For a breath of fresh air, try the Haute-Loire, in southern Auvergne
When you vacation in the Haute-Loire, you'll be struck by the infinite kaleidoscope of landscapes the region has to offer. Each area has its own distinct character, like Ireland here, or Italy there... There are such striking contrasts between the “chlorophyll” green of the vast volcanic plateaus, the wild river valley of the Loire, from its source at Mont Gerbier-de-Jonc, and the upper Allier River, which carves its way through a terrain rich in character.
"We explored the wilderness paths of the Loire River banks, in the heart of deep gorges lined with basaltic walls, decked in springtime with bright yellow broom. There were still plenty of surprises and experiences ahead of us. What an experience for us to ford the Loire River and explore hidden paths in the company of a guide with a boundless passion for the Loire, its region and history. Here is an exciting challenge for next year: travel up the Loire by bike, along its beautiful mountain roads...
The first castles of the Loire, and what castles they are! Forget about Blois and Chambord! In a theatrical setting overlooking the impetuous river, I paused in admiration before the château d’Arlempdes, poised like a sentinel overlooking the gorges. I learned that this is the first castle on the Loire River after its source. What a discovery! Working my way North, I came across the elegant castle of Lavoûte-Polignac, the first castle in mint condition!"
"During our walks, we were delighted to observe red kites and otters…and see trout and grayling jumping to feed on flies in this angler’s paradise. We promised to return soon and try our hand at fishing salmon, the king of the river, which still swim up the gorges of the Allier after migrating 5,000 kilometres!
"Our children had never been on a train before. What a first! For nearly two hours, we enjoyed stunning panoramas, meanders, basaltic organs, rock formations, picturesque narrows and rapids…and were impressed by the incredible series of viaducts and tunnels."
"While visiting the salmon hatchery at Chanteuges, I learned that in the past, up to 100,000 Atlantic Salmon would swim from Greenland to the Loire River estuary and then, those that had originated in the Allier would migrate to the spawning areas located at the source of the river. Threatened with extinction, salmon have been the object of numerous conservation projects over the last few years."
Respirando is above all a state of mind, the spirit of a region that offers a complete and varied range of outdoor activities in the heart of a sumptuous landscape. Need to unwind? Want to get back to nature? Want to get away from it all?
Enjoy the simple and relaxing pleasures of outdoor activities with family or friends in this superb natural “playground”. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and dog sleighing in winter... Walking, riding, cycling, white water sports and other more unusual activities like vélo-rail (bicycle-rail) or cani-rando (trekking with huskies) are available during the rest of the year. So don’t wait another minute.
Restaurants and farms in the Haute-Loire provide you with the opportunity to experience the original savoury and sweet flavours of the local dishes and products: green lentils from Le Puy, Fin Gras beef from Mézenc, veal from the Monts du Velay and “Le Vedelou”, Velay black lamb, Haute-Loire pork, “le Velay” cow cheese, goat cheeses and “Chabrirou”, les Perles Rouges (red fruit) of the Monts du Velay, Vellavia beer, Verveine herbal teas and liqueurs (Verveine Pagès or from small producers), potatoes from Craponne, honey from our mountains and wild flowers…
Our Chefs, whose know-how has been heralded by several guidebooks and networks (Guide Michelin, Logis, Toques d’Auvergne, Maître-Restaurateur, etc), will extend a warm welcome, sharing their passion for their region with you, giving you the opportunity to appreciate their local products enhanced by their own creative talent.
"We didn’t regret our trip to the quiet village of Lavaudieu. We really appreciated its Romanesque cloister (the only perfectly intact example in Auvergne), with its capitals, arches, columns and pebble mosaic floors. We lingered for quite a while and left with a wonderful peaceful feeling…"
"Visiting the Cathedral was one of the high points of our stay. This massive building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and visiting its cloister, one of the most beautiful in Europe, is a must. "
"I discovered an immense Romanesque church (the largest in Auvergne). I stayed much longer than planned, gazing at its polychrome stones, its singular floor, a mosaic of polychrome pebbles, and its wide variety of capitals…"
"For the children, this was their most powerful “memory” of Le Puy-en-Velay. What could be hidden inside this chapel,
perched atop a volcanic chimney 82 metres high?"
The Haute-Loire is the proud site of Chavaniac-Lafayette, the birthplace of the famous General Gilbert de Lafayette (1757 – 1834), hero of the American War of Independence and defender of Liberty. In his extraordinary battle for Human Rights, Lafayette left an indelible mark on the pages of History, both as a soldier and a politician.
And you can enjoy an animated tour of the General’s birthplace with sound effects! "The castle we discovered had been considerably remodelled several times over the centuries. This rustic home, does not look like a fortress, and has retained the quiet elegance of the “simple country castle of a great man”. To facilitate visits of the interior, the Lafayette Memorial Foundation has recently created a museographic tour to improve understanding of the site’s historic significance.
I took part in several festivals and events based on local cultural heritage and street theatre. These events punctuate the seasons of this astonishing city. The Bird King Festival, in mid-September, attracts several thousand spectators each year.
Here, conviviality is an art. We highly recommend visiting the Plot market on a Saturday morning. We enjoyed the colourful atmosphere where country and town meet over products from the farms or harvested in the fields.
The fortress of Polignac
Just a stone’s throw from Le Puy-en-Velay lies the fortress of Polignac and its massive 14th century keep.
A culinary icon, the famous Lentille Verte du Puy is a vegetable that is highly acclaimed by top French chefs. We tasted these lentils prepared in many different ways and also enjoyed other authentic regional specialties: Verveine de Velay, a renowned digestive liqueur, cured meats, local cheeses, wild mushrooms, fresh berries, Vellavia beer and mountain wild flower honey.
The first modern museum in Haute-Loire is devoted to the art of lace and the thousands of women who made a living out of producing it. You can enjoy a series of demonstrations in the entirely restored old factory : hand-made bobbin lace, mechanical lace machines…
Lace-makers provide full training in bobbin lace.
This national workshop is responsible for preserving bobbin lace techniques, producing lace of a high artistic quality using the models of contemporary artists.
Remarkable collections of former and contemporary lace, with educational workshop.
Several trains including Paris-Nîmes and Paris- Béziers stop in the Haute-Loire – High speed train links to Saint-Etienne and Lyon.
Information and sales from SNCF: www.voyages-sncf.com
Le Puy-en-Velay / Loudes Airport
(10 minutes from the town centre). Regular flights to Paris (Orly Sud). Frequency: twice a day (Monday to Friday). No flights from July 31st until August 29th, and from December 27th until January 2nd.
Reservations: HEX’AIR +33 (0)810 182 292 or your travel agency. Possibility of reserving a taxi plane: Tel: +33 (0)471 086 228
Maison du Tourisme de Haute-Loire
Hôtel du Département
43000 LE PUY-EN-VELAY
Tél : +33 (0) 471.074.165