|The Independent Traveler's Newsletter PAGE FIVE|
|FEATURING ~ AUVERGNE REVISITED / Part Two CONTINUED|
The Hundred Years War took its toll on the region (13th to 14th centuries), and then came the Wars of Religion, all disrupting economic life. But, the craft industries went on through the end of the seventeenth century despite the conflicts. The Cantal's primary activity was agriculture and cattle breeding in particular. The breeds were Aubrac and Salers, accounting for the exquisite regional Cantal cheeses. In fact, Napoléon's favorite horse's name was 'Cantal'! Yet, there was wide emigration from the Cantal to Spain, Belgium, Holland and even Paris (thus the Auvergnat of Paris merchants) due to the poor soil of Cantal, unable to support its growing families.
Pastimes in the Cantal are not limited to simply enjoying the outdoors by hiking, exploring, and taking advantage of numerous campsites. In the winter months, skiing in the Regional Park is very popular. In the middle of the last century, a private owner created a slope on the Puy de Masseboeuf which appealed to the residents of Aurillac and neighboring villages. In the 1960s, the General Council of the Cantal called upon town planners to develop this vast area while maintaining environmental integrity. A cable car was installed in 1967, and by the end of the 1970s the Lioran became the Cantal's first ski area. Now there is also a skating rink and facilities for other winter sports. Snow-making machines have been installed, and there are 22 ski lifts serving 150 hectares of park. For more information, please visit http:/www.lelioran.com.
While it is the goal of the government of the Cantal to improve the quality of life for both the inhabitants and the guests of their region ~ making improvements to the drinking water, recycling water for secondary uses, improving waste collection and preserving its remarkable sites. But, the economy still relies on agriculture and the marketing of its 5 regional cheese and the prize Salers and Aubrac beef. (Salers cattle are so prized that they are bred all over the world from New Zealand to the British Isles.) And, there is also an artisanal and commerce presence: furniture, pharmaceuticals, packing materials and umbrellas are manufactured here. Tourism is a developing activity and, because it is, visitors will find themselves enjoying the quiet and beauty while being able to share it all with a friendly native population.
Salers, by the way, is one of the designated 'Most Beautiful Villages of France'. Houses are built of the regional grey lava, and the 15th century ramparts are impressive. It is a finely preserved Renaissance village, and its prominent position on an escarpment of the Cantal Mountains provides residents and visitors alike with amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
The Haute-Loire (43), like its neighbor Cantal, represents the wilderness départements of the Auvergne. The people of the Auvergne are sturdy and proud, with little desire for worldly goods and materialism. They love the beauty and ruggedness of their surroundings, good food and their fellow man. It has been said of the Auvergnat that they view France as 'the Auvergne with a bit of land around it'. They are warm and welcoming people, so visitors should travel here with great expectations and then come away quite satisfied!
Le Puy-en-Velay is the capital of the Haute-Loire département, 'puy' being the dialect world for 'mountain'. It is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and is on the Podiensis pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Its medieval Holy City is worth your time. Be sure to see the Chapelle Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe built by one of the first pilgrims on the route, Gotescalk, upon his return from Spain. The Cathédrale de Notre-Dame has a famous Black Madonna and a Druid ceremonial stone with healing powers embedded in a wall ~ the cathedral was built by French and German pilgrims before setting out for Spain. Its Romanesque design, frescoes and sacristy (which contains a handwritten Bible of Theodolphus from the time of Charlemagne), is the center of the Holy City.
What is most unique about Ly Puy is its rather strange placement in the cone of an extinct volcano surrounded by rock outcroppings and basalt pillars. Statues or churches top three of the peaks. The surrounding area is wonderful for the enjoyment of water sports, hiking, biking, trekking, skiing and golf. A click on this web site will provide a calendar of upcoming events in the city: http://www.ot-lepuyenvelay.fr/actua/actualite.html.
While in Le Puy, be sure to visit the Musée Crozatier exhibiting the works of sculptor and founder, Charles Crozatier. Located at the bottom of the Henri-Vinay garden (known as the 'Horseshoe' because of its shape), it was inaugurated in 1868, built by the architect Antoine Martin thanks to the generosity of Charles Crozatier. The richness and diversity of the collections of the museum allow visitors to discover the history of Le Puy-en-Velay and Haute-Loire. Geology, prehistory, the natural sciences, mechanics, lace, regional arts, painting, and sculpture ~ all contributions of this region in the past are presented.
With an abundance of natural wonders, visitors can experience a marais (swamp), craters, and even waterfalls as the one shown in this photo: La Cascade de la Beaume. Some villages of interest would include Blesle at the heart of the Gorges de l'Alagnon and near the A75 motorway which crosses the Massif Central. It is one of the 'Most Beautiful Villages of France' and has an exceptional history. See the Romanesque church of Saint-Pierre, the old town with its half-timbered houses and the 11th century Keep of the Barons of Mercoeur in the old château. Another designated 'Most Beautiful Village of France' is Lavaudieu on the banks of the Senouire River. Be sure to see Eglise Saint-André, the Romanesque cloister and the Museum of Folk Arts and Traditions. And, Pradelles is the gateway to the Velay region to the south with lovely architecture in the old town, preserved gates of Saint-Clément and La Verdete, and the Chapel of Notre Dame. It offers visitors panoramic views over the Allier and Naussac Dam from its altitude of 1150 meters. It is known for the visit of Robert Louis Stevenson (read Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes).
For more information on these two départements, please visit the web site Auvergne Tourism, and also the sites given below in the photo credits.
of France Keys. Please visit their site at http://www.francekeys.com
Restaurant recommendations ~ Paris
We don't want these restaurants to become too popular because we'll have difficulty getting a table for dinner, but we feel we must pass along our tips for great dining experiences at a reasonable cost when you next visit Paris. They are all in our favorite neighborhood, the 7th arrondissement.