The region of southern central France known as the Auvergne is the birthplace of two of the country’s best known rivers – the Loire and the Dordogne – yet the majority of the tourists who visit their illustrious wine regions to the North and West are unaware of its unique beauty. The Auvergne region is split into 4 smaller areas – Allier, Puy de Dome, Haute Loire and Cantal – and is home to the Massif Central where are to be found the highest mountains in France outside of the Alps and the Pyrenees.
Much of the country is reminiscent of the rolling wooded hills of Derbyshire but just occasionally upthrusts in these benign hills aspire to greater things and with the exception of lowland Allier the other three areas are home to peaks that echo the far off Alps or Pyrenees. This post in three parts is a tale of those three peaks of the Auvergne – the high points of Puy de Dome, Cantal and Haute Loire.
My objective rose impressively ahead – an abrupt end to the valley where tiers of rocky escarpments and steep grassy slopes culminated in a precipitous looking rocky tower which was crowned by the upper cable car station. The highest point of the Massif Central, Le Puy de Sancy was hidden from sight just behind that rocky peak which itself moved in and out of sight with the drifting mists that cloaked the upper crags.
We’d driven up to the car park at the end of the valley from the ramshackle charm of Le Mont-Dore – the Dordogne valley’s last town – and I’d set off up the path which was really more of a wide track that doubled as a ski piste in the winter months. Jacqui being pregnant and Josh being nine – were both going up on the cable car and I’d meet them at the top station from where we’d all walk the last bit to the summit.
The track steadily climbed the grassy slopes towards an impressive looking waterfall up ahead – probably somewhere near the actual source of the Dordogne – and was an easy uphill walk though I found the plastic mesh fencing off putting. Its purpose was to prevent out of control skiers from plummeting down the mountain and I guess if I were skiing down here I would most likely fall into that category and be reassured to see the bright orange netting but it doesn’t complement the surrounding views.
I followed the path towards the waterfall before it bent around to climb above it into a high misty valley from where it made a steeper and stonier ascent to approach the upper cable car station by easy slopes unseen from below. The ragged cloud which had clung to the upper slopes now surrounded me obscuring the views and as it began to rain I joined Jacqui and Josh in the oppressive warmth of the cafe until the shower had passed and we could all set out for the top.
The ascent from the cable car station to Puy de Sancy at 1886m or 6188 feet is just a case of following everyone else up the wooden steps and duck boarding to the viewing indicator on the summit. Very little effort and no route finding ability are needed but the views are worth coming up for if nothing else. I guess I’m just against the idea of constructing pathways like this up mountains as it destroys their originally wild nature. In defence of the path builders I would imagine that erosion would be a serious problem here without the wooden boards – the hazards of having a cable car almost to the top – and they are preferable to the concrete pathway built up Puy Mary in Cantal to the South of here.
To part 2 of this post >>> hiking the Plomb du Cantal