A number of years ago Yvonne was given a book about a region little known to North Americans, a rugged volcanic region in central France known as the Auvergne. 4.5 hours south of Paris (at a legal 130km/hr.), the 450 volcanoes of the region are believed to be the result of the collision of Europe and Africa. While unable to understand much of the French text in the book, I was intrigued by this landscape of black basalt rock, snow caped peaks, sheep pastures and tall forests. When friends invited us to visit them in the Pyrenees, the decision was made to include 4 days of riding in this region.
Within the Auvergne there is a 45 km by 5 km belt known as the Chaine des Puys; 85 volcanoes rising to a height of almost 1900 meters. Smack dab in the center of all these puys sits Le Mont-Doré, a spa and ski-town ideally located for launching forays into the surrounding countryside. After some searching we settled on a a Gite a few km away from Le Mont-Doré , booked our West Jet flights and rental car, and prepared for our trip.
While this region may not be as well known outside of France, we did see a good number of French riders. There are a number of excellent routes mapped out on the various websites such as mountnpass.com and freewheelingfrance.com. I imagine that with the efforts to promote the area and the development of e-bikes it might well become an international cycling destination. Like many other regions of France, the government does its part by posting road signs educating motorists to leave 1.5 meters space when passing riders and other signs giving road grades and distances. Climbs are generally friendly with typical grades on the long climbs typically varying between 5 and 7%. The steepest climb, which we didn’t do, corkscrews up the Puy de Dome at an average of 12%. Excellent pavement, great sight lines due to an abundance of hay fields and pasture land, and low traffic allow for fast and reasonably safe descending. The rugged appearance of the region is matched by weather that can change quickly. Even at the end of May there was snow on the higher peaks and temperatures were cooler than I would have expected. Having said that, we had excellent weather with no wind and temperatures in the mid teens to low twenties.
The puys give the region their unique character. There is a fair amount of distance between volcanoes so there is a nice balance of mid-length climbs and lower elevation rolling terrain. The area also has a number of lakes that add picturesque beauty. Le Mont-Doré is also the start of the Dordogne, which on its lower reaches attracts cyclists looking for a more leisurely pedaling experience.
The town of Le Mont-Doré was quiet in late May. It is a typical ski town in summer with a number of sport shops selling the usual hiking and climbing gear and cycling gear. There wasn’t a really good cycling shop, but the town of la Bourboule, less than 10 km away, has good shops.
If we had more time I would have gone to the Charade race track outside the city of Clermont Ferrand. The track is not far from Le Mont-Doré and would make a nice ride destination. It hosted formula one races up till the 70’s and is an old style track with little regard for safety as the roads are narrow and the corners insane. The track is closed but cyclists are allowed to ride on the circuit on certain days. Clermont Ferrand is also the home of Michelin, and the factory has a good museum which we also did not have the time to visit.
The area is known for its cheeses. This isn’t a wine growing area as the climate is too cool, but they do produce some very good beer. Throw in the usual excellent French breads and pastries and all is well on the culinary front.