A place of spectacular natural beauty, the Auvergne region is an off-the-beaten-path destination in rural France. This rugged landscape is distinguished by its impressive volcanic mountains, idyllic valleys, and unspoiled forests. Ideal for outdoor adventurers, Auvergne’s regional parks offer opportunities for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, skiing, and other active sports.
While Auvergne’s primary draw is nature, cultural attractions abound. The region is dotted with ancient castles, splendid churches, and delightful villages, and several towns are famous for their cheese. Auvergne also boasts the fashionable spa towns of Vichy and Le Mont-Dore, thanks to the area’s thermal springs. The bustling capital of Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand is an elegant city with a heritage dating back to the Crusades. Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions and places to visit in Auvergne
1. Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne
One of the largest regional parks in France, this expansive nature reserve features striking scenery, including volcanoes, crater lakes, forests, rivers, and thermal springs. The most magnificent of the volcanoes, the Puy de Dôme rises up dramatically from the verdant valleys. By hiking up to the peak of the Puy de Dôme, visitors can take in views of the Chaîne des Puys, with their ancient craters now covered by pastures of rolling grass. Another impressive volcano is the Puy de Sancy, the highest peak in the Massif Central at an elevation of 1,886 meters.
Visitors come to the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne for rest and relaxation, to appreciate the vast open space, and to participate in adventure sports. With its well-groomed trails, this nature reserve is a hiker’s paradise. Other outdoor activities include mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, river rafting, kayaking, and canoeing.
Perched on a hill and protected by ancient walls, Auvergne’s capital is an atmospheric city with an enchanting Old Town. Clermont-Ferrand also has a fascinating history associated with the First Crusades, which was proclaimed here by Pôe Urban II in 1095. In the city’s skyline, you can count 50 towers, which represent the medieval city’s churches. The most magnificent Gothic monument is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, built in the 13th and 14th centuries from dark volcanic stone. The cathedral is renowned for its beautiful stained-glass windows.
Another must-see church is the UNESCO-listed 12th-century Basilique Notre-Dame-du-Port, a stop on the “Way of Saint James” medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The basilica’s crypt contains a copy of a Black Virgin figurine that was venerated by pilgrims in the 13th century.
To switch gears and experience the modern era, tourists should spend time at the Place de Jaude in the heart of Clermont-Ferrand. The monumental buildings of this square are filled with shops, cafés, restaurants, the opera house, and a movie theater. In February, the town hosts the International Short Film Festival.
3. Le Puy-en-Velay
In this one-of-a-kind town, striking volcanic formations provide stunning sites for medieval pilgrimage churches. Standing on top of a steep pillar of lava rock, the Chapelle Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe has an equally dazzling interior with Byzantine-style mosaics. The UNESCO-listed 12th-century Romanesque Cathédral Notre-Dame has a revered Black Virgin, which stands on the Baroque high altar. Every year in mid-August, the Fêtes Morales (Feast of the Assumption) is held to commemorate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. This traditional Catholic celebration features a procession of the famous Black Madonna.
One of the most iconic sites in Le Puy-en-Velay is the statue of the Notre-Dame du Puy (Virgin Mary), which stands on top of the Rocher Corneille a 755-meter-high volcanic chimney above the old town with sweeping views of the valley.
Five kilometers from Le Puy-en-Velay, the Forteresse de Polignac is an even more breathtaking sight. Majestically situated on a volcanic hill, this impregnable fortress inspires visitors with its stunning silhouette. A viewing platform provides sensational panoramas of the surrounding countryside.
This Belle Epoque town was a fashionable spa resort in the 19th century when visitors came to “take the waters” that were renowned for their health benefits. Thermal baths and spa treatments were popular, as well as leisure activities such as golf and tennis.
Within the city of Vichy is the Thermes des Dômes spa, which was founded in 1903. This spa offers a chance to bathe in the mineral-rich Vichy waters, said to cure illnesses. Other attractions in Vichy are the lush parks and the Opéra de Vichy, a glittering Art Nouveau monument, which hosts opera and music performances.
A pleasant excursion (30-minute drive) from Vichy is the Château du Chareil-Cintrat. This graceful castle exemplifies the spirit of Renaissance art and humanism. The Château du Chareil-Cintrat was built in the 16th century, with splendid sculpted interior decoration, characteristic of the second French Renaissance. The castle is open to the public, and visitors can admire rooms adorned with murals created from 1560 to 1570 depicting mythological and astrological themes.
Riom is a historic capital city with grand boulevards and elegant old mansions. On the main street, the Rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, is the 16th-century Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and the Musée Mandate, a museum of fine arts and decorative arts. Riom also has an excellent museum of folk art and regional culture, the Musée Régional d’Auvergne, which focuses on traditional rural life in Auvergne. Inside the Palais de Justice (Law Courts) is the chapel of the old château, Sainte-Chapelle, illuminated by three splendid 15th-century stained-glass windows.
For those seeking spa and mineral bath treatments, Châtel-Guyon is worth a detour, about five kilometers from Riom. This Belle Epoque spa town now has a modern spa facility with views of the Parc Thermal de Châtel-Guyons. Tourists will also appreciate the town’s cultural events, including a springtime jazz festival, summertime outdoor concerts, and year-round theater performances.
In an exalted position on a volcanic promontory, the ancient fortified city of Saint-Flour has a unique character and charm all its own. During the medieval era, Saint-Flour flourished as a religious capital; the Musée de la Haute Auvergne displays the region’s archaeological and religious art treasures. Further evidence of the town’s incredible heritage is the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Flour, an amazing Gothic cathedral built out of black basalt (lava stone).
Besides taking in the cultural attractions, visitors will enjoy wandering Saint-Flour’s quaint pedestrian streets, which are lined with boutiques, restaurants, and cafés.
A short (20-minute) drive south of Saint-Flour is the ruined 13th-century Château d’Alleuze, once the base for the bishops in the area of Saint-Flour. The castle’s dilapidated yet romantic remains stand on a hilltop, which provides superb views of the surrounding valley.
7. La Chaise-Dieu
This little village is renowned for its Benedictine abbey. The abbey’s celebrated 14th-century Church of Saint-Robert has an awe-inspiring, high-vaulted Gothic interior. The choir contains the tomb of Pope Clement VI, as well as an exquisite set of 16th-century tapestries listed as “Monuments Historiques” (Historic Monuments). Also on display is the three-panel wall painting Danse Macabre (“Dance of Death”), created in the 15th century at a time when plagues and wars had reduced the European population by half. In August, a classical music festival is held at various venues in La Chaise-Dieu, as well as in nearby villages.
Nestled in a lush landscape, the village of Orcival enjoys a picture-perfect backdrop of the Monts Dômes and the Monts Dore mountain ranges. A must-see sight, the Basilique Notre-Dame d’Orcival was founded by the abbey of La Chaise-Dieu in the 12th century and is considered one of the finest Romanesque churches in Auvergne. The basilica contains relics that have been venerated by pilgrims since the 6th century, and the choir holds a revered 12th-century statue of the Virgin enthroned.
An interesting attraction near Orcival (three kilometers away) is the Château de Cordès, which dates back to the 15th century. This Gothic-style château has a dining room constructed out of Volvic stone and decorated with Aubusson tapestries. The Château de Cordès is especially renowned for its formal French gardens designed in 1695 by André Le Nôtre.
The little medieval hilltop town of Salers has earned the title of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” for being one of the most beautiful villages in France. Tucked away in the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne, the town stands at an altitude of more than 914 meters and is still surrounded by its ancient walls.
The historic town is distinguished by its houses built from dark lava stone and topped with turrets. Top attractions are the town’s central square and the Romanesque and Gothic-style Eglise Saint-Mathieu decorated with 17th-century Aubusson tapestries. Another noteworthy feature is the Holy Sepulchre of 1495.
History buffs will want to visit the town’s Maison des Templiers, which houses the Musée de Salers. This museum is dedicated to the history of Salers, as well as the folk art and traditions of the region. Salers is well known for its farming heritage, as well as its hearty cuisine made from ingredients of the terroir. Local specialties include the high-quality beef from Aubrac-breed cattle raised on nearby ranches and the AOP Salers cheese, labeled “Fromage Appellation d’Origine Protégée Salers” (Cheese of Salers Origin and Protected Appellation).
The town of Moulins takes its name from the many mills that once lined the Allier River. In the 14th century, Moulins became the capital of the Bourbonnais duchy and the medieval Château des Ducs de Bourbon still stands at the center of town. Also known as the “La Mal Coiffée,” the château now houses a museum devoted to the heritage of the Dukes of Bourbon. From the top of the castle, visitors can take in panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
Opposite the château is the 15th-century Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Annonciation, designed in the Flamboyant Gothic style with exquisite stained-glass windows. The sacristy displays the “Triptyque due Maître de Moulins,” a well-preserved late-15th- to an early-16th-century triptych. Other attractions are the Musee du Bâtiment de Moulins, a museum dedicated to the history of building construction techniques, and the Maison Mantin, a lavishly decorated 19th-century bourgeois home, which is open to the public.
The small village of Brioude boasts the largest Romanesque church in Auvergne, which was a medieval pilgrimage destination on the “Way of Saint James” route to Santiago de Compostela. Built-in the 11th to 12th-century using multicolored masonry, the Basilique Saint-Julien features a dazzling interior with 300 richly carved Romanesque capitals. Gothic-style vaulting was added in the 13th century. The nave is adorned with intricate 12th-century frescoes depicting biblical stories, while contemporary stained-glass windows illuminate the space.
Another interesting attraction in Brioude is the Maison du Saumon et de la Rivière (House of Salmon and the River), located in a beautiful setting on the Allier River. Here, a salmon aquarium houses 800 fish of 35 different salmon species. The Maison du Salmon et de la Rivière also educates visitors about the biology of salmon fish and the history of salmon fishermen.
A tour of Romanesque churches continues in Saint-Nectaire. Perched on a bedrock hill, the 12th-century Eglise de Saint-Nectaire features a harmonious interior and a 20-meter high cupola. Inside, more than a hundred capitals depict Old and New Testament scenes. The church also has a rich treasury, including a 12th-century gilded copper bust of Saint-Beaudine.
Besides its church, the town is also known for its Saint-Nectaire cheese, which has a special designation of AOP (Appellation of Origin Protected).
Aurillac is the old capital of Auvergne and the current capital of the Cantal département. This attractive town grew up around the Abbaye de Saint-Géraud, founded in the 10th century and rebuilt after its destruction in the mid 17th century. Only the ruins of the abbey remain for visitors to see. The 14th-century Église Notre-Dame-des-Neiges has a fine 17th-century Black Virgin.
In the town’s Château St-Etienne, the wing dating from the 11th century now houses the Maison des Volcans (House of Volcanoes) with a collection of minerals and displays illustrating volcanic activity.
14. Basilique Saint-Austremoine in Issoire
he second-largest Romanesque church in Auvergne after the Basilique Saint-Julien in Brioude is located in Issoire. The Basilique Saint-Austremoine is an awe-inspiring 12th-century monument with an ornately decorated interior. Visitors have the impression of entering a jewelry box because the basilica sparkles with vibrant stained-glass windows, colorful polychrome mosaic patterns, and intricate sculptural decoration.
15. Roquefort Village and Cheese
Registered as one of France’s “Site Remarquable du Goût” (awarded to sites with exceptional food products of the French terroir), Roquefort is a unique village famous for its cheese. In a gorgeous location in the Grands Causses Regional Natural Park, the tiny village clings precariously to the base of the Combalou Rock. Natural caves of Combalou Rock offer the perfect conditions for ripening the Roquefort cheese, which has been crafted in the same way for a thousand years.
16. Village of Bort-Les-Orgues and Château de Val
This picturesque little village is a good starting point to explore the natural landscape of the Dordogne Valley. The town’s most important monument is its church, the Eglise de Bort, which dates back to the 13th century. The village is listed as a “Ville Fleurie” because of its abundance of public spaces and parks that are enhanced with flowers.
Also worth a visit is the Château de Val, a ten-minute drive away in Lanobre on the banks of the Dordogne River. With its six turreted towers, this fairy-tale, 15th-century castle is one of the most well-preserved châteaux in the region. The lavish rooms have been refurbished with outstanding attention to detail. During summertime, the Château de Val hosts music concerts on Wednesday evenings.
17. Arboretum de Blaine
Created in 1804, the Arboretum de Blaine is the oldest botanical garden in France and is classified as a “Jardin Remarquable” (Remarkable Garden). Formerly the grounds of a Bourbonnais castle (still located on the property), the site encompasses around 20 hectares with 3,500 varieties of plants.
The arboretum blends classic English garden style with areas devoted to exotic plants. Highlights are the heirloom rose garden, a vegetable and aromatic plant garden, and untamed woodlands. Visitors discover the plant life by taking a windy walking path that weaves its way through the garden’s shrubs and leafy trees and across streams.
18. Le Mont-Dore
This lovely spa resort town is nestled in a serene environment along the Dordogne River at the foot of the Puy de Sancy mountain. Le Mont-Dore has several upscale spa facilities. The most prestigious establishment, the Spa Thermal du Mont-Dore is a listed Historic Monument. Inspired by the Caracalla Baths in Rome, this spa facility offers a variety of thermal spa treatments, mineral water hydrotherapy, massages, beauty rituals, and a swimming pool.
Le Mont-Dore is part of a protected nature reserve, the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne. During summertime, the area is popular for outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and golfing. Summertime cultural events include a jazz festival and film festival. In wintertime, this regional park is a winter sports destination for alpine skiing and cross-country skiing enthusiasts.
The fortified medieval village of Saint Saturnin (about 20 kilometers from Saint-Nectaire) delights visitors with its country charm and tranquil environment. A must-see sight, the 12th-century Eglise de Saint-Saturnin is considered one of the “major” Romanesque churches of Auvergne. Revealing a marvelous architectural unity, the church has a somber interior, which inspires solemn prayer and spirituality. The town also boasts a 13th-century château, where Catherine de Medici once held court.
20. Viaduc de Garabit
This 565-meter-long viaduct spanning the Truyère gorge to the south of Saint-Flour was designed by Gustave Eiffel and built between 1880 and 1884 before the Eiffel Tower was constructed. Held together by 600,000 rivets, the massive steel structure with its majestic arch is considered among the finest achievements of Gustave Eiffel. A remarkable feat of engineering, the Viaduc de Garabit is listed as a Monument Historique (Historical Monument).
From mid-March through November and during the Christmas holidays, the Viaduc de Garabit is illuminated at night, which draws attention to its poinsettia-red hue. Guided tours are available in English and French. The area around the viaduct has several walking paths to take in the scenery.
21. Vulcania Amusement Park
A short drive away (20 minutes) from Clermont-Ferrand, Vulcania is an innovative amusement park dedicated to the unique landscape of Auvergne, in particular the Chaîne des Puys volcanoes. Those interested in scientific discoveries, and especially families with kids, will appreciate this special tourist attraction. The park features scientific-themed rides, photo exhibits, simulated volcano-eruption experiences, and educational films. There are also exhibits, activities, and play areas for children. Adventurous types will want to hop on the hot-air balloon ride to take in spectacular panoramic views of the Auvergne landscape.
22. Summertime Concerts and Festivals
Auvergne is among the best places to visit in France to enjoy summertime concerts and festivals. Music lovers can choose from many wonderful events. The Festival de Musique en Bourbonnais presents Baroque music performances at the 12th-century Eglise Saint-Pierre de Châteloy in Hérisson and other Romanesque churches nearby.
The Concerts de Vollore series of classical music concerts takes place every July in the village and at the château of Vellore. La Chaise-Dieu Festival de Musique in August presents classical piano, symphony, and sacred music concerts at the Abbey Church of Saint-Robert and in nearby villages.
One of the most memorable things to do in Auvergne is attending a cultural festival. On the third weekend of September, the Roi de l’Oiseau Renaissance Festival in Puy-en-Velay entertains crowds with its “Tir de l’Oiseau” archery competition, circus performances, and an authentic Renaissance market.
In mid-July, Issoire hosts the highly acclaimed Festival International de Folklore, which brings together musicians, dancers, and singers from all over the world. In August, Aurillac transforms its streets and squares into entertainment venues for the International Street Theater Festival. The town of Gannat (near Vichy) holds a Festival of World Cultures for 10 days in July.
23. Parc Naturel Régional du Livradois-Forez
About a one-hour drive from the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne is another wonderful nature reserve, the Parc Naturel Régional du Livradois-Forez. This regional park is known for its contrasting landscapes: mountains, woodlands, heather moors, plains, and wetlands. The forests are home to amazing bird species, including grouse and owls. The diverse scenery and abundance of birdlife make this natural park a great place for hiking and bird watching.
24. Musée des Manufactures de Dentelles (Lace Museum)
In the small country village of Retournac, this museum allows visitors to discover the fabulous world of lace, through its extensive collection of around 450,000 pieces (representing 100,000 different lace designs). The exhibits are organized into five categories: metered lace ribbon; lace accents for clothing, handkerchiefs, and baby items; artistic lace designs (the assortment includes 3,500 distinct designs); liturgical ornaments; and house linens. The museum also explains the history of lace manufacturing in the region.