How’s your week been? Ours has been good, fairly relaxing. We spent a couple of days exploring again and saw some really lovely places. Despite France being quite a small country (certainly when compared to Australia) the scenery varies from region to region and each has its specific attractions and points of interest. We headed about three hours south to a small town called Le Puy-en-Velay, in the volcanic Haute-Loire region. Surrounded by beautiful, rolling-hill country, one of Le Puy-en-Velay’s must-see sites is the chapel of St Michel d’Aiguihle which is perched on top of an 85m high lava peak. It was built in 962, enlarged in the 12th century and there are 268 stairs up to it. There’s a beautiful view from the top. On another, higher, lava peak, there’s a statue of Mary, overlooking the town – it’s currently closed for renovation so we couldn’t make the climb to that (a bit of a relief actually!).
A short drive from Le Puy-en-Velay takes you to Chateau de Polignac, a fortress, also built on lava (a plateau this time). It dominates the landscape and gives great views of the surrounding country. Having wandered round the fortress on Thursday afternoon, we were amazed to see it early on Friday morning striking out of a thick layer of mist – quite spectacular!
On Friday, we drove from Le-Puy-en-Velay to Le Mont Dore, via some pretty villages and beautiful autumn-colour-clothed country-side. The weather was glorious and, with tourist season largely finished, the roads were relatively quiet. After a brief wander round a market to stretch our legs, we made an impromptu stop at Les Fontaines Petrifiantes, just outside Saint Nectaire. We had no idea what we were stopping at but found a fascinating creative industry (run by the same family for seven generations) which uses calcium/iron oxide-rich water from a hot spring to make 3D art work. The technique replicates the phenomenon that creates stalactites and stalacmites – the water (at a temperature of 35 degrees celsius) is continuously poured over plastic moulds which have a design etched into them then when the mould is full and the water has solidified in it, the mould is peeled off, revealing a relief image. The process can take several years! With exposure to air, the image hardens and eventually looks like marble. We bought a small (10 x 6cm) piece and have attached a couple of photos of it and the ladders used to hold the moulds as water pours over them, to give you an idea of what is created and how.
We found the perfect place for lunch, on the banks of a lovely hill-flanked lake – Lac Chambon. It wasn’t far from there to Le Mont Dore where we took the funiculaire (a cable railway) up the steep slope and back down. Le Mont Dore is another beautiful village, nestled in the mountains, surrounded by ski fields.
So, all in all, a very nice trip. Next week, we’ll head to the west coast, to La Rochelle, then to Bordeaux and back through Limoges. Still plenty to see and do!
Hope you have a great week
Chris and David