By Beth Hancock
I let my Mum decide on the destination for our first Inntravel holiday together. The Mountains of the Auvergne, one of our grade 3 walks, was the one that immediately grabbed her – she likes places well off the beaten track and full, rewarding days of walking. I was happy to go along with her choice, especially since, having read the description, I thought I may even lose a couple of pounds in the process. (I was wrong, and in fact, as on every Inntravel walking holiday since, I actually gained three pounds – having spent several hours walking, by dinner it is impossible not to feel as if you deserve something from the cheese board as well as dessert as a reward for your efforts, more than replenishing the calories burnt during the day!)
The Auvergne, part of the Massif Central, is certainly remote-feeling. Despite travelling in August at the peak of the summer season, the only Brits we saw all week were two other Inntravel customers, and even French holidaymakers were few and far between.
The walk starts at the Hotel des Chazes, in the shadow of the Plomb du Cantal. The mountains of the Auvergne are green and rounded, which makes them seem less imposing, though having now done the walk, I can certainly vouch for their height! Leaving the hotel behind, we climbed steadily for around two-and-a-half hours, first through woodland and then through grassy meadows, where we came across the first of many ginger-haired, long-horned, shaggy Salers cows that we were to see over the week. Having negotiated our way round them (some refused to get out of our way at first, but we found that waggling our stick was an effective way to make the stubborn ones move), we made it to the summit of the Plomb du Cantal and continued along the ridge for a short way before stopping for lunch in a small dip. We had been intrigued by the number of small plastic boxes in our picnic bag but hadn’t bother to investigate – it turned out to be pots of potato salad and of tomatoes and herbs in a vinaigrette dressing, which made a nice accompaniment to our baguette and cheese. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop for long to digest as it soon started to drizzle, so we set off again, following the ridge for some distance before dropping down into the next valley.
Guessing who we were straight away (I suppose the walking boots were a bit of a give-away!), the owner of the Hotel Casteltinet in Thiézac rushed out to greet us and showed us up to our room. Like most of the other rooms, ours had a small balcony with views over the last part of the day’s walk. The hotel’s reputation is built on its restaurant, and the food was certainly very good. We chose a Côte d’Auvergne to accompany our meal. Considerably lighter than most reds, it was just the ticket – had I had anything heavier and more full-bodied, I would have been half asleep by dessert after our exertions!
Looking back, the walk to St Cirgues was definitely my favourite, and we had glorious weather, too, which helped. Setting off, we walked through Thiézac and climbed out of the valley (no actual sightings of Salers cows, but we were accompanied by the sound of clanging cowbells in the distance), then wound our way through woodland to the Faillitoux Waterfall, some eight or so metres high. From here, we started to climb again, finally emerging onto the Courpou Sauvage Ridge, which was beautiful, covered in broom bushes, lots of orange, pink, blue and yellow flowers, and with some pretty butterflies, too. Further along the ridge, we even found some wild raspberries.
Having completed two very full days of walking from Les Chazes to Thiézac and from Thiézac to St Cirgues, the next day's shorter walk was very welcome. We followed a river then climbed up through meadows to a small hamlet from where a vague path led through ferns to a beautiful beech wood and up to the ridge, where we passed a couple of burons (ancient stone shepherds’ huts, which were also used for making and maturing cheese). We then descended through an oak wood to the village below, where we enjoyed a late lunch by the river before finding our way to the hotel for a well earned siesta.
We had a 14-kilometre walk the following day, and the scenery was enchanting as we walked through part of the Parc des Volcans d’Auvergne. There is something quite eerie about the extinct cones. The views were superb. We had been a bit reluctant to accept the offer of a melon for our picnic – a melon is, after all, quite a weight to carry – but we came across a little bench in the late afternoon, and after several hours of walking under the warm sun, it seemed like the best melon I’d ever tasted. With a renewed spring in our step, the last hour to the old stone village of Le Falgoux was over before we knew it, and I was soon relaxing under a hot shower. Bliss!
Waking up the next morning to heavy rain which had still not stopped by the time we had had breakfast and packed our suitcases, neither my Mum nor I were keen to walk, so we hitched a lift with our luggage to the last hotel and spent the day curled up with a book. We didn't feel guilty at all – we were on holiday, after all! – and besides, after all those ascents to the panoramic ridges, we felt we deserved a day of relaxation to enable us to reflect on the great walking and superb views.
Since Beth visited the Auvergne, we have modified the itinerary. Given the good walking in the surrounding area, you now stay two nights at Les Chazes, giving you the chance of a 'warm-up' circuit around the Puy Griou before starting the walk proper.