AUVERGNE (MASSIF CENTRAL)

AVERGNE REGION CONSISTS OF DEPARTMENTS:  A. ALLIER  B. PUY DE DOME  C. CANTAL AND D. HAUTE LOIRE 

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FRANCE AUVERGNE Tandémistes
T
raveling is escapism of sorts- the somewhat indistinct desire to be flee and immerse in a foreign landscape. However, the increasing popularity of traveling has meant that many cities and countries have been moulded to suit and seduce the modern-day wanderlust. If you are as tired (as I am) about questioning the authenticity of what you see, take a trip to Massif Central. A lovely halcyon largely untouched by the pretension of tourism, the area is an endless mystical landscape of vast forests bearing extinct volcanoes and rough terrains sprouting quaint settlements seemingly lost in time. Visiting Massif Central is akin to entering a timewarp of sorts, you feel somewhat inconsequential and largely unfettered which is perhaps why it can truly be called an escape for the senses.

The climate of the region is dubbed as ‘continental’ indicating (occasionally scorching) hot summers and (excessive) snow in winters. Possibly the best time to visit if you have a skiing tick would be mid-February, if not, spring through summer is an absolutely beautiful time to explore. Cuisine in the region pays homage to simple peasant cooking where wholesome and palatable dishes are conceived from easily obtained food items. Have a go at potée auvergnate, a heart-warming flavorful cabbage soup that is lovingly simmered. The many cow inhabitants of the region are also renowned as the producers of the four (must-try) fantastic cheeses- St Nectaire, Cantal, Fourme d’Ambert and Bleu d’Auvergne.

Venture into the heart of the region and begin your adventure from Auvergne. Immerse yourself in its captivating scenery of a land enveloped by extensive hills and mountains, winding valleys and rivers and endless forests. Various outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking and mountain bike trails offer you the golden opportunity of exploring Auvergne’s resplendent terrains. Also famed for being the largest volcanic area in Europe, thrill yourself with a trip to one of the many dormant majestic peaks and perhaps visit the somewhat frivolous but enjoyable Vulcania theme park near Clermont Ferrand, the capital city.

The region is sparsely populated but a gem of a village such as Le Puy is worth more than a dozen put together. Encircled by the peaks of volcanoes and undulating hills, your first moment (and moments after) in Le Puy will be hard to forget. The village’s exquisite lace-making is well known and this snippet of culture has been preserved in the museum 'Atelier Conservatoire National de la dentelle de Puy en Velay'. Whilst traipsing the marvelous medieval streets of the village, make your way to the Chapel Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe and marvel at the ancient architecture perching almost perilously atop a rocky mount.

In the spirit of feeling at peace with your natural environment, stopover at Vichy, northeast of Clermont Ferrand. The town is abound with idyllic boulevards and parks and, more importantly, natural thermal springs gushing the magical curative water that has drawn throngs of hopeful and curious travelers. Spend a day (or two) at one of the many bucolic health spas that have proliferated across the town and indulge in some quiet time feeling the warm waves of water embracing your body.

If you have some excess time to spare, do venture out to visit one or two of the other smaller places like Murat, Besse and Salers that have retained much of their quintessential medieval architecture and has the unwitting charm of transporting their visitors a few centuries back in time.

Massif Central is a reprieve for anybody aching to be away from the hustle and bustle of their lives, wanting to spend some time in solitude. The vastness and beauty of her natural surroundings is, ironically, at once exhilarating and calming. Massif Central suspends time and slows our footsteps to appreciate the intricacies we so often overlook. In an age where many countries lure visitors with gimmicks and man-made landscapes, Massif Central has little need to beckon, for her beauty will always be a magnet to the knowing traveler.

 


The existence of civilisation in the Massif Central probably predates any other region in France. Because of the harsh terrain, the majority of settlements are concentrated in the area of Auvergne and to which the history of Massif Central is subsequently intrinsically linked with. Human settlement in the region has been found to exist since the Stone Age and these numbers proliferated during the Bronze Age with the influx of Celts and Arvenes.

Auvergne thereafter fell under the rule of the Roman Empire but not before a famously fierce resistance led by the Gallic tribe leader Vercingetorix. Upon conquest, it was soon classified under the newly-acquired land in Southwestern France that Caesar termed Aquitaine.  During this period, Auvergne enjoyed a relatively prosperous era.

The area was then ceded to the Visgoths for a short period in 475 and was subsequently conquered by the Franks in 507. The medieval times heralded a vibrant period for Auvergne in which Romanesque style was heavily imbued into the architectural landscape.

The year 1360 saw Auvergne being created into a Duchy by John II of France who intended for it to be bestowed upon his son. The duchy was only united with the French crown in 1527. Annexed to the kingdom of France in 1532, the area of Auvergne became known as the Countship of Auvergne and was taken into possession by Catherine de Medicis in 1551. After the death of Catherine’s daughter the area was annexed back to France in 1651. The 16th century saw Auvergne devastated by the impact of the War of Religions followed by widespread epidemics and food shortages in the next century.

The 18th century finally brought an era of relative peacefulness to the region but there were still pressing problems of inadequate resources for the population and this led to increasing numbers in immigration as people sought to carve out a better life in other parts of France,

The Napoleanic era saw a distinct improvement in the lives of the civilians and the Second Empire spearheaded the opening of a rail line traversing Paris and Clermont-Ferrand which brought with it an economic boom spurred by increasing trade.  

Auvergne played a significant role in the history books of World War II as the site of Mount Mouchet which was a stronghold in the French resistance against the German troops. A fierce battle was fought during June 1944 and resulted in bloodshed of 4,000 casualties on both sides. Vichy has also been infamously associated with serving as the base for the Petain government who was known to be in cahoots with the Nazi regime.

Post-war Massif Central has been relatively tranquil and its economy has been largely associated with the production of its renowned cheeses, mineral water as well as Michelin tyres. The beautiful and almost untouched natural landscape has also led to a significant rise in tourism in the past decades but the region is still stoically known in fighting to retain its own charm and not give in to excessive modernisation.



                                                                                                                                                             1. ALLIER   2. PUY-DE-DOME  3. CANTAL   4. HAUTE-LOIRE

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