly stunning and not just Vichy, we spent two days in the volcanoes, all about that on Sunday, it was incredible, everywhere, the children wanted to move there, until they realised they would miss the beach! The people were so friendly and so helpful and yes we loved every single second of it. The only thing that could possibly have made it better would have been if you had been a little closer and we could finally have met in your home region!!! xx

      • Of course I’m delighted that you loved it. And delighted that you can see why I love it. And delighted that the children wanted to stay. Tell them that they are welcome to come and stay any time when we are settled. Then they can do the volcanoes and still have their beloved coast too. You can come as well if you would like 😉. The people have a general reputation for being really lovely – I think it is a result of being unperturbed by much tourism (though there is a drive to improve it and we do get our fair share of Belgian, Dutch and Germans through August). Anyway … I really look forward to your verdict on the countryside and an only tell you that Cantal is even lovelier than Puy de Dôme but i would say that, wouldn’t I? I too wish I had been a little closer but I’m sure there will be other times and meanwhile I can bug you on your home turf of you could always come to Grenoble and do a little Sound of Music retrospective with me (in the mountains – we aren’t quite Saltzburg!) xx

      • We truly loved it, I just read your message to Hetty and G who are in the kitchen with me making clay models of something, not quite sure what!! They said “yes please!” I can tell you we adored the countryside too, in fact if we were told we had to go back to one or the other for two days I am not sure which we would choose, both were equally fabulous in their own ways. Now I have to sift through another 1000 photos of the volcanoes!! Come and visit here first, because I have a feeling it is possibly at the planning stage, and then we shall come further east and do the Sound of Music, we just need to borrow two more children!!! have a great weekend xx

  • I love a great family vacation! So happy for you and the family. Are you systematically working your way around the parts of France where you haven’t visited before? I am curious about how you and your family decide where to travel since we hope to live for blocks of time in Europe (once retired) and I wonder how we will ever decide where to go and what to see.

    As usual, your photos are wonderful and your descriptions add just the detail I need to make me feel like I have been along with you. Thank you!! xo

    • Thanks so much Anne, it would be a great idea to travel around France this way, and there are places I still want to visit and have never seen, Strasbourg at Christmas is high on my wish list. However, in this instance, it was decided for us, Gigi was playing in a national two day tennis tournament and so we decided to all go along and make a mini vacation out of it which worked perfectly for us all! However, we shall certainly return. I know a great deal of France and have visited many areas, but this is one I didn’t know and I realise how much I have missed out on! I highly recommend it. Xx

  • How wonderful! Another area to tantilize. Gorgeous photos….very elegant. Susan, you are giving us the most wonderful taste of France. I would never have thought of this area.

    We are so looking forward to October. I will email soon.
    Ali xxx

    • Thanks Ali, this is somewhere I highly recommend, perhaps during your 2018 trip!!! It is fabulous, we also went to the volcanoes which I will feature on Sunday, a truly wonderful area, utterly fascinating and the people are so lovely xx

  • I live near a spa town – Harrogate. However, back in the day, it convinced the seeker-after-health that its waters were doing you good because if they taste so vile, there must be some benefit. A good dose of sulphur ensures the smell and taste of rotten eggs. Lovely! Harrogate too maintains some of the gracious airs of a spa town, but far less so than Vichy. So glad you had a relaxing weekend xx

    • 😉 🙂 hi Margaret, what an English explanation…. 😉 The same thing was being said about the eruptive waters of Iceland’s geysers and hot springs…..

    • I read exactly the same thing here too, that the waters are so horrid that they have to be doing some good!! We didn’t have time to visit the thermal baths but we shall certainly return, and we shall certainly visit them next time, it was such an incredible surprise and we loved it. I did not know that Harrogate was a spa town, which I am actually rather embarrassed to admit! Do you ever get a chance to enjoy the thermal waters? Xx

      • The Turkish Baths are a Victorian visual treat, as well as being a thoroughly relaxing way to while away a couple of hours. Note to self: time to go again xx

      • They sound like great fun, definitely go again! Vichy reminded me entirely of the Victorian era, it was almost as if we were in a scene from a play, except the characters were dressed incorrectly for the era! As you can probably tell, it really was a town that made a huge impression. Just loved it. Hope you have a lovely weekend xx

  • It is not an area I know or one I would even have given a second thought to, but your photos have captivated me. I am going online to find out more!

    • It wasn’t somewhere we had ever really thought about before and we were so pleasantly surprised, we shall certainly go back again and spend longer there, again enjoying both the town of Vichy and the volcanoes further south. Xx

  • Ever thought of being a travel writer? You have a knack for it and I am sure anyone would be lucky to snap you up, I always feel that you write with sincerity from the heart and you show us how it really is. Another brilliant post as always, thank you

    • Thanks so much Jane, yes I do write about things I am passionate about and I think that makes it all so much easier, and yes we were passionate about this area, it was fabulous xx

  • I read in some of the earlier comments that you then went on to the volcanoes, cannot wait to read about them, I didn’t even know France had volcanoes!!

    • The volcanoes were indeed incredible, it was a two centre holiday and I am not sure which we loved the best, they were complete opposites and both fabulous! Lots and lots of photos on Sunday! Xx

  • You have once again taken me on a wonderful holiday. How beautiful to see such a beautiful place.Due to age I cannot travel any more but I can see it through your eyes and camera.For that I say Thank You.Betty Baker from Ontario, Canada.

    • Hi Betty, thanks so much and you know that there is a vast amount to be said for armchair travel, it is free and it is so luxurious, you don’t have to do a thing! Plus you live in a beautiful part of the world too. Hope you have the most wonderful end to the week xx

  • What a visual treat, Susan! Amy and I might have to make a huge detour this autumn!! And we cannot wait to see the volcanoes, either!!

    • Definitely make the detour, I can highly recommend the area in general, Stay in Vichy for a couple of nights as we did, it is chic and elegant and lovely and then stay in more rustic accommodation in the volcanoes, it is a perfect two centre holiday. I shall feature the volcanoes on Sunday xx

  • Oh my, what a refreshing visit…I am captivated by your stunning photos…beautiful architecture mixed with a gentle dose of history gets me every time. Thanks so much for the delight. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, it really was the most wonderful mixture and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who wants to visit. We were truly so surprised, I had no idea what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t this! Xx

  • Oh, what memories! My first trip to France was to be a chaperone of some high school students from California and live in a “dortoire” at Lycée de Presles in Cusset across the river from Vichy. I was barely older than the students! It was quite an experience!

    • Oh what fun and what an experience! How long was the trip for? Did everything go according to plan or did you have some real adventures and many stories to dine out on afterwards? xx

  • Could never imagine how beautiful and interesting Vichy is and indead it’s like little Paris, till you shared this trip with us. You really made a good job and catched the atmosphere.

    • Thanks so much, we were all so surprised, it was not at all what I expected and we found we completely fell in love with it, it certainly made a very lasting impression. The people were lovely, the climate was perfect, 32C each day, it couldn’t have been better. Hope you are coping in the immense heat Spain has been experiencing, I feel for you, in the 40’s is just too hot. Stay cool and have a lovely weekend xx

  • Your blogs always inspire the need to venture and explore. It’s like reading a beloved book. I can wait to see where you explore next

    • Kim, I really do think you need a holiday, you’ve certainly had a very tough year. Perhaps a little (or big) trip to France, if it is on the cards, then I can highly recommend relaxing in Vichy for a couple of days, it is three hours from Paris by train so I understand. Then head west and come and visit us, it would be such a pleasure to show you around. xx

  • Susan,how absolutely divine!
    We have not been to beautiful Vichy in (truly) ages,and your gorgeous pictures and descriptions made us feel like we had just returned again from a fantastic holiday!
    And what a coincidence:we had brochettes de dinde last night for dinner!(my hubby Rod grilled them and I did the frites)!
    Must have been telepathy of the happiest sort!
    Thank you for sharing it all with us!

    • So happy to meet someone else who has been there! Did you find it equally beautiful back then, I am assuming it was quite a few years ago? I know that they have undertaken a vast amount of restoration in recent years and it really does look fabulous now, whilst retaining the old charm. How funny that you had brochettes de dinde and frites, it must certainly be telepathy! Ours were fabulous. Have a great weekend xx

  • What a gorgeous old town! Thanks for giving us a tour and the history. I knew nothing but the collaborationist history! And of course, I should have thought there would be more. Can’t wait for the volcanoes.

    • I have to admit I knew nothing more too and was truly shocked and surprised, I guess I should have done my homework in advance! We were really there for a tennis tournament so I didn’t do too much research! But it certainly made a lasting impression and we will definitely return. The volcanoes were equally incredible, can’t wait to share that part of our trip on Sunday! xx

  • How wonderful! What beautiful photos! Well, being of the generation which knows all about the Vichy Government but may eschew Vichy Water, I loved seeing the beautiful old town! Now, I must be one of the very few in the world who is not all that taken in by Paris, once the necessary landmarks become familiar. Yes, I can note quite a connection, and one I would love to see with my own eyes . . . . am kind’of looking at coming to your part of the country next year and you are being an excellent ‘tour director’ . . .

    • How exciting that you are, maybe, planning a trip here next summer. Vichy would definitely be on my list of places to visit, I would arrive in Paris and immediately take the train and head south, 3 hours and you would be in a mini Paris without the crowds and with an incredibly relaxed laid back atmosphere and the most friendly people! Then you must come west and visit us and I can show you around personally! xx

    • There is plenty of reading on the internet all about Vichy and it’s past. The history is fascinating, not just WWII but way back to when it first became popular for the healing powers of its thermal waters back in the 1700’s. It certainly made a lasting impression on all of us, I don’t think any of us expected it to be so lovely xx

  • Yet another lovely post Susan! I had the pleasure of doing a small tour of France sixteen years ago during our honeymoon, and the Massif-Central was one of the places that we visited! We didn’t go to Vichy, but did get to visit Clermont-Ferrand and the mountains further south. I can’t wait to read your next post about the Auvergne volcanoes, it sounds Iike you all had such a wonderful time! We’ll have to take the kids back to visit. Xxx

    • You really must visit again and your children would simply adore the entire region, even G who is ten fell in love with Vichy, it is that sort of place, it totally captivates. The volcanoes were fantastic and then we too headed further south to the mountains, everything was perfect, cannot decide which we loved the most. Definitely an area we will go back to, and hopefully before too long! xx

    • The architecture is stunning and I think it is certainly one of the most beautiful places I have visited. But I don’t think the past has been forgotten, rather it is just no longer in the forefront. There are museums and memorials that we stopped and looked at and many statutes. Hope you are having a wonderful weekend too xx

  • I can quite see the resemblance to Paris and the Haussmann architecture. Paris without the crowds and I imagine the high prices too!

  • Your photos are beautiful! I feel like I am traveling right along side of you. The architecture is stunning and I love how you said Vichy “captivates without trying”. I really get that feeling from your photos. Thank you so much for sharing at the August Take Me Away Party! Always a pleasure to have you. Enjoy your weekend!
    Shelley

  • I know I say it time and time again but as always your words transport me and I’m there walking with you through the streets. Definately on my list of places I MUST visit. Beautiful post ❤️

  • Glorious photographs and a wonderful post as always, Susan. It looks as though you and the family had the best of times in a simply beautiful place. I have never been as far east as that in France. I think Paris is my furthest in that direction, but Vichy would seem to be so obviously a great place to visit that I think I shall have to talk to Mrs C and see if we cannot arrange a little voyage around all the places you have sent us to over the past few years. This could well be my favorite travel post…… Like many here, I am looking forward to next weeks post with anticipation….thank you

    • I had never been to this area before either Phil, I have been further east over near the Swiss border, but always from the north and down, so the Massif Central had somewhat escaped me, until now. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to visit, it was quite stunning xx

  • Oh, you always make me feel that I wish I was one of your children or maybe, the beloved dog. Can I stowaway in your suitcase next visit to Vichy?

    Seriously Susan, what a gem is Vichy? I had never considered a trip there.
    Paris is divine, yet it is horribly crowded. Hopefully, I can come to Paris sometime and hop on the train to Vichy. Are there museums in Vichy? And I am sure nice spa like hotels.
    The architecture seems to take you back in time to a gentler world, regardless of the history.
    Praise to the people of Vichy for persevering and for maintaining the lovely features of their graceful town.
    Please, is the train in Vichy close enough to walk along with suitcase to the hotels or do you need a taxi?

    • Sure, come and stow away, there’s always room for one more! The train station in Vichy is certainly close enough that with a pull along suitcase you would be fine. It is an incredibly easy town to walk around, we found we left the car and just walked and walked! And I would highly recommend it, certainly it has many similarities to Paris and yet, as you say, without the crowds and without the high Paris prices too! There are plenty of museums, there is the opera, in fact if you visit in the summer months there is so much to do you would be spoilt for choice. And the hotels are fabulous, from luxury 5 star spa hotels to simple lodgings, we stayed in a beautiful four star hotel and felt like royalty, there were spa facilities and beautiful interiors. Xx

  • Now, relaxing at the English Riviera, I shall take time to visit you – I missed you and reading you and reading your readers reactions…. I am a very direct and contact loving person and when I haven’t got the time and repose for a ‘real talk, comment, thought’, I won’t do it – times have been very hectic and my heart and soul couldn’t relax, so that’s why you didn’t read from me….
    Now about Vichy – it’s funny how things work (out): My former boss and friend at Alliance Française Exeter (years ago) always raved about Vichy to me and I completely dismissed all his glorious songs about this city because of its evil smells of the water. I saw myself gagging all day long and didn’t really pay any attention to all his praises….. NOW you made me take a deep look into myself and I am SO ashamed for my superficial attititude towards poor Albert! I wish I had listened to him because now, thanks to YOUR description, I think I would love it. One of my criterias for being dismissive was also that it was far too much inland; after having lived at the sea in TQ I didn’t see him at all on firm land, and so much inside the country. Anyway, he finally opened up a new language school in the Aquitaine and he is now much closer to the sea than he would have been in Vichy, so that’s well 🙂 Also, I would never in a million years have thought that only a few years later, I too would be living in France, and just outside of Paris, too (which is definitely NOT what I would suggest to anybody who loves the laid-back, contemplative life like we do). There!
    Wonderful photos, so evocative and interesting. Now, I shall go back to the rest of the missed posts.
    Have a wonderful week – hope your chores’ sharing is going well – you most certainly deserve a good break too…..

    • So you are in Devon for a holiday? I hope you are having a wonderful time and that the weather behaves itself! How funny that you so quickly dismissed Vichy! It wasn’t a place I had ever thought of visiting before and we were all extremely surprised. We loved it, if you love Paris then you really would enjoy Vichy, like a tiny mini Paris but without the crowds and certainly without the Paris prices! In fact it is very laid back and very tranquil! The chores sharing is actually working very well, we are having a super hectic but great fun summer! xx

  • Susan, Vichy sounds utterly wonderful. Beauty, Charm and History…what more can a gal ask for?
    Seriously, Vichy is going right into my Bucket List…but then what place in France, isn’t in my Bucket List? Lol
    I love that it has a sense of history (whether it’s good or bad) and that it compares to Paris in many ways.
    Lovely pictures of the architecture; Lovely travel tales! ❤️💜💛💙💚❤️💛

  • Hi Susan. I am terribly late reading this post and all the others that follow! Since my husband Clive retired on 27thJuly, we seem to have had non-stop grandchildren to stay, visitors to enjoy the summer garden with and not a moment to read anything! So, I don’t know if you’ll see my comments now, but if you do, I thought this post was so good – very informative, lots I didn’t know and the photos so tantalising that Vichy is now on our ever growing list for when we do our Petit Grand Tour de France!! Thank you very much. Also, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but do you still have a gite that you rent out for holiday stays?

    • Hi Marian, it is wonderful that you are having such a fabulous time with the grandchildren and friends and retirement and yes you must add Vichy to your list, we were amazed and ecstatic at the same time, such a lovely place. We do still have the gite, I will send you an email today. Hope the weather cheers up a bit, I think we are all hoping for an Indian summer! xx

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