The Auvergne spreads across the broad expanses of the Massif Central, the vast highlands of mountains, plateaus, and ancient volcanoes deep in the heart of France, swathed in dense forestland and the source of mighty rivers and thermal springs. The national park of Les Volcans d’Auvergne alone contains more than eighty dormant volcanoes in the Chaîne-des-Puys, including the dramatic 1465m Puy-de-Dôme, an extinct volcano with the remains of a Roman temple of Mercury at the top, and Le Sancy, at 1882m the highest point in central France.
The Auvergne is an area steeped in French history, especially in the Bourbonnais, the hereditary seat of the Bourbons, the grandest royal dynasty in Europe, and the mighty châteaux occupied by the last eight French kings are ranged over the hillsides of the Allier, south of Moulins, a town famous for its Gothic cathedral of Nôtre-Dame and masterpieces of art. The Cluniac monastery at Souvigny is the final resting place of several Bourbon kings, and the ruins of their imposing fortress at Bourbon l’Archambault, perched on its rocky promonitory, glower over the countryside.
Le-Puy-en-Velay, in the southern Auvergne, was the beginning of the Via Podeniensis, one of the four major pilgrimage routes to St-Jean-de-Campostella. Vichy was a popular spa town in Roman times, and evokes memories of the “Belle Epoque” with its Grand Casino and opera house; it is known as the “French Bayreuth”. Montluçon, dating from the 11th century and was built around the château of Louis II, its half-timbered houses recalling its medieval past.