The Auvergne is part of France’s Massif Centrale, a raised area of central southern France that was created by volcanic activity over 10,000 years ago and is only separated from the Alps by the deep north-south cleft of the Saône and Rhône rivers. The eruptions in the Auvergne started about 70,000 years ago and ended about 6000 years ago. Some of the volcanoes have eroded away to leave only their volcanic plugs (for example at Roches Sanadoire and Tuilière), but they also exist as standalone volcanic cones such as Puy de Dôme and tangled complexes such as the Puy de Sancy ( “Puy” means volcanic hill ).
Typically, the French come here to walk in the summers, to ski in the winters and to bathe in restorative thermal baths at all other times… but seem to be reluctant to tell anyone outside France about its delights!
With peaks rising up to 1800m, the Auvergne gets snow from around Christmas and some of the higher ski runs are still open until May. The fertile volcanic soils on the flanks of the mountains support mixed forests of conifers and broadleaf trees, but towards the tops, where the soil is thinner and the winter winds more biting, the trees are stunted and twisted.
Despite the snow, temperatures are rarely very low, which allows ice crystals and rime to form on any exposed surface and the branches of trees to become heavily laden.
The surface of the lakes freeze, and ice crystals hang from the many waterfalls, but the water is sometimes flowing from thermal springs and breaks through to the surface in the valley floors. Conversely, summers are rarely hot or dry, and many of the trees are clad with thick encrustations of lichen.
We stay at Le Mont-Dore, in the shadow of the Massif du Sancy, the highest point of the Auvergne. This puts us within easy reach of the massif itself, the high pastures and forests that surround it and the crater lakes that punctuate the area. Though we will be there during the ski season, the skiers themselves stay on the pistes on the northern and southern slopes of the Puy de Sancy and we will have the surrounding valleys to ourselves, such as the spectacular Reserve Naturelle de la Vallée de Chaudefour with its surrounding peaks and basalt columns.
Following my successful collaboration with David Ward for the 2016 trip, I hope to run this tour again in the near future, either with David, or with Mark Littlejohn, with whom I am collaborating on an autumn Pyrenees trip in 2017. Please use the form below to register your interest.