Cantal, France, holiday information: what to see plus the very best eating places and lodges | Travel

The Cantal is the agricultural heartland of France’s wild Auvergne area, proper within the centre of the nation and a part of the Massif Central. Locals joke that there are extra cows right here than folks and there actually should not many vacationers, regardless of a spread of adventurous outside actions in summer season and winter. Hotels and B&Bs couldn’t be extra fairly priced, and the hearty regional delicacies – rustic quite than gourmand – is available in formidable four- or five-course bistro set menus, preferrred for large appetites and small budgets. The Cantal additionally boasts among the most spectacular websites in La Chaîne des Puys, the 80 or so extinct volcanoes that have simply been recognised as a Unesco world heritage website.

Cantal map

What to see and do

Parc des Volcans

Photograph: John Brunton for the Guardian

Extinct volcanoes, glacial valleys and lakes over 5 million years outdated kind the exceptional Parc des Volcans, France’s largest pure park. Outdoor actions vary from trekking and mountain biking alongside craters of cone-like volcanoes, hot-air ballooning, paragliding or horse using (in winter, there’s downhill and cross-country snowboarding, and dog-sledding). The jewel within the Cantal’s crown is majestic Le Puy Mary, at 1,783 metres. Stop off at Auberge du Puy Mary for a slice of its well-known tarte aux myrtilles, then trek through the Pas de Peyrol to the summit for breathtaking views and myriad wild flowers and crops.

Saint-Flour and the Truyère gorge

Garabit viaduct, Saint-Flour

Garabit viaduct, Saint-Flour. Photograph: John Brunton for the Guardian

The grand, black-stone city of Saint-Flour perches atop a mass of volcanic magma petrified thousands and thousands of years in the past. Many buildings date from the center ages, together with a monumental twin-towered Gothic cathedral. The Saturday avenue market is ideal for stocking up on picnic goodies direct from native farmers. From Saint-Flour, discover the winding Truyère river, starting at Gustave Eiffel’s iconic Garabit viaduct. As the Truyère weaves south, each flip reveals steep wooded gorges, tiny islands and huge lakes. Fishing and boating are the massive pastimes.


Street performers at Aurillac’s street theatre festival.

Street performers at Aurillac’s worldwide avenue theatre competition. Photograph: Getty Images

Cantal’s capital is effectively price a day’s go to. It hosts a famend worldwide avenue theatre competition, which transforms the town into one enormous open-air stage every August. As that is France’s unofficial umbrella capital, its enticing outlets embrace the quaint boutique Parapluies d’Aurillac, in addition to Crèmerie Leroux (15 rue Emile-Duclaux), an historic dairy crammed with pungent ageing cheeses, and Louis Couderc, providing free tastings of an artisan distillery’s liqueurs comprised of botanicals similar to gentiane and verveine. Join the locals sitting on the terrace for an after-work aperitif on the energetic Café de ma Mère (Place Claude Erignac).


France, Cantal, Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d’Auvergne (Regional Natural Park of Auvergne Volcanoes), Saint Paul de Salers, Algour Buron, milking according to the technique of Salers calves are weaned during the summer pastures

Photograph: DEGAS Jean-Pierre / Images

One of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, Salers and its lava-stone mansions sit on the coronary heart of the Parc des Volcans, surrounded by fields of cows – the distinctive red-fleeced, long-horn Salers breed, whose milk makes the well-known eponymous cheese. From May to October, through the summer season transhumance, it’s potential to drive or hike up a tough mountain path from Col de Néronne to go to Buron d’Algour, the place every afternoon Guy Chambon milks his cows and makes conventional Salers cheese straight afterwards in his spartan buron (shepherd’s hut). Château de la Trémolière, a brief drive north, has a uncommon assortment of unique Aubusson tapestries, whereas medieval Château d’Anjony, to the south, is adorned with very well-preserved 16th-century frescoes.

Chaudes-Aigues and the Aubrac

Chaude-Aigues roof spa pool

Chaude-Aigues roof spa pool. Photograph: John Brunton for the Guardian

Chaudes-Aigues actually lives as much as its title, with a steaming river supply effervescent up right here at 32C (and reaching as excessive as 82C on the Par spring, making it the most well liked pure water in Europe). Like a lot of France’s venerable spa cities, Chaudes-Aigues has moved with the instances, remodeling its medicinal “taking the waters” thermal baths right into a Scandinavian-style, family-friendly wellness centre, the place a €20 day go provides entry to jacuzzis, saunas, steam baths and a number of thermal swimming pools, together with one on the roof looking over the encircling mountains. South of the city is the wild, lunar terrain of the 1,200-metre Aubrac plateau. Pack a picnic and head off climbing throughout this bewitching panorama.

Le Lioran

Col de Prat de Bouc, pictured in March.

Col de Prat de Bouc, pictured in March. Photograph: John Brunton for the Guardian

The area’s principal ski station, Le Lioran, is a year-round resort, stuffed with purposeful, purpose-built lodges and flats, with hardly ever a lot of a queue for the télépherique. Once atop the slopes, discover Col de Prat de Bouc, a spectacular glacial go that envelops the area’s highest volcanic peak, Le Plomb du Cantal, earlier than wending your approach again by way of pine forest to Le Lioran. Ten minutes’ drive away, Murat is a fortified, 14th-century city overshadowed by a towering basalt outcrop with a tiny chapel balanced on the head. There are sometimes artwork exhibitions within the lined market, and don’t miss Coutellerie Le Murat for beautiful handmade mountain knives.

Where to eat and drink

Auberge des Montagnes

Diners in Auberge des Montagnes restaurant

Photograph: John Brunton for the Guardian

Four generations of the Comborieu household have welcomed travellers to this legendary auberge of the Parc des Volcans. Its stellar delicacies makes use of seasonal native merchandise, from tangy Salers cheese, saucisson, cured ham and pâté, to foraged cep, girolle and morel mushrooms. Save a giant urge for food for the €32 menu custom – six programs, together with the signature duck pie, salmon trout in puff pastry, stuffed cabbage and truffade. The auberge additionally gives imaginative lodging, together with the prospect to spend the night time in a buron.
• Le Bourg, Pailherols,

Le Garage

Le Garage Salers steak

Le Garage Salers steak. Photograph: John Brunton for the Guardian

Ten minutes’ drive from Lioran ski station, Dominique Peythieu has transformed the household storage right into a splendidly eccentric bistro, coming out from the kitchen to man the pumps when the odd motorist pulls in for petrol. The €13 lunch menu, wine included, is terrific worth, whereas foodies ought to attempt regional favourites like petit salé, lentils heaped with chunks of pork, or aligot, a memorable mixture of mashed potatoes with creamy Tomme cheese.
• 2 route Mauriac, Trizac,

Chez Adèle et Louis

chez adele

Photograph: John Brunton for the Guardian

Aurillac has a wide variety of artistic bistros, however the native favorite is that this temple to the Cantal’s rustic, conventional delicacies. Diners sit at tough wood tables with red-checked napkins, the wine record gives little-known wines from volcanic soils, and the menu chou farci (stuffed cabbage), tripoux (bundles of sheep’s abdomen crammed with intestines, ham, garlic and parsley, which tastes a lot better than it sounds), and truffade, an superior panful of thinly sliced potatoes, goose fats and gooey melted cheese.
• Mains from €9.50, three rue du Buis, Aurillac,

L’Epicerie de Dienne
This funky grocery-bistro is ideal for a scrumptious lunch earlier than trekking up Le Puy Mary’s volcanic slopes. If the dishes look artistic it’s as a result of British chef Chris Wright owned a cult Parisian bistro earlier than moving to the Cantal to open L’Epicerie. Chris has turn into one thing of a neighborhood movie star in Dienne since his €22 set menu gained Le Fooding’s Village Bistro of the yr 2016. Dishes change every single day, providing surprises similar to pumpkin soup with blue cheese, or succulent lamb shoulder with backyard courgettes.
• 6 route du Puy Mary,

Local tip Lac Sauvagenear Dienne, a tiny lake hidden within the swirling volcanic countryside, is right for picnics, boating or home-cooked meals on the lakeside auberge: name +33 (zero)four 71 20 82 65.

Le Buron du Chaussedier

People outside Buron du Chaussedier

Photograph: John Brunton for the Guardian

Stone buron huts are dotted throughout Cantal’s wild countryside, however solely 4 are nonetheless utilized by shepherds to make artisan cheese. Many are in ruins, however Alain Mathieu has renovated the remoted Chaussedier, excessive within the Parc des Volcans. Guests sit exterior, having fun with a calming volcanic Chardonnay and the spectacular views, earlier than getting into the cosy eating room the place Alain’s spouse, Chantal, cooks memorable meals. The selection is restricted, however all the things is homegrown and selfmade. Their son raises Salers cows, and stuck menus (from €18) characteristic thick, juicy steaks, farmhouse charcuterie, wholesome salads and pounti, a tasty flan of prunes, bacon and chard.
• Le col d’Aulac, Le Vaulmier,

Where to remain

La Maison de Jeanne
This imposing granite manor home atop a sleepy village has superior views over the extinct volcanoes of the Parc des Volcans. Friendly house owners Chrystelle and Hugues welcome guests as a part of the household, rooms are spacious and adorned with classic furnishings, and within the night, for €20 a head, Chrystelle prepares a four-course meal, together with aperitif and wine. Their outdated barn is now an unlimited playroom with video games for youths and pool or desk soccer for adults, plus spa and jacuzzi.
• Doubles from €70, 19 rue des Balcons, Thiézac, lamaisondejeanne.web

Local tip Domaine de Veirières is an idyllic non-public lake for trout fishing, the place you may keep the night time, too.
• Doubles from €68,

Auberge d’Aijean

auberge d’aijean

On the winding street that rises as much as the Col du Pas de Peyrol and the summit of Le Puy Mary, this historic farmhouse has been renovated into a cushty seven-room auberge, the place owner-chef Bruno Fabre creates progressive dishes based mostly on native produce, like lentil soup with foie gras. In summer season, friends sit out on a sunny grass terrace reverse an imposing mountain vary, whereas in winter, a wooden fireplace warms the cosy lounge and eating room. Bruno’s accomplice, Valérie, is blissful to assist organise actions from hang-gliding and trekking, to cross-country snowboarding as soon as the snow arrives.
• Doubles from €65, La Gandilhon, Lavigerie,

Camping Saint-Urcize
On the windswept Aubrac plateau, this small campsite is tucked away beside a river, with easy amenities: communal BBQ quite than restaurant, no pool however an out of doors Finnish bathtub and sauna. Lively Saint-Urcize is simply a few minutes away, with delicatessens, bars and old school bistros like Chez Remise. Campers pitch tents right here as a base for the area’s various, all-year outside actions. There are additionally easy wood chalets, at solely €32 an evening, and 6 self-catering lodges, hewn cavelike into the rocks, which make for a novel keep.
• Tent pitches from €6, lodge for 2 from €85; Les Ourtals, Saint-Urcize,

Auberge de la Tour

Auberge de la tour

Marcolès is among the most charming villages within the bucolic Châtaigneraie, a fair quieter nook of the Cantal, with mild rolling hills lined with chestnut timber. Now it’s a gourmand hotspot, too, with Renaud Darmanin profitable a Michelin star. He has remodeled a rundown auberge into a cushty, fairly priced eight-room inn, the place it’s troublesome to not be tempted by the gastronomic fare: six-course tasting menu (€66), five-course vegetarian (€50), set lunch (€25).
• Doubles from €75, Place de la Fontaine, Marcolès,

Local tip Lac Saint-Étienne-Cantalès and its secluded, tree-lined seashores are excellent for swimming, canoeing and kayaking, with floating chalets for hire.

Getting there
The nearest airport to the Cantal is Rodez, served by Ryanair and Flybe. Ryanair additionally flies from Stansted to Clermont-Ferrand. More data:

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