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Auvergne, in central France, is home to a major urban heritage drawn from a long and varied history, which can be enjoyed during a short weekend stay with your family or friends.
This is where the Dukes of Bourbon came from, who were the precursors of the Kings of France. Also the town from which Coco Chanel started out!
Established in 990, Moulins experienced a real boom when it became the residence of the Dukes of Bourbon from 1327 to 1527. Today, Moulins is teeming with examples of patronage by the Lords of Bourbon, with a rich architectural heritage that you can explore by yourself, using an audioguide, or with a tour guide. Wander through the cobbled streets of the historic district, where timber-framed houses rub shoulders with hotels and grand period buildings. Recently, Maison Mantin, home to a wealthy resident and closed for the past 100 years, was re-opened to the public, and illustrates the sumptuous lifestyle of France’s middle classes in the early 20th century. This comes an addition to the town’s numerous other treasures, including, of course, the hugely famous costume museum called the Centre National du Costume de Scène (CNCS), which definitely should not be missed. (The CNCS is the only one of its kind in the world, housing around 9,000 costumes from theatre, opera and ballet.)You could then treat yourself to a delicious bite at the Grand Café, which is a listed building and a lovely brasserie that has retained its art nouveau style from 1889, its wood-panelled frontage, its mirror-covered walls, its clock and its barometer. During the 1910s, Gabrielle Chanel, who came from Moulins, sang “Qui a vu Coco dans l’Trocadéro?” here, and thus received her nickname of "Coco".
The more curious visitor will also be heading for the Chapelle de la Visitation, with its extraordinary painted ceilings that have recently been restored, and the masterpieces in the Musée de la Visitation, on show at the Hôtel Demoret. Add to this list the Musée de l’Illustration Jeunesse and the Musée du Bâtiment, and your stay is complete! Moulins tourist office offers a clever way of organising your visit using a "city pass" which costs from 15 Euros and which allows you to visit all the city’s museums and enjoy a range of benefits.
All of Vichy’s shops are close together, so it’s a great place for a day’s shopping; and they stay open on Sundays too, due to a tradition going back to the Napoleonic era. Having wandered the streets and enjoyed your window shopping, why not go for a stroll in the parks or along the banks of the Allier and have a cocktail at the Rotonde, a bar and restaurant with a terrace on the waterside!
And when evening comes, the choice is yours, with trendy restaurants, wine bars, evenings at the casino, and, for people who enjoy horse racing, you could spend the evening at the racecourse. Or for music lovers there’s nothing like an opera at the city’s opera house.
And on Sunday, after brunch you could go and relax at the Vichy Spa Thermal les Célestins, before returning to your busy working life, having fully recharged your batteries after your weekend in Vichy!
In southern Auvergne, with the mountains of Cantal in the background and traversed by the Jordanne River, whose shores make up a part of the greenway, the town of Aurillac looks towards the Languedoc and Quercy in the south west. This is a town steeped in history, heritage and authenticity, and has managed to retain its essence through the centuries. The shady gardens, the square with plant life forming a work of art in its own right, the ancient houses, the mansions, the remains of its abbey town, the oasis of greenery in which it lies nestling in sunshine and sparkling winter frost are all features making it well worth a stroll. And Aurillac also has:
- Le Muséum des volcans, in Château Saint Étienne: 600 m² of permanent exhibitions, two films and around 30,000 items in the collection. Visits available to the interior of the Cantal, Europe’s largest volcano. The exhibition also features ecology and the environment.
- La Maison Piganiol: With 125 years dedicated to the manufacture of umbrellas and with a rich past, Piganiol has managed to retain its craft-based know-how and its values. Five generations have succeeded one another at its helm, making it one of Europe’s top umbrella companies. Piganiol is now looking towards the future and introducing luxury umbrellas.
- Brasserie Flo: for a lunchtime break, visit this unique location in which people of all ages and professions come together to share the joys of life and food. Dishes range from local specialities to classics from the bistros of Paris.
- Gorges de la Jordanne : just a few kilometres north you can follow this discovery trail and immerse yourself in a waterside atmosphere between steep rock walls, colourful and untamed. The return trip is 4 kilometres in length, with a wooden footbridge, an arch bridge and a floating pontoon.
Saint-Flour, a stopover town on the A75 from Paris to Montpellier, is both unusual and mysterious, as well as amazing and daring. Gradually, the town will reveal the treasures it has acquired through its rich past, with the medieval town, the 15th century Gothic cathedral of Saint-Pierre and the museums, as well as the enchanting and romantic location of the Château d’Alleuze. Throughout the year, audioguided tours are available free of charge for visually-impaired visitors. Three themes are available for your visit, which can be enjoyed fully independently: town exploration (history and architecture); the ramparts (its medieval past, walks take you right up close to the fortifications); the art route (deciphering contemporary artworks scattered through the town).
Nearby, don’t forget to stop off at the Viaduc de Garabit. Completed in 1884, this bridge is a masterpiece designed by Gustave Eiffel. It took 4 years’ work to bridge the divide between the two banks of the gorges of the Truyère River and link Marvejols to Béziers. The viaduct shines red and glows with thousands of lights at night when it is lit up.
Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Le Puy en Velay, in southern Auvergne and in the middle of France, is the departure point for St James’ Way. Le Puy-en-Velay is an exceptional town which has experienced episodes of intense volcanic activity and which has made itself more attractive through the centuries, with some buildings comprising an important part of France’s heritage. Strolling through the cobbled streets of the upper town so as to soak up its history and treasures, and setting off on St James’ Way are the must-dos of any visit to Le Puy-en-Velay. And you can get up high with your pass visites, which gives you access to three monuments: the Rocher Corneille and the Statue Notre-Dame-de-France which looks out over the town; the Chapelle Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe, built on an 82-metre high volcanic rock; and the fortress of Polignac. The latter can be reached via three easy routes, getting to the upper reaches of which is an exciting experience, with amazing views when you arrive at the top. The cathedral, which is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is the departure point of the “Via Podiensis”, the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella.
And, depending on how you decide to arrange your visits, you’ll be able to enjoy some creative dishes over dinner at a restaurant in the heart of the historic district.
The historical centre of Clermont-Ferrand is identified by the cathedral, Notre Dame de l’Assomption, at the top of the Rue des Gras. It is built of blocks of lava, from stone extracted from the quarries of Volvic (to the west), which lends it a highly characteristic blackish colour that brings out the Gothic style of the building. If you climb the 250 steps of the Tour de la Bayette, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city and the Puy de Dôme. Nearby, the luminous Romanesque basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Port, a classified UNESCO World Heritage edifice, invites you to spend some time in contemplation.
Then you can enjoy shopping around the elegant Place de Jaude, the town's main square, or wander among the pedestrian streets of the zone where the antique dealers and second-hand bookshops are found. On Sunday morning, we suggest you get up at daybreak and have a hunt through the flea-market in the Salins quarter, then go up to the summit of the Puy de Dôme on board the Panoramique des Dômes for a marvellous view over the dormant volcanoes – nothing short of magical! For the cultural scene, visit the FRAC, just by the cathedral, the regional contemporary art collection of Auvergne and one of the finest in France, which exhibits works by international artists; and don't forget the MARQ art museum in the mediaeval quarter of Montferrand, or the Bargoin museum, where you can admire rare and extraordinary textiles: a tunic made of porcupine quills, a waistcoat of rattan cane, or a raffia sheath dress.
You must have realized by now: with its shops, its cultural resources and its magnificent volcanic landscapes, Clermont-Ferrand is really something special.
This is a town with style, visible in its buildings and in its shop windows. Its streets and alleyways are a necklace strung with the pearls of classified buildings and" trendy" boutiques. Its mediaeval and Renaissance houses are the setting for businesses of character, the kind people make a special effort to come back for. The "heritage discovery" walk makes a happy combination with a stroll through the world of clothes and chocolate, decoration and gifts. Design is to the fore, in the Mandet museum and in the shops of the art and craft workers – not to mention jewellery. And if you’re inspired by the beauty of the place, that’s a good thing: there are plenty of places dedicated to your own beauty. Time for a break? Why not have lunch in one of the friendly eateries that are scattered all through the historic centre of the town? Or you can stop for a coffee or a cup of tea, indoors or outside on the terrace. By the end, you'll have discovered at least twenty classified historic monuments: private town houses, religious buildings, the Sainte-Chapelle, two museums and boutiques you'll just have to come back to. Whatever you do, don't miss the Clock Tower and the chocolate confectioners: that would be a treasonable offence!
With Hortense to guide them on one of her dramatized tours, visitors discover the spa town of Royat-Chamalières in a completely new light. Bring the resort back to life by immersing visitors in the great days of the society water-cure: that's what Elsa aims to do, using her talents as guide and actress in her role as Hortense. Elsa's imagination led her to invent this character. Hortense is Elsa's double: an extrovert society lady, proud of her status as a doctor's wife. Hortense is understanding, inquisitive and friendly. She knows all about everything – and everyone. People recognize her in the spa gardens, with her elegant hat and parasol, conversing on the subject of spa customs past and present. The resort is introduced in all its different aspects through different tours:
- "Confidences" will immerse you in the great days of the society water-cure. You will share Hortense's enthusiasm for the everyday life of the bathers: the way the treatments were presented, the chic of the fashionable promenade, the wealth of amusements or the meeting place for the rich and famous.
- "The springs". A tour that reveals all the secrets of taking the cure in Royat: the way the treatments were presented, the sedan-chairs, the buttermilk cure, the spin-off products sold in the chemists' shops at the time, such as radioactive bath salts (radium was associated with the concept of progress at the time of Marie Curie).
A trip back to the past, in a town that thrives in the present.