The Auvergne lies in the heart of the Massif Central, a mountain range with a chain of long extinct volcanos, or 'puy'. There are more than 80 former volcanic cones, from Puy de Dome in the north, through the Monts Dore and the vast volcanic hills of the Monts du Cantal, to the basalt slopes of the Monts d'Aubrac in the south.
The Allier is rich farm country with gentle hills and huge forests. The ancient town of Montlucon is worth visiting and the museum in the castle there, houses a fine collection of hurdy-gurdies.
The landscape of the Puy-de-Dome and Cantal highlands changes into sweeping glacier valleys, lakes and waterfalls and wide plateaux inhabited by deer, goats, rock thrushes and peregrine falcons. In the uplands of the Cezallier hills, botany enthusiasts can see wild orchids and rare carnivorous plants. There are unspoilt mediaeval towns and mountain villages and in the wilds of the Livradois, remote stone and slate roofed 'jasseries', cheese-making farms. The people here are warm and friendly and a smile goes a long way.
Puy-de-Sancy, the highest point of the Mont Dore is reached by cable-car, the summit is about a 20 minutes walk away with stunning views extending as far as the Alpes. Not far below is the resort of Le Mont-Dore which doubles both as a spa and as a ski resort.
There are ten such spa towns throughout the Auvergne. Built around natural thermal springs, many have excellent health and treatment centres. Among others, Vichy with its parks, opera house and racecourse; Chatel-Guyon, favoured by Guy de Maupassant; the ancient town of Bourbon-l'Archambault, birthplace of the Boubon family, forebears of the kings of France; La Bourboule, which has good facilities for children as well as adults. There are good restaurants and brasseries , some have a casino.
Le Puy-en-Velay, is the principle city of the Haute-Loire situated in an extraordinary landscape of steep, volcanic cones. The great cathedral of Notre-Dame du Puy, with fine 11th and 12th century frescoes, houses the famous Black Madonna, focus of many pilgrimages. To the north of the town, perched on a rocky spur, is the Chapelle St-Michel d'Aiguilhe. Built in the 10th and 11th century, it is believed to have been the site of the temple of Mercury. Lace making is an important local industry.
There are many historic and architecturally fine chateaux throughout the Auvergne. Privately owned, many are open to the public or host concerts or exhibitions and some offer Chambre d'Hotes.
The university town of Clermont-Ferrand is the regional capital and a gateway between the north and south of the country.
La Potee Auvergnate, like many traditional country recipes, is a hearty stew made with simple ingredients; loin of pork, bacon, locally made sausages, cabbage and potatoes. Pork with green lentils is another. Le Puy lentils have been awarded an appellation d'origine, as a mark of quality. Good charcuterie and farm cured mountain ham with country bread. Excellent lamb and beef and freshwater fish; trout, char, carp , pike. Try 'aligot' from southern Auvergne, a rich puree made with Cantal cheese, butter and mashed potato which provokes much discussion.
Then there are the cheeses of St-Nectaire, Salers, Bleu d'Auvergne, Fourme d'Amber, the Cantal and many very local ones. Followed perhaps, by a blueberry or apple tart, or some wild raspberries.
Fougasse, is a brioche flavoured with brandy or orange flower water and filled with crystallised fruit, from the Cantal.
The wines of Saint-Pourcain are the best known of the Auvergne wines, as are the mineral waters of Volvic, Saint-Yorre and Vichy, although there are many others.
From spring until late autumn, there are numerous flea markets where you can trawl through piles of bric-a-brac and country fetes, which are held to celebrate the harvest and the movement of the herds to their mountain pastures, with street theatre, folk dancing and markets which sell local hams and honey, lace and clogs . The agricultural fairs of Brion, Jaligny or Allanche are more serious but just as much fun, where farmers bargain and haggle over fat cattle and turkeys.
Good golf courses throughout the region. It is outstanding riding, hiking and mountain climbing country and there are lakes where you can swim, sail and wind-surf , others that are good for fishing, bait, fly or spinning and white water rafting and kayaking through the gorges of the Allier and Sioule rivers, accompanied by experienced instructors. Paragliding and ballooning over the puy.
Usually long warm summers with temperatures often reaching 30 degrees punctuated by short sharp thunderstorms. The uplands are cooler and at altitudes of over 1000m, snow frequently lies until May.