Situated in the centre of France, the Auvergne region is the perfect destination for families looking for a rural holiday in a dramatic landscape of tumbling rivers, rugged mountains and … extinct volcanoes!
1. Explore a unique and ancient landscape
At the heart of the region is the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Nature Park, founded in 1977 and one of Europe’s oldest and largest regional nature parks. Several different volcanic landscapes combine to make up the park, among them the Chaîne des Puys, south of Clermont-Ferrand. This line of 80 peaks and craters stretches for 80km and is visible from a long way off. Don’t miss the view from Puy de Dômes, highest peak in the chain at 1465m; take Le Panoramique des Dômes, a little train new in 2012 that provides the only motorised transport to the summit.
2. Discovering volcanoes
Enjoy an in-depth and interactive look at volcanoes across the world at Vulcania, a unique visitor centre built below ground in the heart of the volcanic landscape; 2012 saw the opening of a new area for 3-7 year olds, but there’s a whole range of fun experiences to share. And go inside a real volcano at Lemptégy near Volvic to discover the anatomy of this geological phenomenon, on foot or by little train. See the lava flows, fault lines, and mineral deposits; find out how machines have been used to work the site over 60 years; and experience a simulated mine explosion in 4D.
3. Get close to animals
One of France’s most popular zoological parks, Le Pal at Dompierre-sur-Besbre is home to 500 animals from 5 continents and offers a full programme of animal displays and encounters, as well as thrill rides for all ages – a great day out. If your kids are passionate about extinct animals, step back into prehistory at Paleopolis, 20 minutes from Vichy, where a new exhibition showcases creatures that roamed the earth 4 million years ago. In the mountains of Cantal, Trailus offers the chance to go on a guided 4×4 safari and get close to wild bison, mountain sheep, deer, wild boar, and a host of other animals.
4. Explore the great outdoors
Cycle the trails of the Tronçais forest to look out for deer and other wildlife – choose from conventional bikes or opt for an electric bike for that little extra boost. Soak up the panorama of volcanic peaks from the back of a horse or take a gentle walk through the Cantal mountains with a friendly donkey for company. Enjoy being on the water? Then take a family canoe trip down the beautiful Allier gorges; ride the rapids in a high-octane rafting adventure; or swim in the still waters of a volcanic crater lake.
5. Rent a farm cottage
Auvergne is one of France’s most rural regions and you’ll find lots of opportunities to rent self-catering property on farms. Step down a gear to a gentler pace of life and let your children experience an authentic country lifestyle. Explore on foot, by bike or on horseback; help with the animals; and maybe buy some home-grown produce to cook up in your holiday kitchen. With all the clean fresh air and fresh regional food, you can be sure they’ll all sleep well!
6. Discover pretty villages and heritage towns
Auvergne may be largely rural, but there are still lots of pretty villages and interesting towns to explore which will be quite different from the high streets back home. Capital of the region is Clermont-Ferrand, home of Michelin and renowned for its cathedral of black volcanic rock. Vichy in the east is an elegant spa town on the river Allier with a wealth of sports facilities, whilst Le-Puy-en-Vélay in the south-east has some dramatic churches and monuments, a starting point for pilgrims on the Compostelle trails. Auvergne boasts 11 communities classified amongst France’s Most Beautiful Villages, amongst them Salers, Lavaudieu and Montpeyroux – each one different and all utterly delightful.
Further ideas from: www.auvergne-tourisme.info
The area experiences a classic ’mountain’ climate. Weather here is among the wettest and coldest in France with much of the winter precipitation in the form of snow. June and July are the driest months whilst August can be hot and humid leading to sudden intense thunder storms although the weather usually recovers rapidly afterwards!