Things to do in Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region of France

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Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is a region of France created from the merger of Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes. The region borders Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur to the south, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté to the north, Nouvelle-Aquitaine to the west, Switzerland (Cantons of Geneva, Valais and Vaud) and Italy (Aosta valley and Piedmont) to the northeast and east.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes covers an area of more than 69,711 km2 (26,916 sq mi), making it the third largest region in metropolitan France, with a population of 7,695,264, second only to Île-de-France.

Things to do in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

There is so much to do in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. From walking in the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Nature Park or the Vanoise National Park to cross-country skiing in the Bauges at Aix-les-Bains.

You can try rock climbing across the Mont-Blanc massif, or swimming in the lakes of Annecy, Aiguebelette, Aydat, Le Bourget, Grangent and Chambon. This large region is a delight for those who seek their recreational pleasure in the outdoors.

Find rock. Climb rock.

But Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes also has a remarkable heritage of castle forts, Romanesque churches, villages and towns of architectural and cultural importance. Explore Annecy, Chambéry, Clermont-Ferrand, Grenoble, Le Puy-en-Velay, Montluçon, Moulins and Riom.

South of Lyon, on both flanks of the Rhône valley, are two renowned destinations: Drôme, with its charming villages, gently rolling hills, lavender fields and mountains. And the Ardèche on the other, famed for its gorges so loved by kayakers, characterful villages, volcanic sites, medieval castles and stunning panoramas.

Don’t miss the incredible beauty and vibrant cities of the Provence Alpes Cote D’Azur including Marseilles, Cannes, and Van Gogh’s Provence playground.

Strike out for Nouvelle-Aquitaine and enjoy the amazing coastline, incredible beaches and the wonderful towns of Bordeaux (and its wine) and Biarritz.

Foodies will love the region, too, tempted by chees from Auvergne and Savoie, green lentils from Le Puy, Lyonnaise salad, and potée Auvergnate stew.

You can also enjoy poultry from Bresse, tartiflette, raclette and fondue. Don’t moss out on wines from Côtes du Rhône and Saint-Pourçain, Montélimar nougat, Saint-Genix cake and pompe aux pommes, a delicious local apple tart.

Departments in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Ain: The Brou royal convent, Gothic masterpiece, the Dombes lakes, the Saracen chimneys in Bresse, and the charming medieval town of Pérouges are among the gems to be discovered.

Allier: Unspoiled nature, magnificent forest of Tronçais oaks, castles and fortresses.

Ardèche: Mountains, captivating villages, chestnut groves, the Ardèche Mountains Regional Nature Park, spas, and of course the famous Ardèche gorges.

Cantal in France

Cantal: Wild landscapes abound, mountain massif of the Monts du Cantal and its famous Puy Mary, chestnut grove, medieval villages, typical dishes and renowned cheeses.

Drôme: Diverse landscapes, ranging from the hills and villages of the Provençal Drôme to the Vercors Pre-Alps massif, wild and unspoiled place great for walking and bird watching.

Haute-Loire: In the south of Auvergne, the Haute-Loire forests, high plateaux and verdant prairies, charming villages, medieval castles and the City of Art and History, Puy-en-Velay.

Wintry Haute-Savoie

Haute-Savoie: Mont-Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe, dominates Haute-Savoie. Then there is Lake Geneva lined with spa towns, prestigious winter and summer sports resorts. And the city of Annecy, the Venice of Savoie with its wonderful lake.

Isère: Vercors massif, the City of Art and History of Vienne, the Chartreuse Regional Nature Park, and Grenoble, a city of art rich in museums.

Loire: a great place for walking among Pilat mountain area, the Loire gorges, Grangent lake, and Saint-Etienne, the city with seven hills.

Puy-de-Dôme: Situated in the heart of the Massif Central, the Puy-de-Dôme holds a splendid natural heritage. You should see the Monts du Dôme, the first volcanic mountain range in Europe, the Monts Dore and the Artense plateau…and don’t overlook Clermont-Ferrand, capital of Auvergne.

Rhône: Famous for its major city of Lyon, with an historic site inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Rhône is also renowned for its gastronomy and for its famous Beaujolais vineyard.

Savoie: ski resorts attracting skiers from all over the world, and the Vanoise massif, a paradise for the fans of VTT (mountain hiking).

Visit Clermont-Ferrand

It’s hard to imagine, but the old town of Clermont-Ferrand sits on the site of a volcano, fortunately no longer active. That this is volcanic country is evidenced by the extensive use of lava as a building material, which does tend to give some of the otherwise magnificent buildings a rather gloomy appearance.

This is the natural capital of the Auvergne, and in recent years the urban landscape has experienced major changes.

Most notable being the construction of a vast shopping complex in the Jaude district, a new covered market (St Pierre) and law courts and residential buildings.

All these new developments combine to give an appealing juxtaposition of old and new, combining contemporary architecture with traditional urban development. It brings a vibrancy that is palpable; an enthusiasm that is catching…and it does much to dispel any lingering gloom.

Clermont is an agreeable place to explore, with a modern tram system that takes you out to the suburbs. This was introduced in 2006, and was the first system in France to use bi-directional pneumatic tyres, which was quite appropriate given that Clermont-Ferrand is the home of Michelin tyres.

The town was also the home of Blaise Pascal, who invented many things, including the adding machine.

Originally, there were two towns here: Clermont and Montferrand. Louis XIII sealed their fate in 1630 through an Edict of Union, and so, Clermont-Ferrand was born.

This duality tends to be overlooked, but it responsible for the remarkable diversity found in both historical centres.

In short, Clermont rests on antiquity, and was a long-lived episcopal city; Montferrand was founded in the Middle Ages by the Count of Auvergne. Today, old Montferrand rewards a perambulation with many buildings of architectural merit.

Ask at the tourist office for information about guided walks. If going it alone, start at the Place de Jaude and allow at least half a day.

Worth visiting

To the west of the town lie the mountains that rise to Puy-de-Dôme, clearly visible from the centre of town, from the Place de la Poterne and the Place de Jaude.

Take a drive (or a walk if you prefer) up Puy-de-Dôme. There is a charge for driving up. The view, predictably, is outstanding, and well worth the effort of getting there.

For children, head for Vulcania, where you can learn everything you need to know about volcanoes and this magnificent landscape of the Auvergne.

Visit Issoire

The town of Issoire is located on the banks of Couze river, not far from its junction with the Allier, to the south of Clermont-Ferrand, and well-placed on the fertile plain of Limagne. It is in the Puy-de-Dome department within the Auvergne-Rhone-Alps region. if you’re exploring the Riviera you’ll have easy autoroute access to Issoire.

An ariel view of Issoire

The history of Issoire

A powerful Gallic tribe founded the town, the Arverni, that populated the present-day region around Lyon, and ultimately gave their name to this area – Auvergne.

During the Wars of Religion in the 17th century, Issoire suffered badly, and much of the old Roman town was destroyed.

Today, pride of place goes to the elaborate Abbatiale St-Austremoine (Church of Saint-Austremonie), formerly the church of a 12th-century Benedictine abbey, and one of the largest Romanesque churches in the Auvergne.

Issoire France for tourism

Any tourist visiting Issoire should begin their exploration of the town at the magnificent Saint-Austremonie abbey. You won’t be able to miss it. It’s an incredibly ornate building with both the exterior as well as the interior being highly decorative.

Inside Issoire abbey

Venturing into the town itself there is an agreeable and quite relaxing provincial ambiance about the place. Especially along the compact and narrow shopping streets that lead out onto large open squares.

The Place de la Republique is the main square and is surrounded by brightly painted houses and quaint cafes. Perfect for you mid-morning break.

Why you should visit Issoire

Issoire rewards even the shortest vacation, and anyone passing within striking distance would do well to consider spending a little time here.

Surrounded by boulevards, the town is appealingly bright, refreshing, and a joy to explore, not least the remarkable Renaissance clock tower.

Formerly the town belfry, from the top of which there is a splendid panoramic view over the town, the Limagne Plain and out to the distant Monts Dore and Livradois mountains ranges.

It was a native of Issoire, Austremoine Bohier, financial administrator to Charles VII and Louis XI, who instigated the building of the belfry. It was transformed in 1840, and now houses a scenographic display of local life throughout the turbulent Renaissance period.

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