Who has not visited and loved at least part of the home-country of Victor Hugo?
You may have travelled Paris or driven through the blue lavender fields of Provence… maybe got excited opening the doors of the Loire Chateaux while (re)discovering the historic time of the great Kings. You may also have descended the slopes of an alpine resort or opened eyes of a child by browsing through the Christmas markets in Alsace. In the end, France has no more secrets for you as an old tourist country.
Listen! There is another France, authentic, volcanic, secret… like a new world. Another France where slowsophy is a lifestyle for contemplation, reading, starlit skies, mountain hiking, wilderness wellness, volcano and bird watching, cheese and good fresh food, wine… as well as secrets of life!
Imagine the vitality and resources of the earth of Auvergne just as secrets whispered exclusively for you! As powerful as lessons of life through this luxury escape, as luxury as essential.
With its winding roads offering an excellent quality road surfacing, magnificent landscapes and a warm welcome, the Auvergne – Secret France – is yours to discover on a vintage road trip. Pure nature to enjoy, possibly from a vintage car that you can rent at the Clermont-Ferrand airport.
Day 1: Enjoy Clermont-Ferrand through its old town and Puy de Dôme, a volcano which is to Auvergne what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Its 1,465 meter high-summit looks out over the Chaîne des Puys (lately listed in the UNESCO World Heritage) and the 365° view from up there is simply breathtaking.
Secret number 1: Auvergne is a (non) destination where you can reconnect with pure emotions.
Day 2: Discover Volvic and get to know how the stone is used in Auvergne. Then enjoy Chateaugay and its vineyards. Wine is also among the great surprises the region will you provide you with, unexpectedly.
Day 3: Orcival is among the most prestigious Romanesque churches in Auvergne… rough country designed for the Roman intimate expression. Murol, known for its school of painters and its castle is another Must-stop on the road down to Cantal, as well as is Saint-Nectaire, the land where the famous cheese comes from.
Looked over by its no less famous Romanesque church, Saint-Nectaire is also well-known for the volcanic waters that pour through its galleries while its underground caves are also worth visiting. A stroll through the small town of Besse is among these simple pleasures of life. You will love its little alleyways, which are almost intact reminders of what used to go on here during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Driving through the Cézallier plateau at sunset is to remain unforgettable. Montgreleix, La Godivelle… in a secret and unharnessed natural environment, Cézallier is among these powerful names that invoke the spirit of roaming and freedom, as Lapland, Patagonia or the Atlas do… a land of wide open spaces of incredible beauty, nestled far off in the Massif Central, the green heart of France. Here and there, Salers red cows with their long horns add a Far West flavour to the postcard.
Secret number 2: Here is a land where you can re-establish those bio-links with the Earth and sky.
Day 4: Bird-watching is on the programme today from the birds observatory by Lac du Pêcher (a mountain poetic lake in the Pinatelle forest, that is a corridor for migrating birds). Contemplation is at its best in Spring and Autumn.
Secret number 3: Contemplation is a way to replenish with eternity.
Day 5: On the road again… today will offer you certainly the best viewpoint of the Auvergne you may get from your road trip. Pas de Peyrol, on the way to Puy Mary, is definitely a place for a long break, whether it should be for a meal at the summit restaurant – unless you stop on the road at a “buron” (one of these old mountain pasture farms where Salers cheese used to be produced – a few of them still remain). Then, you may wish to opt for a bit of sport with a climb up to the Puy Mary or rather feel like spending a bit of time contemplating from the Route des Crêtes. Because contemplation is part of Auvergne philosophy – as you’ve probably understood through its slowsophy.
Col de Néronne offers other impressive and vertiginous images. Note that when discovering Puy Mary and its valleys from the top, you will get to know a totally different type, much more ancient, of volcanism from Puy de Dôme.
Medieval Salers, ranked among “France’s most beautiful villages”, is one of the true wonders of Auvergne and an un-missable step on the way down to Aurillac.
Day 6: Discover Aurillac, lying on the banks of the Jordanne river. Capital town of the Cantal department, it is full of small colourful quarters, welcoming terraces and courtyards… so far away from its reputation of coldest town in France.
Day 7: On the way back to Clermont-Ferrand, you may wish to stop at Murat, Blesle or
Montpeyroux, three charming towns on the Via Arverna, ancient track to Santiago de Compostella. Issoire with its impressive Abbatiale Saint-Austremoine is another possible stop on the road.
Secret number 4: This is an area where you can feel the silence and get connected with your higher self.
Ready to have Auvergne on your radar in 2020? Away from the destinations that are saturated under the pretext that they are to be visited; off the beaten track, the land of Auvergne is a (non) destination that touches the soul and reveals your deep essence of human. A territory to live more than see or “do”, “travel”, into action.
Laurence Costa is Co-founder of “instants d’Absolu” Ecolodge & Spa. “instants d’Absolu” Ecolodge & Spa is a secret luxury retreat in the Auvergne wilderness of France.