Surrounded by Giants, Clermont-Ferrand, Volcanoes and the history of tyres

by Karen
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We left Parc Verger heading towards Vulcania (a large Volcano centre), with the intention of finding somewhere to stop for the night on the way. Once we were off the main roads, we found ourselves winding up, down and around the volcanic hills of the area; stopping a few times to take in the stunning views. After a while, we stopped at Belvedere des Ancizes for a night’s wild camping with a great view from the windscreen, but a distinctly broken levelling ramp! 12-tonne rating? I don’t think so!

Belvedere des Ancizes offers a magnificent panorama of the Sioule valley and allows you to consider its sinuous course, which is steep and wild. This beautiful viewpoint overlooks the river before it reaches the Fades reservoir, just before the Pont du Bouchet which we stopped at shortly before finding this wonderful wild camping spot.

Vulcania

After a very pleasant evening we headed to Vulcania, a museum dedicated to volcanos, in the middle of a chain of volcanos – to say this was Olivia’s favourite destination is a vast underestimate!

But Vulcania was not what we expected. We anticipated lots of geological information about Volcanos, punctuated with some fun things to do. However, Vulcania is more of a volcano themed amusement park! There are a variety of gentle rides and 4D movies to excite children (and the odd adult), and once we realised that, we were able to have a much better time.

We opted for the English audio guide which is good when it works. We found that the information it provided was brilliant but did not always work in the exhibits. Sometimes we had to stand outside the exhibit and listen to the audio as it did not work inside. Other times there was just no audio at all, leaving us to just try and work out what was going on with our poor GCSE French!

Olivia loved the Dragon Ride, a 4D experience where you travel underground to see various mythical beasts that man used to think caused earthquakes and eruptions.

Karen’s favourite was the section on Mount St Helens, it showed footage of reporters at Mount St Helens when it erupted and had a few artefacts found after the eruption.

George’s was the 4D simulation of the Auvergne volcanos reigniting, simply for the fun that Olivia and a lot of other children drew from it.

There was a large outdoor section with various children’s play equipment, electric tour bus and geyser area (fountains) to play in.

All in all we had a great day at Vulcania, even though it was not what we expected and you need a good knowledge of French to fully enjoy the exhibits. We did think that it was very expensive for what you get.

Where to Stay

After Vulcania we headed out to check out some wild camp spots on park4night, after driving around some way too narrow roads and villages, we decided none of them were any good and headed for an aire in Orcines just outside Clermont-Ferrand with a view of the Puy de Dome. This proved to be a great choice and base for 4 nights. A lovely large quiet area, with motorhome dump point, €6 a night (though we had to pay for both the car and RV so €12 for us), water €2 for 20 mins and electricity €2 for 4 hours – though we didn’t need that.

The aire was next to a sports centre with basketball, football, tennis courts and BMX track. We managed to take advantage of the BMX track one quiet evening and Olivia had great fun.

Unfortunately, on the day we were leaving we woke in the morning to find that the bag of rubbish the neighbours had put by the bin the night before had been ripped open. They had left so as we like to ensure we leave areas clean and tidy Olivia and I cleaned it all up.

Puy de Dome

The Puy de Dome is a 1,465m high volcano in the Chaine des Puys – a chain of 80 volcanos that were all formed by single eruptions. The Puy de Dome is just 10,700 years old, with the most recent eruption in the area being just 6,700 years ago. While not the tallest in the area, the Puy de Dome is famous for several climbs to the summit – both walking trails and the finish of several Tour de France stages over the years.

With Olivia being volcano obsessed, we decided to try and climb to the top via the hikers’ trail, a supposedly 45 minute trip up the side of the hill. We were out of our depth though – the trail is steep all along its length and a much harder walk than expected; so we retreated and took the train up instead!

Panoramique des Domes

The Panoramique des Domes is an electric rack and pinion train and offers you a comfortable 15-minute trip and reveals a breathtaking panorama of the Chaîne des Puys, the plain of Limagne, Clermont-Ferrand and the Massif du Sancy. The train is ecological and adapted to the mountain site, the cog railway allows access to the summit of the Puy de Dôme preserving its environment. Its rack system, an additional notched rail in the centre of the track, allows the Panoramique des Domes to climb the slopes of the Puy de Dome safely.

We expected that the train would be quite a noisy affair, as many rack trains are, but the train was nice and modern, with expansive windows and a smooth, quiet ride. 

At the departure station there is a lovely children’s area, which explains volcanoes and the Puy de Dome. It also has a food area, shop and exhibit area.

Summit of Puy de Dome

Once at the top of the Puy, we were rewarded with excellent views all around, the ruins of a Roman temple to Mercury, and a giant TV broadcast antenna that serves the local area!

We were also greeted by incredibly strong winds and cold air! Despite being warm in the sun at the base, at the top the cooler air and wind had us wishing that we’d put on even more layers! This did cause some arguments as Olivia wanted to leave quite quickly but after realising the real reason she wanted to leave we helped warm her up and take her mind off the cold by playing with some snow!

The views were spectacular, you could see many of the other volcanoes, some of which you could see clear craters at the top. There were snow topped mountains in the far distance, birds of prey soaring overhead and the town of Clermont-Ferrand. As the day got away from us the haze started to obscure some of the views, so would recommend an early morning visit on a clear day.

Mercury’s Temple

Built at the top so all the local townsfolk could see it, the ruined temple is difficult to gauge now; the outer walls are partially restored and perhaps give a feel of how roman architecture looked during its day, but are also jarring alongside the other remains. It made it very hard to visualise how this temple sat in its strange environment.

There is a museum about the temple which unfortunately we did not manage to go in, but maybe next time when we are more prepared. All in all, a good trip, all the buildings and train are dog-friendly which is great, a worthy place to visit, though we’d have liked the satisfaction of conquering it ourselves, the train makes for a much nicer trip overall.

Old Town Clermond-Ferrand and Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Cathedral of Clermont

We drove into Clermont-Ferrand to see the old town. After finding a typically terrifying underground car park that was even tight in our tiny BMW, we walked through the town and took in the Hotel de Ville, which was also built of the volcanic rock and had a stunning courtyard. The Hotel de Ville was once the City Hall and formerly the district court. The history of the building is not precisely known and several divergent versions have been given as to its origin and date of creation. 

It is claimed that it was built in 1825 in the same way as the House of Arrest and City Hall, on the ruins of Les Halles that Catherine de Medici, Queen of France and Duchess of Burgundy, would have offered to the city of Clermont-Ferrand in the sixteenth century. But there is another version of the facts. 

In 1831, at the current site of the Tribunal was a set of part public buildings, where they dispensed justice, and part private which consisted of homes for individuals. Later, a Parisian architect named Ledru would have razed these buildings to create the buildings that we know today, beginning with the House of Judgment, the Court and finally the Town Hall which would have been completed under the July Monarchy. This architect would have given his name to the street “Ledru”.

Finally, another book tells that the courthouse in which this Tribunal sits was started on December 28, 1826, and inaugurated by the Crown Prosecutor, Mr Besse de Beauregard on November 4, 1833.

Then we came upon the magnificent Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Cathedral of Clermont. We had read about the cathedral before, and could easily see it from the peak of the Puy de Dome – it was like a black hole in the middle of the town, with two dark spikes rising up above the rooftops. A stunning building so different with the Volvic stone building material which gives a dark colour though at times inside it looked almost a green colour. It is a Gothic cathedral built in 1262 located in Clermont-Ferrand.  It has two identical spires and an amazing stained glass south rosette.

On walking around the outside of the cathedral we found the town square and fountain and some beautifully painted walls, made to look like a house. Clermont-Ferrand is a pretty city with many roads lined with beautiful trees.

L’Aventure Michelin

We found out there in the town of Clermont-Ferrand there was a large Michelin factory and the associated L’Aventure Michelin museum! The museum is dedicated to the history of the company and its innovations in tyres and other industries.

On arrival, we hired English audio guides (thankfully we had our own earphones which we had obtained from Vulcania) and we also found out that there was a smartphone app we could download which was great.

The museum covered in great detail the early history of bicycle and vehicle tyres, which took a lot of marketing and inventiveness to convince people how much better pneumatic tyres were over solid rubber.

There was the story of the Michelin Man, from his birth from a pile of tyres to the current shape we know today including a great little movie with English subtitles.

There was an amazing Caterpillar, a 10 wheeled, 9 tonne, twin-engined monster designed to high-speed test truck tyres in the late ‘70s.

Also Le Michelins, a series of train cars that used rubber wheels to improve comfort and speed after one of the Michelin family had a sleepless night on a railway! While mostly gone, they still live on in the trams of Clermont-Ferrand, which use a single track for steering, and large rubber wheels for a quiet, comfortable ride.

We also learned that much of Clermont-Ferrand exists because of the factory, as the Michelins built worker housing suitable for families, along with schools, healthcare and sports centres.

Overall we had a good time, and there were much more interesting exhibits for Olivia than we expected, well worth a visit.

The Roads

George loved the twisty steep road up and down the volcanic hills into Clermont-Ferrand, I would go as far as to say the road is his favourite part of France so far!

Conclusion

We really like Clermont-Ferrand and the Volcanic area. I would defiantly like to come back to the area again and explore more and of course conquer that volcano.

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