Our gradual journey sequence explores how one can take extra aware journeys by prepare, boat, bus, bike or hike – with tips about how you can attain your vacation spot, and what to see and do alongside the best way. Within the newest installment, Anna Richards exhibits you a French summer time mountain climbing various to the Alps.
Embarking on the search of scaling the volcanic peaks generally known as puys within the Auvergne area, I challenged myself to beat as lots of them as I might. This pursuit, sometimes called puy-bagging, shares similarities with the beloved Scottish custom of munro-bagging, the place hikers attempt to beat quite a few peaks. With a complete of 80 puys scattered throughout the Auvergne area, what number of of those summits might I conquer in a single endeavor whereas savoring the expertise at a mild tempo?
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Medieval villages like Besse dot the area of Auvergne © Getty Pictures/iStockphoto
Prepared, set, go
Yearly, some 20,000 hikers lace up their boots to deal with the 166km (103-mile) Tour du Mont Blanc; Chamonix alone can have as much as 100,000 guests a day in peak season. And whereas I perceive the attract of alpine peaks, often mountain climbing them myself, generally the visitors on the paths makes me marvel if a stroll across the metropolis heart in my hometown, Lyon, could be extra peaceable. Discovering quiet mountain climbing trails there may be nonetheless potential – but for virgin landscapes which might be really off the crushed monitor, the Auvergne could also be the perfect mountain climbing area in France you’ve neglected.
Begin at Puy de Dôme
Topped by a curious antenna, Puy de Dôme in Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne is, at a mere 11,000 years previous, one of many youngest puys within the 45km (28-mile) area. It’s one of many 80 extinct volcanic cones that type the La Chaîne des Puys. At 1465m (4806ft) excessive, Puy de Dôme is admittedly no Mont Blanc – although it’s taller than Ben Nevis. And equally to mountain climbing in Scotland, such altitudes will let you “bag” a number of puys in a day.
Since you should journey from peak to peak by automobile, and since I’m ever aware of my carbon footprint, I restricted my sights the closest ones with the shortest drives. A 3-hour hike from the Panoramique des Dômes parking space takes you to the analysis station on the summit of Puy de Dôme and panoramic views over town of Clermont-Ferrand. (In case you’re not up for the hike, a cog railway can handle the ascent for you.)
Puy de Sancy is the best peak within the area © De Agostini by way of Getty Pictures
Puy de Sancy: swap the chairlift for a scenic ramble
My subsequent cease, Puy de Sancy, is the best peak within the Auvergne at 1885m (6185ft). Within the top of summer time, its relative accessibility may make it the busiest mountain climbing route within the area. The Sancy chairlift runs year-round; from right here, it is a quick stroll of quarter-hour or so on picket boardwalks and steps to succeed in the summit. Regardless of this, it solely attracts round 500,000 guests throughout the entire 12 months – the identical quantity as descend upon Chamonix in below a single week.
Skip the chairlift in the event you can: the three-hour loop stroll between the bottom and Puy de Sancy is exceptionally scenic and diversified. A steep climb for the primary half follows the ski slopes, previous khaki- and mud-colored pistes punctuated with waterfalls. The way in which again to base is way more scrambly; a well-marked footpath cuts via the center of obstructing rock pillars somewhat than round them, requiring utilizing your palms at sure levels. As you around the crest of the path, civilization is completely out of sight for many of the descent.
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Puy Mary: taking the “Cheese Route” for the journey’s most dramatic views
It’s a drive of two hours to succeed in the ultimate puy on my itinerary: Puy Mary, with a top of 1783m (5850ft) and, from what I’ve heard, probably the most dramatic views of the lot. I observe the Cheese Route, a cleverly branded itinerary designed to advertise rural tourism and encourage individuals to go to distant dairy farms. (Sadly, post-COVID, most farms require you to make an advance appointment to style their produce.) The views alongside the route are spectacular. I go russet-colored cattle – and I’m once more reminded of Scotland’s Highland cows – and hills that merge into one another as if they’d been drawn faintly on tracing paper. The heavy clouds are so purple and gray that they seem like the sky had a punch-up with the puys – and got here off worse.
Alas, I’m not lucky with the climate this time; clouds descend round me. Though it’s late Could, I even see just a few flakes of snow. Puy Mary, which in images I’ve seen is the form of one of many conical hats a clown would put on to a kids’s occasion, is right this moment fuzzy across the edges. Due to the dearth of views, I go for the shortest route, below an hour, parking at Pas de Peyrol.
The path is completely empty. What captures my consideration as I descend is a stone buron: like bothies in Scotland, these former shepherd’s huts now typically function mountain refuges, with communal kitchens, primary amenities and dorms. This buron, the Refuge d’Eylac, can sleep 14, with house for tenting outdoors. Shrouded in mist, it seems like one thing out of The Lady in Black.
Even within the excessive season, the Auvergne’s trails draw a fraction of the guests to the Alps © Anna Richards
Three puys bagged
Three puys bagged – with 77 extra ready for a future journey. It could not have been prime puy-bagging climate, however that meant I used to be in a position to depend the variety of fellow hikers I encountered on my fingers.
Find out how to make it occur
Visorando has downloadable GPS traces for many of the puys. For multiday hikers, the 115km (71-mile) GR441 varieties a loop path from close to Volvic in Puy de Dôme, usually taking three to 4 days to finish. There are a lot of nice inns and lodges within the area which common about €80 per night time.