Les Combrailles area brings together some one hundred towns and villages located in the north west of Puy-de-Dôme. It is a verdant region where the Auvergne volcanoes peak, including the Lemptégy volcano, a site which brings scientific culture to the visitor, allowing him or her to discover the inside of a volcano. Its unparalleled natural and historic heritage promises some wonderful trips. The cultural and natural wealth and originality of this destination earned it an award in 2017 in the EDEN competition, the theme of which was cultural tourism.
An exceptional natural environment
Located between the Chaîne des Puys, the Monts Dore and the Limousin plateau, Les Combrailles benefits from an exceptional natural setting. It is made up of forests, wooded countryside, high plateaus, gorges and meanders offering a variety of landscapes unique in France. Between the Gorges de la Sioule and the volcano range, the striking contrast will delight nature enthusiasts. This region has a flourishing biodiversity. The Gorges de la Sioule and the Gorges de Chouvigny are listed as ZNIEFF (Zone Naturelle d'Intérêt Ecologique, Floristique et Faunistique - a natural area with a high value in terms of ecology, fauna and flora). The Chaîne des Puys is made up of twenty Puys (volcanic hills) like the Puy des Gouttes, the scoria of which surround the Puy Chopine, forming a geological singularity. It is an ideal place to get a breath of fresh air and practise outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, climbing and lots more besides.
To see and do
In Les Combrailles region, the dynamic population has set up a host of wonderful local initiatives. They aim to show you the exceptional heritage, both natural and historical, of the region. In the heart of Les Combrailles, the Lemptégy volcano offers the unique spectacle of an open-air volcano. Previously mined for its basaltic rocks, the volcano is now dedicated to tourism. This exceptional site makes volcanology accessible to all. The guided tour lets you discover the volcanoes by benefiting from informed commentary from passionate organisers, or, depending on opening periods, the assistance of an audio guide. Another one of the region's major attractions on the volcano theme is Vulcania. Learn while having fun, such is the aim of this theme park. During the summer festivals, visitors can discover remarkable places. The Bach festival in Combrailles takes place in Pontaumur church, while the medieval château of Pionsat welcomes the music festival. On the programme: classical, baroque and other styles for an event which strives to be accessible to the general public. The themed museums invite you to discover different periods of local history. Reconstructions and role-plays immerse the visitor in the lifestyle of the residents of Auvergne of times gone by. At the Musée de l'Ecole rurale d'Auvergne, you put on the smock of a schoolchild from the ‘30s. In the Scénomusée la Toinette et Julien, you can see the daily life of an Auvergne family.
An extraordinary welcome
For an unforgettable stay in an extraordinary setting, head to one of the stunning establishments of the region. The accommodation offer of Les Combrailles has grown a great deal over the years with varied, original and out of the ordinary options, like the gîte of L'Étable de l'Eclache, based in a former barn. Built in 1845 and completely renovated, the establishment even includes an indoor pool. Other establishments give you the chance to sleep in a yurt, a caravan and even a tree house. In an "eco-village" with "all the mod-cons" mindset, it is an excellent way to be in contact with nature.
The region of Les Combrailles offers a whole array of activities to do as a family. An exceptional example of volcanic activity in France, the Lemptégy volcano is open to all. There is something for everyone with visits to surprising natural sites, the discovery of historic and scientific cultural heritage and summer festivals. Thanks to these assets, in 2017, Les Combrailles and its Lemptégy volcano were distinguished by the EDEN competition, the theme of which was cultural tourism.
Visit to the heart of the volcano
The Lemptégy volcano is located 15 minutes from Clermont-Ferrand. The puy (volcanic hill) was mined for its pozzolana, a volcanic rock, from the end of the Second World War, against the backdrop of rebuilding the towns devastated in the north of France. The mining of this rock has revealed the volcano's insides. The site, which has not been mined since 2007, has been open to the public since summer 1992. As such, you can observe the volcano from inside. Geologists, volcanologists, and botanists play their part in highlighting this landmark in the region in order to transmit volcanological expertise. A guided tour allows you to fully understand the volcanic activity from 30,000 years ago. Ash falls, volcanic bombs, scoria, lava flow and pyroclastic flows can all be seen in the different strata shaped by man's hand. Added to this experience is a range of events that are both fun and educational. The 4D "Aux origines" film brings the history of the Lemptégy volcano to life from its beginnings to our times. The thrilling sensations from the 4D effects make the show larger than life. The fun "La Mine Explosive" attraction takes the spectator into the heart of the tumultuous volcanic activity. The images of the lava flow and pyroclastic flows are accompanied by real tremors and explosions. Thrills guaranteed! The Lemptégy volcano is a site that is accessible to all visitors. It is certified Tourism and physical, mental and visual disability accessible. The guided tour on foot or by the tourist train offers 6 language options. There is also a special children's commentary.
Les Combrailles essentials
Between natural sites and manmade ones, Les Combrailles is full of original and fascinating places. The ancient volcanic activity has shaped an extraordinary landscape. Numerous geological curiosities from the region include, for example, the Gour de Tazenat. Also known as a maar, this clear water lake forms an almost perfect circle with a 700m diameter and a 90m depth. Another essential site, La Roche Sauterre, stands 977m high. This natural panoramic viewpoint offers a breath-taking view of the Chaîne des Puys, the Monts Dore, the Artense, as well as the Monts du Livradois and the Monts du Forez. Curious individuals will walk along the Chemin Fais'art trail, along which the immense sculptures are carved into the Volvic stone. The essentials in the area include the Fades viaduct. With a height of 132m at the time of its inauguration in 1909 it was the highest bridge in the world. The viaduct overlooks the Sioule Valley.
An exciting cultural calendar
Music lovers, head to Les Combrailles. The region is the setting for numerous music festivals. The Bach en Combrailles festival is organised during the second week of August in the village of Pontaumur. For 15 years, artists from all over the world have been getting together and playing Bach's music, much to the delight of the residents and visitors. During the festival, the Cafés-Bach are a chance to discuss the music of the prestigious composer, but also the traditional music of Auvergne. Another essential summer event is the Fêtes musicales du Château de Pionsat. These meetings favour a repertoire from the Renaissance to the 20th century. The Soirées de Chazeron evenings bring together an eclectic programme in a friendly atmosphere and take place in the château courtyard.
Thanks to its verdant backdrop, Les Combrailles offers an ideal ground for hiking, as well as other outdoor activities. Sporting or fun, choose from among an abundant offer. It is the perfect chance to relax as a family or among friends.
An ideal setting for hiking
Les Combrailles is a perfect hiking spot. There are numerous themed routes. Fans of mountainous landscapes will take on the volcanoes along the trails crossing the Chaîne des Puys. Those who enjoy more aquatic landscapes will choose to discover on foot the Gorges de la Sioule, the Gour de Tazenat or the lake of Les Fades Besserve. Curious individuals will be drawn to the heritage discovery routes like the Chemin Fais'art, interspersed with monumental Volvic stone sculptures or the discovery trail of Charensat which showcases the surrounding biodiversity. Those who prefer to walk in a group will take part in the hikes organised by the local associations. Finally, Les Combrailles is the ideal place for family walks, thanks to short circuits suitable for little ones.
Sport and even more sport
This exceptional natural setting lends itself to a great variety of sporting activities. The craggy landscape is especially suited to mountain biking, while the plains offer a wonderful terrain for bike rides and cycle touring. On the Sioule or the lakes, it is pleasant to practise canoeing or any other water sport. Les Combrailles is also a fishing destination. The Sioule is known for being a salmon and trout river. There are also several lakes and ponds. Geocaching, a digital treasure hunt which consists of using GPS to find caches in various places throughout the world, is developing. This game lets you head off exploring while having fun. Fans of horse riding will also be delighted. Horse and donkey rides are organised, letting you discover the region in a different way.
A region of leisure activities and relaxation
In addition to sporting activities, the region is an ideal place for relaxation and leisure activities. As such, in the middle of summer, the rivers and lakes are ideal for swimming. The Étang Philippe leisure centre is equipped to welcome families and offer them all kinds of activities: games for children, mini-golf, a roller skating rink. Its beach is lifeguarded in summer. Les Fades-Besserve Lake has three beaches. They are equipped for children's games as well as a picnic area. The ancient volcanic activity goes hand in hand with the presence of thermal springs. As such, it is possible to enjoy a spa treatment in the Châteauneuf thermal baths. Its springs have highly prized therapeutic properties. And to relax the body and the mind, a visit to one of the spas of the region will do wonders.
Les Combrailles and the Lemptégy volcano will be able to satisfy fans of history and the local area. The region is rich with a stunning historical heritage. There is a vast choice: understanding the history of the Lemptégy volcano, heading off on the trail of the Via Agrippa, admiring the Gaulish Menhirs and discovering the numerous churches. And to finish things off nicely, why not pay a visit to one of the region's producers and try the farm produce.
A little history on the Lemptégy volcano
The Lemptégy volcano erupted for the last time 30,000 years ago. From 1945, the volcano was mined for its volcanic scoria, also called "pozzolana". The site opened to the public in 1992. It has proved a success. In 2006, the volcano welcomed its millionth visitor. Mining of the pozzolana stopped for good in 2007. In 2014, the 4D animated film "Aux Origines" was released, retracing the volcano's history. It was very popular with the public.
A surprising archaeological and megalithic heritage
La Maison Archéologique des Combrailles presents a permanent exhibition - "Des voies et des hommes" (Roads and men), on the major Lyon-Saintes Roman road. Created by Agrippa at the start of the 1st century, it crossed a part of Les Combrailles. Along its route, it is possible to see remains and monuments, like the Gallo-Roman site of Beauclair. The Fines digs, a former stop along the Roman road of Oisans, have brought a significant collection of Gallo-Roman items to light. There, inscriptions unique in France were discovered, dedicated to Toutatis, the Gaulish god. To get there, enthusiasts can take the route which brings together 5 major sites of Les Combrailles. 5000 years of history brought together in a small area. There you will also find the Dolmen of "Pierre Fade", built during the 3rd millennium B.C., the Motte Castrale de Giat (castle mound), erected in the 11th century and even the collegiate church of Notre-Dame.
A rich religious heritage
Les Combrailles brings together some one hundred towns and villages where numerous religious buildings have been built, notably the churches including the collegiate church of Notre-Dame in Herment. Built in the 12th century, this listed church is unique in that it was built on a slope. Its building is a mixture of typical Auvergne and Limousin style. The Abbaye de Menat is one of the most famous of Auvergne. Built in the 5th century and transformed over time, it bears the marks of different periods. The Roman period, the 14th and 15th centuries and the 19th century are especially visible. Not to be missed in the Pontaumur church is Bach's organ. This monumental organ is a replica of the one from Arnstadt in Thuringia (Germany) on which Bach played. It is here that the "Bach en Combrailles" festival takes place every year.
Local crafts and delicious local produce
Les Combrailles markets are a chance to discover the local produce and flavours. The region is teeming with local producers delighted to share their passion for the profession and their love for their region. In the Blot plant oil mill for example, artisanal virgin oils have been produced since 1857: walnut, hazelnut, almond, pumpkin seed, camelina and lots more besides. The millstone used to extract the oil weighs 1.6 tons. Numerous farms in the region open their doors in a friendly fashion to visitors: ideal for a family visit. In La Fermanerie, Franck and Karine grow forgotten fruit and vegetables. From their organic production, they make preserves, jams and also artisanal bread. In Les Combrailles, excellent ewe's and goat's cheeses are also made. In the Catbru farm, it is possible to watch milking, feed the animals and try the cheeses. A discovery-visit which will especially delight children.
To help you prepare your stay, here is our selection of accommodation in Les Combrailles, near to the Lemptégy volcano. A stay in Auvergne is also a chance to try one of the Auvergne specialities like truffade (a sort of thick pancake made with thinly sliced potatoes cooked in goose fat and mixed with tome fraiche cheese) and aligot (a dish made from melted cheese blended into mashed potatoes). Mainly based on tomme cheese, these recipes will recharge the batteries of even the most enthusiastic of hikers.
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