Anchoring the center of France is the Massif Central, a rugged plateau of ancient granite and hardened lava, punctuated by volcanic peaks and deep river gorges. This is the land of the Auvergne, a region of natural beauty and dramatic landscapes, located midway between Paris and the Mediterranean sea.
Believed to be inhabited since prehistoric times, regional artifacts suggest that the Celts lived here as early as 400 BC. Today, the Auvergne boasts some of France's most beautiful Romanesque churches, medieval castles, and Renaissance era palaces. The first cathedral to be built in present day Clermont-Ferrand was erected by Saint Namace in 450 AD, and rebuilt in the Gothic style beginning in the thirteenth century. In the medieval town of Montpeyroux, one of the most beautiful villages in France, artisans can be found practicing their ancient crafts in an authentic fortress tower.
A major natural monument in the Auvergne is Puy de Dome (pictured), an extinct volcano which rises 1,465 meters (4,807 feet), providing breathtaking views of the Puy mountain chain and the green plains below. A winding road takes visitors to the peak, where remains of the Roman Temple of Mercury can still be seen. On this site in 1648 Blaise Pascal performed his famous experiment on the weight of air.
The area is a paradise of outdoor activities, including skiing, rafting, biking, golfing, hiking, and hang-gliding. Lakes Guery, Aydat, Pavin, and Chambon provide excellent opportunities for water sports such as canoeing, fishing, swimming, and sailing.
Renowned for its cheeses, widely-available selections include the blue cheeses Fourme d'Ambert and Bleu d'Auvergne, as well as Cantal, Salers, and St-Nectaire. Local dishes include pounti, a souffle-like creation composed of ham, eggs, vegetables, and cream.
A city of history
The city of Clermont-Ferrand is located at the northern end of the mountainous Massif Central; it is the capital of the Auvergne region of France.
The city's history dates back to the Roman era and was also an important city in ancient Gaul. The towns of Clermont and Montferrand were united by Louis XIII into one larger city in 1630.
You don’t usually think of volcanoes when you think of France, but indeed they ring the city of Clermont-Ferrand, capital of the Auvergne. As with much of this part of France, this was first Greek, and then a very large Roman city, before being renamed Clermont in the 9th century, well into the rise of Christianity. Indeed, the First Crusade was proclaimed and launched from Clermont. So why the hyphen with Ferrand?
Local nobles, fed up with religious rule, started the neighboring town of Ferrand in 1551, which came under Royal protection in 1610. It was nevertheless joined with Clermont by edict, and in 1731 Louis XV formalized the partnership of the two cities with a Second Edict of Union.
To this day, there are two downtowns, each with an old town area near their respective basilicas. Most famously, the city is the world headquarters for Michelin tires. As for local culture, there is a world famous Short Film Festival held there every February and a jazz festival each October.
Local specialty foods lean toward meat and potatoes; most notable is the Truffade, a large grated potato pancake stuffed with cheese.