Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Puy Mary

The last week in France was filled with goodbyes. Although the Provence lavender was not crossed off the list, we managed to catch the Tour de France in Brive-le-Gaillard and catch a glimpse of the famous Rocamadour. As that was planned to be our very last full day in France, the Air France strike gave us a wonderful going-away present – time. Although the circumstances weren’t ideal (the postponement of our flight was mostly day to day and so we couldn’t plan a two-day trip to Provence), there was one last day-trip that served as a fitting final memory of our time in France.

Traditional shale roofs (or slate?) of the region

The previous year Roberts had taken a couple of visitors to Puy Mary in the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d'Auvergne. As the volcano is a good two hours away and almost 6,000 feet high, the timing had not been right for the rest of us to get to see the large volcano. As the hike to the top is quite steep, my recent pregnancy had made an ascent seem unfeasible (despite my success on Puy des Goules), and more recently rain (which could have translated to snow in the higher elevations) and time constraints had thwarted our attempts. However these final days in France turned out to be ideal, with warm, sunny weather and time to kill (and although we had two enfants to carry up, backpack carriers made the task seem easier than while 8 months pregnant).

A midday view from Puy Mary
Pyramidal Puy Mary is an emblematic peak in the Monts du Cantal. It dominates the other peaks, domes and rocky outcrops that make up the largest volcano in Europe. The name Puy Mary comes from Marius, Saint Austremoine’s disciple and Cantal’s first evangelist. To access the pedestrian stairs that climb to the top you must drive up to the Col du Pas de Peyrol, the highest mountain pass in the Massif Central range. Parking may be an issue on warm, sunny days, but we eventually found a spot and hiked up along the side of the road to the visitor center and café, situated at the intersection of D17 and D680.

The climb was arduous, made harder by the cold wind that relentlessly pushed at us, and by the reluctant petites, who predictably requested to be carried up the steep steps. We pushed on, and after frequent stops to catch our breath in the thin mountain air we finally reached the top. In the bid to receive Grand Site status (in France, a Grand Site  is an exceptional natural site, renowned on a national level and benefiting from protective measures) improvements to the fragile peak are occurring, involving the construction of a wider viewing platform. And so it was that our short time at the top of Puy Mary was accompanied by the incessant pounding of a jackhammer – completely incongruent with the idyllic view of the radiating valleys.

The boys poring over the menu in the Col du Pas de Peyrol restaurant 
The descent was more difficult, especially for Roberts who had in our haste to depart from Clermont-Ferrand that morning forgotten his hiking shoes. Relieved to have reached the bottom we settled in at the restaurant, anticipating prices to match the outrageous view. However, the total bill was reasonable, our hunger sated, and the final memories of our time in France now included green-ridged volcanos, deep valleys and a sunny view over what seemed like all of France.


  1. The lavender is a perfect excuse to come back and visit! :)

  2. This scenery is stunning! You must have some wonderful memories of your time in France. I spent a year there several years ago and I regularly think about it and it's always lovely to return.

  3. What a great memory to leave with! I know that once we leave I will miss all of the puys!

  4. I love that you got to hike it at the last minute-- what a very nice way to end your time there! Also, I loved your pictures of Utah-- so beautiful!

  5. What a pity about the jack hammer but well done for climbing up with 2 little kids. Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance


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