It's hard to imagine, but the Old Town of Clermont-Ferrand sits on the site of a volcano, fortunately no longer active. That this is volcanic country is evidenced by the extensive use of lava as a building material, which does tend to give some of the otherwise magnificent buildings a rather gloomy appearance.
This is the natural capital of the Auvergne, and in recent
years the urban landscape has experienced major changes, notably the
construction of a vast shopping complex in the Jaude district, a new covered
market (St Pierre) and law courts and residential buildings. All these new
developments combine to give an appealing juxtaposition of old and new, combining
contemporary architecture with traditional urban development. It brings a
vibrancy that is palpable; an enthusiasm that is catching...and it does much to dispel any lingering gloom.
Clermont is an agreeable place to explore, with a modern tram system that takes you out to the suburbs. This was introduced in 2006, and was the first system in France to use bi-directional pneumatic tyres, which was quite appropriate given that Clermont-Ferrand is the home of Michelin tyres. The town was also the home of Blaise Pascal, who invented many things, including the adding machine.
Originally, there were two towns here: Clermont and Montferrand. Louis XIII sealed their fate in 1630 through an Edict of Union, and so, Clermont-Ferrand was born.
This duality tends to be overlooked, but it responsible for the remarkable diversity found in both historical centres. In short, Clermont rests on antiquity, and was a long-lived episcopal city; Montferrand was founded in the Middle Ages by the Count of Auvergne. Today, old Montferrand rewards a perambulation with many buildings of architectural merit.
Ask at the tourist office for information about guided walks. If going it alone, start at the Place de Jaude and allow at least half a day.
To the west of the town lie the mountains that rise to Puy-de-Dôme, clearly visible from the centre of town, from the Place de la Poterne and the Place de Jaude. Take a drive (or a walk if you prefer) up Puy-de-Dôme. There is a charge for driving up. The view, predictably, is outstanding, and well worth the effort of getting there.
For children, head for Vulcania, where you can learn everything you need to know about volcanoes and this magnificent landscape of the Auvergne.
Place de la Victoire, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand.
Tel: 04 73 98 65 00 www.clermontferrandtourism.com.
The airport (Tel: 04 73 62 71 00; www.clermont-aeroport.com) is 7km from the city centre. The airport offers mainly flights within France, although FLYBE operate three, weekly flights from Southampton direct to Clermont-Ferrand from May to October.
The A71 motorway takes you to Paris via Bourges in 3h 30 mins.
The A75 the “Méridienne” links Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers and Montpellier, by the Millau viaduct, placing the city only 3 hours from the Mediterranean and opening the door to Spain.
The A89 leads to Rhône-Alpes region and offers not only a link between Clermont and Lyon in 2 hours, then on to Geneva, but also easy access to Saint-Étienne towards Avignon, Marseille and Nice. The A89 goes to Bordeaux, Biarritz and San-Sebastian.
There are 8 SNCF trains daily from Paris (Monday-Friday), plus direct links to Béziers, Bordeaux, Dijon, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse.
Auberge de Chabanettes, 63590 Auzelles.
Located in the Auvergne, and more specifically in the stunning Livradois-Forez Regional National Park, this 5-room auberge is under new management, and offers a splendid and peaceful escape from the brouhaha of town and city life. Restaurant, free parking, WiFi and just 20 miles from Clermont-Ferrand airport.