'If I took enough crack, I bet I could walk on these clouds'

Yesterday Renata, Jennifer, Rachel (the English assistant) and I rented a car to see The Bits of Auvergne You Can't See By Train. Our destination was the Puy-de-Dôme, one of Auvergne's inactive volcanoes, but we took the scenic route and stopped at many other out-of-the-way places while we were at it.

Our first brief stop was at St-Nectaire, home of the cheese of the same name, which is one of the cheeses of Auvergne (along with Cantal and Bleu d'Auvergne) and is Stefan's personal favorite. St-Nectaire is another spa town which, despite being hors saison, was quite touristy-looking.

We pushed on and stopped at the Lac Chambon. It makes me laugh a bit to see French lakes and compare them with lakes in Michigan, but I think there is something pretty and comforting about being able to see from one side to the other. I quacked at the ducks, our cameras went *snap snap*, and we got back into the car.

We were easily distracted along our route, so when we saw signs for the Château de Murol, we turned off to have a look. We walked up to the castle, which was not yet open, as we'd left Vichy at a little after 6:00 am. But we did see their "mini-park" of animals, including black sheep, deer, a rather territorial Shetland pony, and a Scottish Highland cow. The castle was on top of a big hill, so there were nice views of the valleys and the far-off puys.

We drove throught the valleys and the town of Mont-Dore, another spa town that didn't impress us much, and stopped at one point to see a waterfall, the cascade de Saux. From there we went back uphill and found ourselves with a great view of the Roche Tuilière and the Roche Salavoire, two craggy mountain peaks.

We went to Orcival more to find a café where we could use the bathroom (and thus avoid any public toilets that involved squatting...) than with any real interest in the town, but we had a nice wander around Orcival and into the Basilique Notre-Dame, a 12th-century church which is a site of pilgrimage for reasons I couldn't pick up anywhere. After Orcival, we decided we had better hoof it to the Puy-de-Dôme, but we did stop to get a better look at the château de Cordès, which was unfortunately closed.

We continued to the puys and parked at the bottom of the Col de Ceyssat. It was a very steep 45-minute hike to the top, which we managed to do in 35 minutes. Once my out-of-shape body recovered and I was reasonably sure that my heart wouldn't explode, the view was quite impressive. We sat on benches in the observation area and looked out onto the chaîne des puys from a height of 1465m. When we were done eating, the weather started turning for the worse. While we'd climbed up in t-shirts, we had to put our sweaters on and began to wish we hadn't left our jackets in the car. We went into the bar to have a coffee/tea/hot chocolate and wait out the weather, but it didn't improve much. By the time we climbed to the Roman temple ruins at the very top, the mountain was surrounded by thick clouds, so that it looked like the world ended there, and that everything below had disappeared. It was very impressive.

Time was ticking and we had to have the rental car back by 6:30, so we started the trek down the mountain which, at such a steep grade, was almost as difficult as going up and definitely harder on the knees;

After a discussion on such differing American/British terms as biscuits and pants while stretching back at the Col de Ceyssat, we got back into the car and attempted to find a more direct route home. We drove through many villages and small towns and were delighted and confused to see little French children in costume and, apparently, trick-or-treating. This is a relatively new event in France and I hadn't realized its popularity had spread to such an extent.

We got the car back at 6:40 but the person who was waiting for it, being a 20-something male, was not too disappointed at being kept waiting by four 20-something females.

While the train system in France is very good, there was something nice about being able to choose our own route and stop when and where we wanted, and to see the little Auvergnat villages we saw. I personally woudl not feel comfortable driving in France, but Renata seemed to have a good time behind the wheel.

srah - Friday, 1 November 2002 - 5:46 AM
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