|West of the Rhône
are the volcanic highlands of the Massif Central,
historically known as Auvergne and consisting today
of the départements of Haute-Loire, Cantal,
Pays-de-Dôme and Allier.
The Limousin region to the west comprises Haute-Vienne,
Creuse and Corrèze. Architecturally,
Auvergne is rich in châteaux and churches
especially in the Allier and Loire gorges, and is noted for its
colourful, rich and mysterious nature. The National Park here offers
magnificent walking country, a land of water, mountains, plains
and extinct volcanoes (the Cantal crater may once have been 30km/20
miles wide). There are ten spa resorts within its boundaries, as
well as many forests, lakes and rivers.
The high plateaux of Combrailles, Forez
and Bourbonnais are very beautiful. Clermont-Ferrand,
which is the political and economic nucleus for the whole of the
Massif Central, is a lively and sprawling town
and the birthplace of the Michelin tyre empire. Much of the town’s
architecture (especially in the older parts of the Clermont area)
is black, because of the local black volcanic rock. There is a 13th-century
Gothic cathedral and a 14th-century Romanesque
basilica, as well as several museums. The town makes a very good
base for exploring the many beautiful areas around it.
There are plenty of good hôtels, gîtes d’hôtes,
and gîtes de France throughout the region. The cuisine is
splendid, including cornet de Murat (pastries), pounti, truffades
and the St Nectaire cheeses. At nearby Saint-Ours-les-Roches
is the European Volcano Centre, Vulcania, a specially
designed exhibition and entertainment centre.
The 2000-year-old regional capital of Limousin,
Limoges, is an important rail and route crossroad,
famous for the production of extremely fine porcelain. The nearby
city of Aubusson is noted for its tapestries (a
local tradition dating back to the 8th century) and both cities
are also famous for their enamel.