Skiing on a volcano

© T.Joly
The Sancy mountain range, in the French heartland, near Clermont-Ferrand, offers a wide variety of winter sports in a traditional setting. And as well as sporting activities the region has much to offer in terms of history and architecture.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road: 460 km from Paris on autoroutes A20 and A71
- By train: Paris – Clermont-Ferrand leaves Gare de Lyon. Then train or bus link to Mont-Dore and La Bourboule, bus link to Besse and Super-Besse
- By plane: Flights to Clermont-Ferrand from Paris and 16 other cities in France
- Super-Besse
Residence Ondéale
Hôtel Gergovia
- Mont-Dore
Le Puy Ferrand
Gran Carlina
Grand Hôtel
Hôtel de Paris
Hôtel Castellet
Hôtel de Russie
- Besse et Super Besse
Hostellerie du Beffroi
La Bergerie, L’Etable
- Mont Dore
Le Puy Ferrand
Hôtel de Russie
Auberge de la Golmotte
Buron de Dame Tartine
La Vieille Etable.
- La Bourboule
Auberge de Vergne Noire
Information and booking
- The Sancy tourist office offers many packages. 7 nights in apartment for two adults and two children and a six day ski pass from 841 €. 4 days / 3 nights half board in 2* hotel with a three days ski pass from 228 € / person.
Tel : 04 73 65 36 00
Of all the areas in France where one can ski, Auvergne is one of the closest to Paris. Another thing it’s got going for it is its unique landscape since all the mountains surrounding Clermont-Ferrand, known locally as “Puys”, are in fact extinct volcanoes. Inactive for the last six to eight thousand years, they are today covered in forests and meadows while high plateaus, green valleys and villages of stone houses spread out at their feet. A rural landscape which from late December is decked out in a robe of snow and transforms itself into the ideal setting for winter sports.

© T.Joly
 Family resorts
The epicentre of these sporting activities is Sancy, at 1886 metres the highest of the volcanoes. The apex of the Massif Central, it is home to three downhill ski resorts. With only 13 pistes, of which two are nevertheless black, the smallest of these resorts, Chastreix-Sancy is ideal for short stays or for those seeking calm. In the other two, Mont-Dore and Super-Besse, there is something for skiers of all levels. Especially since the two are connected, giving a skiable area of 87 km. Less, it’s true, than many Alpine ski resorts, but there are far fewer people and the ski passes are considerably cheaper: €26,50 or €21,50 for a day pass while a six day pass is €130 or €110,50 depending on the period. What’s more, the presence of 300 snow cannons guarantees a minimum of snow no matter what the weather. A point to bear in mind in the era of global warming.

© T.Joly
Situated 5 km above the village of the same name, Mont-Dore is one of the oldest French ski resorts. It boasts 33 pistes, 2 blacks and 7 reds, with a total length of 42 km. This year also saw the opening of a snowpark offering 10 different modules – rails, boxes etc. On the other side of the mountain of Sancy the resort of Super-Besse has fewer pistes, 27, but they are longer, 45 km and more challenging with 4 blacks and 9 reds. It also has plenty to offer snowboarders with a terrain park with hips, tables, curl and boardercross, a slalom field and a tubbing piste, where riders descend the mountain on homemade sledges. In addition the resort offers a beginners area and certain pistes are open until 9pm weekends and during the school holidays.

© T.Joly
 Sport and well being
As with all ski resorts lodging is available at the foot of the pistes. There is also a bus service which allows those who want to to stay in a more traditional environment. For example in Besse, a mountain village which has kept many of its medieval and Renaissance buildings. Or in La Bourboule or Mont-Dore, thermal towns whose waters have been prized since ancient times by those suffering from respiratory disorders. Mont-Dore is home to an extraordinary neo-Byzantine bathing complex built at the end of the 19th century on the ruins of a Roman bath; an establishment which, like many hotels, also proposes rest cures and get in shape sessions. Steam rooms, jacuzzi, hot tubs, revivifying showers … Everything you need to recover from the exhaustion of a day of winter sports, which on the Sancy mountain range means a lot more than just downhill skiing.

© T.Joly
For Nordic ski enthusiasts there are 250 km of groomed and posted tracks, divided into six interconnecting sectors. Winding through forests, skirting valleys or crossing plateaus with breathtaking views on the neighbouring peaks, such as Puy-de-Dôme, they are suitable for skiers of all levels and tastes. Lovers of snowshoeing can also enjoy these areas of natural beauty since there are 26 snowshoe tracks spread over the massif. Either with a guide or unaccompanied, this is the perfect way to catch a glimpse of a deer or a rabbit or to discover incredible landscapes such as lake Pavin, nestled in the crater of the last volcano in the range to have known activity.
Dogsled rides are also available for those who wish to try their hand at driving a team of animals.

© T.Joly
 Something for everyone
A still more unusual way to get around is to be pulled by a horse, a practice known as ski joëring where the trick is to direct the horse while keeping your balance on a pair of skis. The technique is easy to master and exhilarating as soon as you start picking up speed. Kite skiing and kite boarding, both perfectly suited to the high plateaus of Auvergne, demand more effort. Here it is the wind that pulls you along by means of a kite; the speed at which you move is up to you, with the most daring riders using the wind to perform jumps and aerial manoeuvres. Likewise with speed-riding (or speed-flying), a discipline which makes its first appearance at Mont-Dore this year. Equipped with skis and a small hang-glider of 12 -15 square metres practitioners descend the slopes at speeds between 60 and 80 km/h. A dream for extreme sport enthusiasts as is climbing frozen waterfalls. Either on small streams for a gentle introduction to the sport. Or up a cascade on the Dordogne for more adrenaline.

© T.Joly
And afterwards, why not enjoy a bit of gaming? Since these are spa towns there are two casinos in Mont-Dore and La Bourboule for an evening’s amusement. A change from the standard ski resort fare of cinemas and nightclubs. In addition to all these leisure activities there are also various sporting and cultural events: in February the Sancy Snow Jazz festival brings together 21 groups and soloists, while on January 30th Super Besse hosts the final of the Trophée Andros, a car race on ice which attracts leading racing drivers and celebrities. One of the only times in the year, along with the school holidays, when it is hard to find last minute accommodation. Otherwise, and weather conditions permitting, one can plan a weekend in Sancy just a few days before.

December 01, 2009
Pascal Lefeuvre 

[ Editor’s pick ]

Built in the 19th Century and completely renovated in 2005, the Grand Hôtel dominates the centre of Mont Dore. Boasting 30 tastefully decorated rooms for one to four people, a huge, lively salon, a sauna, a spa, and even a luminotherapy room, this hotel has a warm and cosy atmosphere. Baths, casinos and shops are all in the immediate vicinity as is the bus stop for the shuttle to the slopes.
Double room from 52 to 59 € / night.
Grand Hôtel du Mont Dore, tel : 04 73 65 02 64