The Auvergne region of France is located in the south of the center of France. The region is home to 1,308,878 inhabitants and covers an area of 26,048 km²
Formerly the historic capital of the Auvergne provinces, Clermont-Ferrand is now the chief town of this region of France and almost a third of the population is concentrated there. Since 1790, the region has been divided into four districts or departments of France: L’ Allier (department 03), Cantal (15), Haute-Loire (43) and Puy-de-Dome (63).
It is in this part of France that Vercingétorix vanquished Caesar in 52 B.C., at the battle of Gergovie, marking his victory by giving the area the name of his Gallic people: the Auvernes. The Romans also left many traces in the Auvergne region and signs of their passage remain: a portion of the old road connecting Lyon to Saintes, and at Neris-Les-Bains where the ruins of an amphitheatre still stand. During the middle Ages, Auvergne was parceled out in several feudal fiefdoms and was the site of rapid construction of many monuments in the Romanesque architectural style. This heritage makes the Auvergne region one of richest areas of France in Romanesque art, with more than 250 buildings going back to this period that attract tourism from around the world. The Saint-Julien basilica in Brioude, the chapel of Vauclain in Molompize, the church of Saint-Paul and Saint-Pierre at Souvigny and Notre-Dame d’Orcival are great examples. Tourists can also find representations of the worship of the Virgin, very present in the Auvergne area, in various sites such as the churches of Moulins, Mozac and Marsat.
The Castles, very numerous here, also offer many possibilities to learn about the history of the Auvergne region. Each castle is specific to its period in its style and its architecture; for example, the Castle of Bourbon Archambault and the castle de la Roche. Lastly, it is here that the infamous “bete du Gevaudan” sowed terror and was killed at the end of 1700.
A land of contrasts and unusual landscapes, Auvergne is the ideal setting for tales and legends. Indeed, a great part of the area is characterized by a succession of plateaus and steep, deep valleys. Half of the auvergnate towns are in mountainous areas. But the great originality of the landscape is seen in its mysterious volcanoes, of which even the youngest is at least 8000 years old. The majestic Puy mountain chain is made up of approximately 80 dormant volcanoes, concentrated on 40 km. Proud of this environment, Auvergne is home to a scientific theme park, Vulcania, a place to learn about volcanic phenomena and earth sciences.
The remainder of the Auvergne region is divided between vast alluvial plains and a chain of hills. This heterogeneous terrain, with its significant network of waterways, results in varied fauna and vegetation which are of great ecological interest. The natural heritage of Auvergne is preserved and displayed in various forms, including 2 regional natural reserves. The Volcanic Park of Auvergne, created in 1977, covers more than 395,000 hectares and includes 153 towns, making it the largest park in all of France. Add to this the Park Livradois-Forez, and fully 50% of the Auvergne territory is safeguarded. And the conservatory orchard of Saint-Didier-en-Velay preserves hundreds of species of apple trees, pear trees, cherry trees and chestnuts.
Lastly, the Auvergne region has another major asset: its water. Called the “water tower” of France, because of its many lakes (Lake Servière, Lake Ravine), ponds, rivers and waterfalls, Auvergne is also a thermal spa. The volcanic past of Auvergne regions caused water to emerge from deep within the earth, endowed with remarkable minerals. Many mineral springs, among which number France’s famous brands Vichy and Volvic, have been recognized for their virtues since antiquity. Auvergne’s thermal spas like Chateauneuf les Bains, Châtelguyon and Bourboule, welcome approximately 70 000 tourists and spa enthusiasts every year, making Auvergne a health and well-being Mecca.
The diversity of the terrain of Auvergne and its natural resources have determined the Auvergne region’s economic landscape as well. Agriculture holds an important place, employing people at more than twice national average and taking up 60% of the area’s footprint. The mountainous part of Auvergne is particularly suited for cattle breeding and dairy production. Auvergne is the origin of several well-known AOC cheeses (Appelation d’Origine Controllee, specific to the region) like famous blue cheese Blue d’Auvergne, Cantal and Saint-Nectaire. The lowland area is used for growing corn, barley, sunflowers and sugar beets among other crops.
Many leisure activities available in Auvergne make it an ideal tourist destination. First of all, its historical heritage yields to the sightseer the ability to explore some of the most beautiful villages in France, such as Charroux, Montpeyroux, Pradelles and Tournemire. Superb panoramic views and the many marked out trails lend themselves to all manner of excursions, such as hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. The many lakes and rivers are ideal for water sports like canyoning, the rafting, canoeing, sailing, and fishing. The mountain offers exceptional take-off points for air sports like the parasailing, hang gliding and even helicopter rides. The area changes gears in winter to winter sports like Alpine skiing, cross-country ski, snowshoeing and dog sledding.
The economic activity of Auvergne, even though it is largely industrial (Michelin and Dunlop have headquartered factories there), is also characterized by a dynamic craft industry. The density of crafts manufacturers the area is among strongest in France with approximately 23,000 active companies. For example, the lace of Arlanc, the paper mill of Ambert and cutlery, of which Thiers is the French capital.
The economic apex of Auvergne is its prefecture: Clermont Ferrand. This town of art and culture (a famous festival of short films is held here) houses approximately 30,000 students in its university center. In spite of its terrain, which cuts it off from the country, Auvergne now enjoys a greater opening towards France and other countries, thanks to its own airport. A boon for tourists who will find it easier to get to Auvergne, but once they experience it, will find it hard to leave.