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The biggest volcano in Europe – Tour des Volcans du Cantal (GR 400)

© Mélanie Le Febvre

The biggest volcano in Europe – Tour des Volcans du Cantal (GR 400)

Hiking Collection by Mélanie LF

8

Tours

43:42 h

84.7 mi

18,300 ft

This adventure takes you to the Cantal Mountains in the heart of the department of the same name. Located in the Regional Natural Park of the Auvergne Volcanoes, the Cantal Mountains are home to several volcanic summits that actually form a single volcano, the largest volcano in Europe.

Erosion and other geological phenomena have shaped the massif. Where the original volcano stood, you now find mountain peaks and the town of Planèzes. Inhospitable in winter, this pastoral region becomes a green meadow in spring. In summer, herds of Salers cows graze on the mountain pastures. The flora is rich and varied, especially the famous gentian and the magical but toxic foxgloves (don’t touch them!).

The route proposed here follows the GR 400, the Tour des Volcans du Cantal, and passes by the main summits of the Cantalien massif. It is a high-altitude trail, between burons (small shepherd huts) and summits, pastures and viewpoints. You follow paths that lead to the famous Puy Mary, the Plomb du Cantal, the Brèche de Roland, and the Puy Violent. The walk is challenging, with both uphill and downhill sections. Sometimes you hike along ridgelines or across vast grasslands.

I propose to complete this 136-kilometre (84.5 mi) loop in eight days, but you can adjust it according to your ability and preference. The stages offer a balance between sporty days and easier distances. I recommend using one or two hiking poles to reduce strain on your joints, no matter your age and ability.

As detailed in each stage, it’s possible to stay in a gîte or camp out in a bivvy bag. On the first stage, you have to bivvy as you finish in the middle of nature. If you’d prefer to sleep in a gîte that evening, you have to make a slight detour before the end of the stage to reach the Meije Costes refuge (make sure you book in advance). Bivvying is allowed along the entire GR 400 but respect any local restrictions and be careful to leave no trace.

I’ve also included information on where you can pick up food supplies on each stage. Sometimes, for example on the first day, you don’t have the possibility to buy food en route. I advise taking the time to plan out your meals before you set off. Pack some snacks and pay attention to the weight/calories ratio. Access to drinking water is also uncertain. The path occasionally crosses a spring, stream or watering hole. You should treat the water before drinking it, even if it seems clear. I advise bringing two water bottles so you can start each stage with two liters of water.

You can choose to do the GR 400 between mid-May and mid-November when the temperatures are milder and the paths are clear from snow. As the weather may hold some surprises, I advise you to check the forecast before starting and to adapt your equipment and clothing accordingly.

The route makes a loop from Murat, a municipality that is easily accessible by car or train. Trains run between Clermont-Ferrand four times per day. I advise taking the time to visit Murat at the beginning or end of the eight days of hiking. Historically, this beautiful town was an important crossroads of the Haute-Auvergne and is located in a magnificent setting.

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Difficult
    05:25
    10.7 mi
    2.0 mph
    3,000 ft
    950 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Sure-footedness, sturdy shoes and alpine experience required.

    The first stage of this hike begins in Murat, a privileged access point to the Cantal mountains easily accessible by train from the capital via Clermont-Ferrand, and which leads you to the ridge lines overlooking the Super Lioran ski resort. A first day of walking that will plunge you directly into the heights of Cantal, a setting that is both soothing and exhilarating.

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  • Difficult
    04:55
    9.52 mi
    1.9 mph
    1,150 ft
    2,750 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Sure-footedness, sturdy shoes and alpine experience required.

    This second stage, which will take you through the Roland Gap and the Puy Mary, the highlight of the day, is legendary on the GR 400 and will amaze you.Still on the GR 400, starting from the bivouac point on the ridge lines, you will first walk under the Puy de Peyre-Ass in the direction of the first surprise …

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  • Intermediate
    04:05
    7.84 mi
    1.9 mph
    1,700 ft
    2,125 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This 12.6 kilometer stage is the shortest stage of the entire circuit offered in this Collection. This is an opportunity, if it has not already been done, to really enjoy the landscapes, the burons crossed at random along the way, the wonders of the fauna, flora and geology. When we are in the movement we too often forget, in my opinion, to stop and take the time. This short stage is no less fantastic!

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  • Difficult
    05:55
    11.1 mi
    1.9 mph
    2,725 ft
    2,475 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Sure-footedness, sturdy shoes and alpine experience required.

    The fourth stage of this tour in eight days is quite sporty, especially as you should start to feel the fatigue setting in, but still so sublime. You will understand, each day brings its share of scenery, ranging from the planèze peaks to the sumptuous settings of the Cantal mountains.Le Falgoux is surrounded by several hundred hectares of forest, …

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  • Difficult
    07:38
    14.9 mi
    2.0 mph
    3,150 ft
    3,350 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This is the fifth day of this journey along the GR 400. The route takes you from Le Fau to Mandailles for a demanding 24-kilometer stage with a fairly significant drop in altitude. The stage evolves along the ridges and is in my opinion one of the most beautiful of the GR 400.
    After the hamlet of La Bastide, the …

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  • Intermediate
    04:34
    8.28 mi
    1.8 mph
    2,025 ft
    2,475 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Here is a shorter and easier stage which will allow you to recover a little after the stages of the last days with the more marked elevation. This day will allow you to reach the village of Thiézac from Mandailles over 13.3 kilometers.The GR climbs to the Elancèze summit via the Perthus pass, which can be seen from a …

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  • Difficult
    06:22
    12.0 mi
    1.9 mph
    3,725 ft
    1,725 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The penultimate stage of this eight-day hike is the one with the most elevation gain, 1140 meters. And for good reason: today you will go to the top of Plomb du Cantal, the highest peak in the Cantal Mountains, and the second highest in the Massif Central after Puy de Sancy! It is a 19.3 kilometer stage with varied landscapes that rub shoulders with the peaks.

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  • Intermediate
    04:50
    10.4 mi
    2.2 mph
    800 ft
    2,400 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The last stage of this hike on the Cantal mountains takes you to Murat where you had started a few days earlier. This is the easiest part of the route, where a sense of accomplishment is sure to double your motivation.From Prat de Bouc, the GR 400 joins the forests of the Cirque de Chamalière, considered one of the …

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    8
  • Distance
    84.7 mi
  • Duration
    43:42 h
  • Elevation
    18,300 ft

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The biggest volcano in Europe – Tour des Volcans du Cantal (GR 400)