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Discover France’s Massif Central — the Auvergne volcanoes loop

Laurent Campos

Discover France’s Massif Central — the Auvergne volcanoes loop

Bike Touring Collection by Vincent Reboul

6

Tours

33:33 h

306 mi

27,925 ft

The Massif Central, where France's volcanoes are located, is the country's largest massif. It covers one sixth of the country by itself. Few people know it, but France has one of the greatest diversity of volcanoes in the world, a list almost as exhaustive as its cheeses.

The departments of Puy de Dôme, Cantal and Haute-Loire, which you’ll cross during the six stages of this Collection, are a favourite land for volcanologists from all over the world. In the north, you’ll find the Puys chain, a group of more than 75 volcanoes stretching over only 45 kilometres (28 mi). These are young volcanoes, just 7,000 years old.

Beyond the Puys chain, you’ll discover the stratovolcanoes of the Cantal, or mega volcanoes, which are much older and were formed following cataclysmic geological events. Further afield are the Cézallier and Aubrac plateaus, which are similar to Hawaiian-type volcanoes forming huge basalt plateaus. The volcanic lakes with their roundness and calm waters belong to the maar family. They result from violent explosions forming a very deep crater.

This Collection of fewer than 500 kilometres (311 mi) explores the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Nature Park via a large loop, starting and finishing in the town of Clermont-Ferrand, located at the foot of the famous Puy de Dôme, a lava dome. This city is particularly well served by buses and trains.

The average daily distance of each stage is about 80 kilometres (50 mi). This route is suitable for cyclists with gravel bikes or heavier bikes with panniers. You can easily shorten your days if you wish. Accommodation and places to eat are plentiful along the route.

The Auvergne is a paradise for adventurous cyclists, with a network of small roads. Some sections of road, such as those you’ll ride on stage 2 on the Cézallier plateau, are in the least densely populated areas of France. Cars are rare there. This will give you an even greater sense of freedom. You’ll also discover charming villages and beautiful, little known towns such as Aurillac.

The Auvergne is, together with the Jura and the Alps, the region of the best French cheeses. You’ll find Saint-Nectaire or Cantal cheese here. Don't miss the opportunity to taste the Aubrac aligot: a potato puree mixed with fresh mountain tomme cheese so well bound that a chisel is traditionally needed to cut the dish and serve to the guest! In the Cantal, try truffade, a creamy potato dish. The gentian flower found everywhere is used to make an excellent alcohol, its astringent taste making it an excellent aperitif.

As for the best season to ride, it can snow on these massifs, so I recommend that you explore this route between late spring and autumn.

Finally, I recommend reading ‘Légendes d'Auvergne’ by Serge Camaille. In the introduction to his essay, he writes as follows: The Auvergne is above all an esoteric land. To appreciate it, you have to allow yourself to be surprised.

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La boucle des volcans d'Auvergne

302 mi

27,475 ft

27,475 ft

Last updated: November 2, 2021

Tours & Highlights

  • Difficult
    05:18
    43.2 mi
    8.2 mph
    5,400 ft
    3,175 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first day of your volcano loop departs from Clermont-Ferrand train station. A detour through the city center takes you through two must-sees: the magnificent black tuff cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption as well as the Place Jaude where the statue of Vercingetorix will inevitably attract you

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    by Vincent Reboul

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  • Difficult
    04:49
    50.0 mi
    10.4 mph
    2,925 ft
    4,875 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    For this second day of exploration, the route takes you through the Cézallier plateau to reach Brioude at the end of the day. It is a rather deserted place and a real joy to explore by bike. Little known, it really deserves an in-depth discovery.

    

    It is dotted with volcanic lakes, vast meadows and rolling

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  • Difficult
    05:44
    50.2 mi
    8.7 mph
    4,900 ft
    3,325 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This morning, after leaving Brioude, I invite you to take a slight detour to discover the village of Blesle. This pretty city has a rich past, as evidenced by its many medieval buildings and the three towers in the center. It's a great place to take a coffee break before hitting the road again.

    

    This third

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    by Vincent Reboul

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  • Difficult
    04:07
    38.4 mi
    9.3 mph
    3,425 ft
    4,400 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Today is a relatively short stage but one that will go through the summits. You are indeed going to climb the famous Col du Pas de Peyrol that the riders of the Tour de France have taken many times.

    

    Once there, you will be able to contemplate the chain of volcanoes of Puy Mary. These crests resemble the

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    by Vincent Reboul

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  • Difficult
    06:44
    60.5 mi
    9.0 mph
    5,750 ft
    5,750 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This fifth day you will go north. After about 40 kilometers you will reach the beautiful village of Salers. This town is just incredible as it is well preserved. It is elected among the most beautiful villages in France and will be a perfect place for a coffee break or lunch. I then chose to follow the

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    by Vincent Reboul

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  • Difficult
    06:50
    63.4 mi
    9.3 mph
    5,550 ft
    6,500 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    To complete your volcano loop, you cannot ignore the summit of Puy de Dôme, the highest volcano in the chain of puys. This will be a way to end this circuit in style.

    

    You will reach it by the Col de Ceyssat, then will have to take the mule track on foot to get to the top. Access to this mountain can also

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Questions and Comments

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    6
  • Distance
    306 mi
  • Duration
    33:33 h
  • Elevation
    27,925 ft

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Discover France’s Massif Central — the Auvergne volcanoes loop

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