Monday, February 20, 2012


With a significant increase in temperatures and a rare sunny day, we would have been remiss not to get out of Clermont-Ferrand on Saturday. For our destination, we chose Montpeyroux and the Vic-le-Comte area, a mere 25 minute drive south. In the middle of Comté, the region is made up of a series of volcanoes which form the boundary between the Limagne plain and the Livradois mountains. Most of these 50 volcanoes have been eroded to the point where only the chimneys remain, and in the past and present grape vines grow on the exposed slopes. With fantastic views of the Chaîne des Puys from points of higher elevation, and quaint hillside villages dotting the region, we could have spent an additional day or two exploring the area.

Mountpeyroux as seen from bridge over Allier near Coudes

Montpeyroux is a fortified village overlooking the Allier river situated on a hilltop; you may have seen it if you have ever taken the A 75 highway south of Clermont-Ferrand: the three story 13th century keep can be seen for miles around. With its narrow, twisting streets, the colony of artists and craftsmen who have made it their home and its wine-growing past, the village definitely qualifies for les Plus Beaux Villages de France classification, the Association of “The Most Beautiful Villages of France.” To become a member of the Association a village must pass the four-stage selection process, and only about 150 villages have earned the distinction.

Not built of the lavastone as most of the nearby villages as well as the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption in Clermont-Ferrand, the honey hues of the village are due to the local arkose rock, a sedimentary sandstone. Many of the old houses in the village have been restored and the shutters and doors boast fresh coats of paint drawing attention to beautiful woodwork and detail.

After a stroll through the village we dined at a local restaurant before one last loop and returning to the car. Montpeyroux is a very photogenic village (between the three adults we must have taken hundreds of pictures), but the town did not seem very lively. This may be because it is off-season, and the many artisan workshops and stores were all closed and due to reopen only in April, but there was also a lack of many things that gave nearby Vic-le-Comte the opposite feeling: boulangeries, cafés, doctor and dentist’s offices. Instead all the businesses seemed primarily tourist-driven, and on a Saturday in February the streets were completely quiet with the exception of the occasional tourist or car passing by.

Our next stop was Puy St-Romain, an ancient place of worship with a striking view of the Comté Puys, the Forez mountains, the Livradois mountains, the Vic-le-Comte basin, the Allier valley, the Cantal, Dore and Dôme mountains and Clermont-Ferrand. Though I base this on the Auvergne Michelin Guide as we only saw the southern view, because after braving the snow and mud two-track that lead to the “parking” area (I’d call it a sinkhole) and encountering the locals that looked at us as if we were crazy for even coming that far, we didn’t hike very far from the car. Lauris and Roberts made it all the way to the field bordering the sinkhole, I kept within 5 feet of the car, and my mother was forced (by me) to trudge 10 meters down the road to snap some pictures of the view. I hope we have the opportunity to return during a warmer and drier month. (I would also add that although the Michelin Guide lists the hike to the summit as a 45 minute round trip, it looked to be an arduous hike.)

Photo: Inga Lucāne

Final destination, Vic-le-Comte, home of the papermill owned by the Bank of France that makes the watermarked paper used for the French EU monetary units. (By the way, these are printed only blocks from our apartment in a complex in Chamalières!) We luckily found the town center and the Sainte-Chapelle minutes before the doors were closed, and were able to see the unbelievable stained-glass windows and the stone altarpiece from 1520. In the streets surrounding the church were several half-timbered and corbelled houses with 15th and 16th century facades, as well as Porte Robin, the only remains of the fortified curtain wall. We ended our tour in Place du Vieux Marché, with its 16th century fountain that was currently turned off before returning to the car for a short, 25 minute drive home.

Half-timbered house in Vic-le-Comte


  1. I've seen Montpeyroux from a distance and would really love to visit someday. Great pics!

  2. This is one of my favorite places in Auvergne. Those pictures re just beautiful.


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