France’s Land of Volcanoes

IMG_9739Not really wanting to leave Vichy, but knowing we must, we clambered into the car and headed over the bridge once more. We were saying goodbye to chic city life and trading it for an altogether more rugged experience involving hiking shoes and plenty of stamina; we were heading to the French volcanoes.

The Auvergne is the land of the volcanoes. There are 450 of them scattered amongst the Chaîne des Puys, Cantal, Monts Dore, Monts d’ Artense, Monts du Cantal and Monts du Cézallier. We were heading to the small town of Orcines in the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne and booking into our simple down to earth country lodging, a complete contrast to our ‘luxurious’ hotel in Vichy! A quick check-in and we were back in the car and on our way again, to the Puy de Dôme, the highest volcano in the Chaîne des Puys at 1465m. The Chaîne is a set of 80 volcanoes located in a 45km long by 5km wide area, and they’re the “youngest” volcanoes of Auvergne.

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The Puy de Dôme is certainly the most famous volcano in the region. In 2008 it was awarded the status of Grand Site de France and it is now having to meet the challenges posed by erosion and tourism. The top can now be reached all year round via the Panoramique des Dômes, a train with panoramic windows providing amazing views and taking just 20 minutes. All other forms of motor vehicles are now prohibited. One of the best ways to enjoy this particular volcano is to take this easy route up and then hike back down!

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Once at the top the views are breathtaking, stretching out for miles and miles all the way down to the city of Clermont-Ferrand, and beyond.

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As we wandered from view to view, we had a little run-in with the weather – one moment we were enjoying the sun and the next the heavens opened and we were bombarded with first hail and then rain as we ran for some form of cover. Ten minutes later, the sun came out once more and we could see both ends of the rainbow! Typical mountain weather, a little fickle to say the least!

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By the evening we had all built up quite an appetite after hiking from one photographic opportunity to another, and we were keen to sit down and enjoy a delicious meal in the restaurant of our hotel; apparently it had an incredible reputation. And to further reinforce the fact that we were in the country, we enjoyed a very contrary dining experience compared to Vichy. This was a menu of the land, just as one would expect, with plenty of Foie Gras, beef and even Pieds de Cochon, pigs trotters,

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and yet everything was served in a surprisingly stylish fashion. To be blunt, everything was incredible!

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The next day we felt well rested and were raring to go once more. We stopped at a local grocery store and bought what was needed for the simplest of picnics; saucisson (of course), some fresh apricots, tomatoes, a baguette, and a good wedge of local cheese. With our goodies filling our backpacks we set off on our 3-hour hike to the top of another volcano……

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…….stopping every now and then for a water-break and to admire the view.

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Nearing the top the trees grew more scarce and suddenly we were out in the open; we’d hiked to the top of a volcano!

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We found one of the few lone trees for shade and sat and ate lunch on the edge of a crater, that was certainly a first for all of us!

IMG_9754And then we asked ourselves the question – were these volcanoes extinct or dormant?

 

We later found that vulcanologists all agree that the volcanoes could wake up one day, especially as some of them were active a mere 7000 years ago; which qualifies them for just dormant status!

The descent was naturally somewhat quicker than the ascent, and we took yet more photos!

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Our next destination was further south again, but instead of taking the fastest route, we turned off the beaten track and travelled tiny roads, so rarely used that in places grass grew in the middle.

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Along the way we stopped and walked around little villages where time seemed to have stood still for centuries.

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Driving deep in the countryside with nothing but stunning scenery, trees, hills, volcanoes and greenery in every direction the first inkling that we were once again approaching some form of civilisation was the sighting of the striking spire and tower of the 12th century Basilique Notre-Dame d’Orcival.

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We took a break in this charming little town which dates back to the 11th century. In the winter this is a popular place for cross country skiing and in the summer it is popular with hikers.

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And then we continued our journey, passing lakes and fields of grazing cattle, it would be hard to imagine a more bucolic scene.

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Next up, the Puy de Sancy, the highest mountain in the Massif Central. It is part of an ancient stratovolcano which has been inactive for about 220,000 years.

P6610394 In the winter it is a popular skiing resort but it is equally as popular it seems in the summer, with people like ourselves, loving the magic of the mountain in the warmer months, when they are covered in heather instead of snow, when shoes replace ski boots and when every breath exhaled no longer freezes in front of us!

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Our final stop before we headed home was Mont-Dore at the foot of the Puy de Sancy. This is a renowned spa town with a warm and lively atmosphere.

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To say that both Vichy and the volcanoes left a lasting impression on us would be an understatement; the two were like chalk and cheese and yet they went together hand in hand, making the most perfect combination of areas to visit. We all agreed it was one of our most memorable short breaks; the scenery was breathtaking and the people were lovely, so friendly and so welcoming.

We bought a few reminders of course – local saucisson in a range of flavours and a cheese, a rather strong and smelly one that has lived in quarantine in the fridge in the pantry since we got back! Its lingering odour is a constant reminder of a fabulous destination. A return visit is definitely on the cards, and to the Auvergne…..

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……. a huge thank you, we shall most certainly return.

114 thoughts on “France’s Land of Volcanoes

  • Watching those beautiful fotos I was walking with you guys and joining the picnic under a shady tree Some scenery
    especially the botanic remind me of NZ. Is le Pavin the “quarantine” cheese? …then I would buy one when I will be in the Normandy next month.

    • I know just what you mean about New Zealand, yes all of the ferns certainly reminded me of parts of the North Island as well, it was so beautiful. Le Pavin is indeed the cheese which we had to quarantine, but wow, it is fantastic and well worth buying. It is made locally in the Auvergne, named after the Lac Pavin, but I am sure you will get some in Normandy. Hope you have a fabulous holiday there. xx

  • Fabulous photos. I envy you! We love the Auvergne and have visited many of the places you mention. We are particularly fond of Cantal, which is just over two hours’ drive from us and we always try to spend some time there at least once or twice a year. September is a good time to go, when the weather is usually more settled. The countryside is so beautiful and excellent for walking. I am also very partial to some of the Auvergnat dishes, such as pounti, and the cheeses. I can feel a trip to the Auvergne coming on…

    • I can tell you we were so taken with the Auvergne, it was a first visit for all of us and we shall certainly return. Fabulous hiking, great food, wonderful warm friendly people and the cheese, delicious! We shall have to visit Cantal next time! xx

  • We’ve really enjoyed this post and your article about Vichy. Having lived in Clermont-Ferrand for 7 years (and we go back every year now for an extended visit), I’m convinced that the Auvergne is one of the most spectacular places in Europe – and yet it’s tremendously under-appreciated, even by French people. Thanks for writing about it – and thanks for the beautifully evocative photos! (We especially liked the rainbow, which remains my wife’s favorite memory of our time in the Auvergne!)

    • I can quite understand why you think it is one of the most spectacular places in Europe, it really was incredible, we were so shocked and so loved being there, it has left a very lasting impression and we shall certainly return. The rainbow just appeared out of nowhere, we were looking down on it which was so unusual and then later in the day ended up walking above the clouds! xx

  • Having only just found time to read the post about Vichy, I was thrilled to follow it up immediately with this one about the volcanoes, what an incredible area and such stunning photos, loved every word and every image.

  • Oh gosh, anothernplace to visit, if you keep writing these evocative travel posts my life is going to be one long holiday wish list. Maybe I should just become your lodger, or cook, or cleaner, anything!

  • What an interesting post once again and I loved learning about the volcanoes. My mother used to love the Mont Dore and it was lovely to see photos as I have never been.

    • Thanks Nadia, if you get the opportunity to head east and visit, I really recommend it, I am sure you would both love it and you could take the dogs walking there too! It is such a beautiful area, we were fascinated and amazed! xx

  • wonderful…would love to go walking there, beautiful countryside…had to look it up on Google…love food shopping especially the cheese and the sausages but will pass on the ‘trotters’.

    • I passed on the trotters too, definitely not my cup of tea! It is the most stunning countryside, none of us have ever visited that region before, but we shall return. Hope you are both well xx

  • All the lush green was such a break from our dry landscape. It’s really amazing how a few hours drive and you enter a different world….almost as if time stood still.
    As usual thank you for the wonderful photos and commentary.

    Ali xxx

    • Five hours away to be precise and we were literally in a completely different world, different landscape, accents, food, everything. It just proves yet again what an incredibly huge and varied country France is, it really does offer something for everyone. xx

      • I spent some time in Montpellier (my favorite!!!), Nice and Paris, altogehter about 3 years or so 😊 So many gorgeous little “in-between”‘places in the south! Wish I could move there, maybe one day! Haven’t been back though I would love to. Your blogs brings me there though, for a short moment ☺️ Have a great day!

      • Ahhh Montpellier, also one of my all time favourite places, I spent a lot of time in the Hérault before I was married and also have terribly happy memories of Montpellier. That’s the thing about France, there are so many fantastic places and I think no matter how long we live here, there will always be something new and somewhere new to discover! xx

  • Beautiful photos – I had no idea there was a volcanic region in France. Love all the types of saucisson – it must have been difficult to choose which kinds to purchase!

    • I had no idea there were so many volcanoes I have to admit, and it was fabulous to hike up them and feel as if we were on top of the world. The various saucissons were fabulous, but they were so reasonably priced, 4 for 10 euros that we actually bought quite a selection home with us xx

  • Wonderful! Like many others, I had no idea there were volcanos in France. What a terrific surprise! Love the photos and the descriptions. Thank you!! xo

    • I truly knew very little about this region and it was the first time any of us had visited and it certainly made a very lasting impression. If you get the opportunity to visit, I am sure you would not be disappointed. xx

  • I’ll join the list too, I didn’t know France had volcanoes, you are teaching us so much about your beloved adopted country. France is lucky to have you.

  • We have actually toyed with the idea of skiing there instead of going to the Alps or Pyrenees. Do you know if it has reliable snow and if it would be a good family destination? It looks so beautiful.

    • I normally live in Cantal on the border with Puy de Dome entre les Monts de Cantal and le Massif de Sancy which are the two places with decent (though tiny by Alpine standards) ski resorts. The snow is no-where near as reliable as the high alpes … it is more a place to go when you see the forecast set to white than to set your compass to in advance, I would council. 😊

      • Thanks Osyth, what you say makes total sense, I can see it is somewhere we should book last minute if the snow is good, trouble is that’s not always so easy with kids, our hands are tied timewise. But I do think it might be so much more affordable and less crowded than the Alps so worth a try.

      • Well they do have snow machines at Mont d’ Or and le Lioran so you will have snow on some runs even in a dreadful season like this last one. I hope you give it a go …. it is a wonderful region 😊

      • I think we will give it a go. Susan’s photos look so beautiful and even if the skiing is poor I feel there would be lots to do and explore in the area, not just skiing, and if it’s too warm and a disaster we can always check into one of the spa hotels she mentions in Vichy and pamper ourselves instead!

      • If you want some steers on the region as a whole, do give me a holla. It’s my home region and I am quite the evangelist on getting it a little more known. There is SO much to see and lots of outdoor opportunity both summer and winter. We tend to snowshoe and occasionally ski de randonnée. Lower down the hiking is still good in winter and there are lots of lovely little villages to discover though only the bigger places tend to be operating in winter. Susan really should be employed by the French Government as a brilliant advocate for French tourism …. her pictures and scripts are so tantalizing – she’s a total superstar ⭐️

      • I can’t thank you enough for all your advice, I can’t help thinking how fabulous it is that total strangers come together like this. I agree about Susan, she quite obviously loves France, it comes across in every word she writes, isn’t that why we all love following along so much? It’s authentic and real and never feels as if she is trying too hard. We shall give the skiing a go this winter, thank you once again, I feel the Auvergne is lucky to have you.

      • I’m not sure Auvergne would agree but I do love it so I advocate where I can :). Though at the moment and since December I actually live in our big sister Rhône-Alpes and just get home when I can 🙂

    • I have to be honest, I have never skied in the Massif Central, I only know the Alps and Pyrenees. I would imagine if you were looking for a family holiday and beginner or intermediate level skiing it might be great fun. I know there are plenty of snow machines if the snow is bad and I would imagine that it may well be a great deal more reasonably priced than the more popular destinations like the Alps or Pyrenees. I can tell you it is absolutely beautiful! xx

  • Oh how I long to travel to France, there are so many places I would visit. I am afraid I would give Paris a miss but instead I would head to the country and experience real life, not tourist venues. Your articles totally inspire me, one day I shall make my dream come true.

    • I really hope one day you do get to make your dream come true, there are so many places to visit and so many fabulous things to see that there really is something for everyone. xx

  • Merci beaucoup for reminding me of my stay in Clermont-Ferrand in 1974. My girlfriend and I disembarked from the train in the early morning after traveling all night from Rome. We were looking at the map, trying to find the local youth hostel, when une femme d’une certain age approached us asking if she could help. I, with my imperfect French, explained our situation, and she offered to take us. (Such kindness from a stranger!) On the way, she stopped at a little cafe, treating us to a delicious French breakfast of a croissant and coffee. she dropped us off at the hostel, she gave us the phone number of a young woman whod recently been an exchange student in California, very near where we were from. Long story short, she drove us to the Puy de Dome area, of which we were completely unaware, explaining the history and geography. This is one of my favorite memories of 10 weeks in Europe that summer, all due to the kindness and generosity of 2 dear French women.

    • Oh wow, what a fabulous story, and you told it as if it was yesterday. I can imagine such happy memories, isn’t it wonderful how complete strangers can go out of their way for other people. Of course, back then, there was no train to take you comfortably up the Puy de Dome! Did you recognise anywhere from my photos, I would imagine that not a whole lot has changed too much! xx

  • I want to be whisked away to the Auvergne right now. And I’ll stay all year, in the winter I’ll move to your Charente Maritime as I don’t much like snow and I do feel the call of the ocean after a while away!

    • I know what you mean, I would miss the ocean too much if we didn’t live close by! However, for a short break it was fabulous to go to this region and we shall certainly return. xx

  • What a fun travel log…hiking…volcanoes…picnics…with surprises at every turn…thanks for the mini-adventure through glorious France. 🙂

  • I have nothing to add. You know how I love l’Auvergne. I am so so glad you enjoyed it and hope you really will return. It is a bit of a backwater (in fact people here in Grenoble refer to Cantal and the Auvergne in general as ‘le trou’ … but it is all the better for that. Unspoiled landscape, unspoiled people. I do hope many of your readers will decide to give it a go. Thank you for giving the place I really call home such a wonderful write-up. And which cheese shall I bring when I visit ….?? Xx

    • As you can see it really has left a lasting impression, we loved the people, the area, and the food, just everything was perfect. I will encourage everyone to visit, it is certainly an area not to be missed. Hmmm cheese, I will ask Roddy, he is the real cheese love and expert, for him the smellier the better!!! And a visit, a real definite visit, now that makes me very excited, Millie read this comment long before me and told me on the beach today that you were coming to visit, she was terribly excited too! xx

  • This was one of the potential destinations when we were considering where we we going to retire to but we were discouraged by the high levels of taxation. We ended up in Spain in an area that has been volcanic and still is slightly seismic. We are surrounded by smallish mountains (up to about 1800m) and we live at 750m in a fabulously warm and friendly village.

  • This is just so lovely,and what a pleasure (and privilege) to share in your travels here and Vichy!
    I spent a most happy part of my childhood on my parents working ranch in northern Arizona(Springerville,where my dear brother grew up and became their vet),at the foot of the Escullia mountain range.
    The terrain in your gorgeous photos look so similar to that where we were that I am instantly taken back to the glorious time we enjoyed there,Summer (beautiful views and sunshine days)and Winter(cozy fires,delicious cassoulet,and sledding down what I named Juniper Hill because of all the wild juniper growing there).
    Once again,I am reminded of what a small world indeed!
    Thank you,Susan,for sharing with us!

    • Wow that sounds absolutely idyllic, isn’t it wonderful to have such fabulous happy memories. Do you go back there now at all? I also grew up on a farm in the Southern UK and it was the most perfect childhood, nothing glamorous but just wonderful, I remember fabulous summers and winters just as you describe, we even had snow several times! xx

    • Thanks so much Monika, I too had no idea there were so many volcanoes, I knew France had a few, but I was amazed at the sheer size of them all, it was such a fabulous area. xx

  • What a gorgeous trip Susan! Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us, that scenery! And then, that menu- my goodness, such delicious choices. Sublime. xo Lidy

    • Thanks Lidy, the menu was fabulous, which is why I just had to share it, and it was every bit as good as it looked, the food was utterly delicious. All in all a very memorable trip xx

  • Fascinating that volcanic plugs exist the world over. The UK has several, including one in Dundee, where I spent my school years. It towers over the town benignly now but who knows? Edinburgh of course has the better known one, with the castle perched atop it.

  • Great post Susan. I haven’t returned to Auvergne for years but remember it as a kid as an impressive rugged region. Interesting to hear access to the Puy is now more regulated. Probably quite necessary to preserve the area.

    • It certainly is a rugged region and very impressive! I think the train was incredibly necessary as a way to get people to the top all in one place. It has been well done though and cannot be seen from a distance, so the view of the Puy de Dome remains unchanged. xx

  • Yet another wonderful post, Susan, and another place to take the kids to! Glad to see that you and the family all enjoyed it! How did you plan where to go after Vichy? Was it on a whim or all planned out? Xxx

    • Thanks Josie, we had so much fun. It was actually Millie who decided that we had to visit the volcanoes after Vichy. She was the one who planned our second half of our trip completely, hats off to her, she did the most fabulous job. xx

  • It’s 28 years since we visited the Auvergne. I know that, because the daughter who lives in Barcelona was only 7 weeks old at the time. It seems as if the area has changed very little in that time. Still very beautiful, quite cut off and with charming and courteous people. We too should pay a return visit x

    • Gosh, yes you must return and I don’t think you would find much has changed at all, it certainly didn’t look as if anything had altered much! Except for the train to take people to the top of the Puy de Dome! The people are indeed lovely, so warm and friendly, we shall certainly return. xx

  • What great photos & blog; thank-you so much. I think this has to be our next area to explore in our beloved adopted country – It looks so interesting. I shall definitely be looking up the places you mentioned. Each year we try to ‘dip into’ a different region. This year we visited the Tarn area, basing ourselves in the lovely town of Mazamet, which is overlooked by La Montagne Noire mountain range and gave us access to many beautiful places – have you been there? xx

    • What a sensible idea to visit a different area each year. I do know the Tarn and absolutely love it although I haven’t been there for several years now. I would highly recommend a visit to the Auvergne, if you like the country and mountains you would love it and the people are so friendly. xx

  • Yes, the Auvergne is beautiful, and dramatic. And the church in Orcival is quite magical, but my alltime favourite building is Notre Dame du Port in Clermont Ferrand? Do you know it? We visited in 2014 and I posted on the blogsite.

    • I don’t know Clermont Ferrand at all, we didn’t have time to visit on this trip, but we shall certainly be going back and I shall make a note of this so that when we do we can visit. Several people have said how wonderful Clermont Ferrand is and it is always great to think there are other excellent places we have to see! Thanks for the advice xx

  • A stunning geography lesson and travelogue all rolled into one. I never knew France had volcanoes and I had never heard of this area. Quite stunning and so interesting, thank you.

  • I still can’t believe you went up a volcano! Really glad I wasn’t there because of the heights but also that very meat heavy menu!

    • ha ha, the first thing we said when we got to the top was “Izzi would not like it here!” Promise!! and you are quite right, there would have been nothing for you to eat on that menu! Very much a meat lovers restaurant. xxxxx

  • I never knew there was a slew of volcanoes in France! Just goes to show. I admire all of your hiking efforts! And worth it to be able to say you’ve been up a volcano!

  • Just stunningly beautiful and what a great place to hike……
    Thank you Susan for showing us some areas of France which most of us will never see or even know about them. You and your family had a very special long weekend holiday.

    • Thanks Patricia, that is exactly what we thought, such a fabulous short break to an area we had never visited and one that is really not that well known, but one that everyone should visit because it is amazing! xx

  • I knew you wouldn’t disappoint us, Susan – what a lovely second part to the travelogue. It has set Amy off under the stairs to find our hiking boots and backpacks. They shall be with us in the car and we will be visiting for sure. We were going to go on down to the Pyrenees ‘comme d’habitude’, but we shall do something different this year and find another stream to put our lunchtime bottle of beer in! Amy’s professional life involves buildings and so on so she is looking forward to seeing Vichy, too. I shall admire the menu while she admires facade-work and roof-lines.

    • Sounds like a perfect plan and I am sure you will have the most wonderful time and I know you won’t be disappointed and neither will Amy, the architecture in Vichy is fantastic. Have a great trip, it’s in September isn’t it? xx

    • Never thought of that! The children love walking, a long hike doesn’t put them off at all, they are always up for an adventure! And it really was an adventure and so much fun! Xx

  • I always seem to be late to the party! I’ve only just caught up on your whole Vichy/volcano adventure. Loved every word and every photo, just brilliant and glad you had such fun, all of you xoxo

    • Summer tends to do that to all of us, we have far less time indoors at our computers and far more time outside which is just as it should be. Glad however that you did find the time and glad you enjoyed our little break in the Auvergne! Hope you are having a lovely summer xx

  • The second part of this story is as far removed from the first as would seem to be possible! Gosh, what a view you had from the top. And, I hasten to add, thank goodness for the train. If Mrs C and myself get that way I shall avail myself of it for certain! And someone will have to hide the saucisson and cheese. They are terribly dangerous for the wallet, regime and so on. Thanks for sharing, Susan, and Mrs C says hello too. One day I shall convince her to reply herself!

    • They were like chalk and cheese and yet they went together so well. It was the perfect two part holiday, not sure which we enjoyed the most! I would love to hear from Mrs C! In the meantime send her hugs from me. xx

  • What I like about the Auvergne, is that many bits look a bit like bits of Switzerland…. 🙂 I think I never had twice the same saucisse and we only travelled ‘through’! The fat cows on the meadows just make me sigh…. and all this in the 17°C we ‘enjoy’ in the Torbay area today… We on our trip go through astonishing amounts of always wonderful (and carefully chosen) fish&chips meals, mixed with invites to dear friends’ places, then, coming back to our lovely studio we rent, we get ourselves an espresso (machine came with us; others have other addictions, we have this) and life is beautiful.
    Are planning our little trip to the West for 2018. Some friends’ planned visits have to take account of our petite break for our 20th!

    • I love that you take our coffee machine with you! We all have our little idiosyncrasies as you say, and I would hate to be without a decent cup of coffee! Fish and chips, wrapped in paper, ok, now I am a little jealous, one of my favourite summer treats with the children when in England, sitting on a harbour wall overlooking the sea! Have a wonderful time and let me know how I can help with the 2018 planning! xx

  • Another fantastic blog! We’ve driven across the autoroute so many time and looked over to those mountains and wondered if we should explpore further!… Now we know we should! I have featured your article in the Dordogne Travel App! Best Wishes!

    • Thanks so much, I really appreciate it. Certainly do stop and explore. We had never been to the area before either and we were so impressed and we shall certainly return, well worth a visit, the volcanoes are fabulous, so natural, so rugged and so perfect. xx

  • Susan – it’s been incredible and fun to read all the comments in response to this post. If you don’t mind, please let your readers (and especially those who learned about the Auvergne for the first time from what you’ve written here) know that I cover this incredible region in a lot more detail every week at http://www.DeepHeartOfFrance.com . We had the opportunity to live in the Auvergne for 7 years — with regular visits there for 13 more years — and it will always be our second home!
    Thanks for writing about it!

    • Hi Richard, hopefully several readers will see your comment and come over and see your beautiful blog and all the information it offers on this stunning region. As you can probably tell, the entire area left a very lasting impression with us, we were stunned and fascinated and the people were so warm and welcoming. Xx

  • I’ve loved your travel posts! When you and Roddy become “empty nesters,” why don’t you become tour guides? Plan a tour, offer a set number of spaces, and your followers can then vie for spots!

    • What a great idea Sally and certainly food for thought! But we have quite a few years to go yet, our youngest still has another 7 years of school!!! But it does sound like such a fun thing to do, maybe we should start planning now! Xx

  • Susan, France ceases to amaze me with yet another beautiful and history filled place to visit.
    The photos are postcard lovely…the adventure looks absolutely AMAXING!
    I am always intrigued by volcanoes and their “slumber.”
    But, what brought a BIG smile to my face was the rainbow that etched her way across the sky (big rainbow fans here in Minnie). 🌈 Always a good sign here in Minnie.
    Enjoy the beginning of your week, Susan.
    Thank you kindly! ❤️

    • I love rainbows, they still always make me smile, there is something special about seeing them. This was the most incredible place to visit, we were so surprised, not knowing what to expect, France is such a country of contrasts. Hope you have a lovely week too. Set to be another scorcher here, perfect for the end of the school holidays. xx

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