Nature stay in Combrailles

Château-Rocher © T.Joly
Gateway to the north of Auvergne, the Combrailles offer a beautiful and well preserved natural environment combining extinct volcanoes, river gorges, lakes and forests. A perfect setting to relax or for sport holidays.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
380 km from Paris on autoroutes A10, A71 and A714 till exit 35, then on D94, D39, D37, D998, D533 and D987 till Combrailles.
- By train
Intercités train from Paris Bercy to Riom. The journey takes 3 h 20. Taxi or rental car in Riom
Volca’Lodges, in Saint-Pierre-le-Chastel
Ferme de Chadet, in Prondines
La Crémaillère, in Miremont
Les Gîtes du Berger, in Saint-Georges-de-Mons
Suites de Campagne Les Eydieux, in Saint-Angel
Table de Marceline, Edgar et Cie, in Saint-Pierre-le-Chastel
Ferme de Chadet, in Prondines
Auberge du Château, in Saint-Rémy-de-Blot
Le Confluent, in Pontaumur
La Crémaillère, in Miremont
Good to know
It’s better to have a car.
- Office de Tourisme des Combrailles
Ph : 0473858094
If you want to spend vacations away from the crowd, in a calm place breathing clean air in a natural environment, then the Combrailles are for you. Free of large towns, this region occupies the northern foothills of Auvergne and offers bucolic landscapes of mid altitude mountain with high plateaus covered by forests, pastures and fields crisscrossed by rivers. A perfect setting for rest and relaxation, but also a perfect playground for hikers, mountain bikers and cyclists thanks to a network of 1,650 km of all levels hiking trails, four mountain bike routes from 115 to 285 km long and five cycling itineraries from 47 km to 153 km long.

Chaîne des Puys © T.Joly
 Panorama over the volcanoes
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Combrailles is to be like a balcony over the Chaîne des Puys, an alignment of volcanoes that have been dormant for many millennia and make the fame of Auvergne. About twenty of them are even found on its territory. Among them is the Puy Chopine presenting the originality of being located in the caldera of another one, the Puy des Gouttes. As for the Gour de Tazenat, whose crater now contains a nearly circular lake with a depth of 90 m, it is a delight for bathers in summer and for fishermen throughout the year.
To get a panoramic view of this volcanic mountain range and its main peaks, climb the 977 m high Pas de Sauterre, an ancient basalt flow once used as a stone quarry. From there, Auvergne’s most famous volcano, Puy de Dôme, is clearly visible, as well as Puy de Sancy, the highest one with 1,885 m.

Fades Viaduct © T.Joly
 Spectacular viaduct
Ditto from the Butte of Saint-Pierre-le-Chastel that is surrounded by marshes you can explore following trails. And if you want to learn more about these volcanoes, go to Vulcania, a theme park dedicated to volcanism combining fun activities and science popularization that is located not far from there.
The second natural attraction of the Combrailles is the river Sioule, a tributary of the Allier flowing through the region for 90 km forming meanders, gorges and also lakes as several dams were constructed along its course. The largest one is the Fades-Besserve Lake that extends over 400 ha and has three beaches with amenities. Near its northern end, the river is spanned by the impressive Fades railway viaduct which was at the time of its inauguration in 1909 the highest in the world with its 132.50 m. Shortly after, comes the jewel of the river Sioule, the meander of Queuille you can appreciate in all its glory from a viewpoint overlooking it.

Queuille meander © T.Joly
 Gorges of the Sioule
It also marks the beginning of the Sioule gorges that continue until the river leaves the Combrailles. A section you can go down by canoe or kayak. Along the way, you will pass by Chateauneuf-les Bains whose springs attract people with rheumatism since ancient times because their waters are known to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. A modern spa located on the river’s bank offers cures as well as wellbeing cares.
Standing atop a 150m cliff, the medieval ruins of Château-Rocher are another must-see stop along the river. Built from the 11th to the 15th centuries to keep an eye on the border between Bourbonnais and Auvergne, this eagle's nest offers a superb view of the Rochocol meander. In the nearby village of Menat, a lovely and very old abbey is also worth a visit.

Pontaumur organ © T.Joly
 Baroque organ
Two other medieval castles much better preserved but built in less spectacular settings can also to be visited. One in Pontgibaud, the Dauphin Castle that also boasts a vegetable garden as well as a mine museum telling the story of peasant miners who once exploited galena in the area. The other in Loubeyrat, the 12-14th century Castle of Chazeron that comprises two wings built in a classical style by the architect of Versailles, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, in anticipation of a visit by Louis XIV.
Finally, it is impossible to talk about Combrailles’ heritage without mentioning the church of Pontaumur, which since 2004 has a superb Baroque organ. It is the exact replica of an early eighteenth century instrument found in the German city of Arnstadt that was used by Johann Sebastian Bach early in his career. Consequently, every August Pontaumur now hosts an event called "Bach in Combrailles", the most important French festival dedicated to the German musician.

August 12, 2019
Thierry Joly 

[ Nature Nights ]

In Combrailles, nature immersion continues at night with several sustainable and ecological oriented accommodations nestled in wooden parks or in the heart of wilder vegetation. Volca'Lodges offers cozy eco-lodges with green roofs comprising kitchen, bathroom and for some of them outdoor jacuzzi which are installed under the shade of trees. Slightly more rustic, Bois Basalte offers the choice between huts and tents placed on wooden platforms that are scattered in a wood on the slopes of Pas de Sauterre. All are comfortable, equipped with mattresses but toilets and showers are common as well as Norwegian bath and sauna. At the foot of the Gour de Tazenat, Natura Tazenat is aimed at convinced environmentalists ready for more spartan living conditions. Cabins located on the ground or perched in oak trees are comfortable and nicely furnished, but toilets are dry and there is no electricity, running water, or wifi. The premise has only one common cold shower.