Sleeping volcanoes

Water and fire, although extinct, are the main ingredients of the Auvergne. In the not too distant past of the geological timeline, dozens of volcanoes spat out the hot slurry of liquid earth one right after another. A classic example of how geotectonic forces have shaped the earth's surface... and are still doing so. But don't worry, the dormant volcanoes of the Chaîne des Puys haven't erupted for some 6,000 years! Nowhere in the world one will find an open natural museum more compact and varied than here in the northern Massif Central.

If the elongated volcanic field of the Monts Dômes is one of the youngest of its kind, that of the Monts Dore to the south, like the basaltic plateau of the Cézallier, is of a much more advanced age. Lava domes, snail cones and explosion craters abound in the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d'Auvergne. The largest regional nature park in France is also the oldest in Europe. Superlatives for which we like to travel any time, even under thick cloud cover.

The main attraction is and remains, of course, the Puy-de-Dôme. This iconic volcanic cone is forever linked to the glory days of the Tour de France. On its 12 percent slopes, Eddy Merckx likely lost his 6th Tour victory and Lucien Van Impe won the stage on the very same day. It is (unfortunately?) no longer possible to cycle your way up to the 1,465 m summitand we take the comfortable tourist train to the top. In the midst of paragliders, we enjoy a heavenly view on the Chaîne des Puys and the Limagne plain. The volcanic chain and the parallel fault (Faille de Limagne) are both listed by Unesco since 2018.

Clermont-Ferrand and Michelin, a close relationship

Many tourists easily find their way to Clermont-Ferrand, the capital of the Auvergne, at a stone's throw (volcanic) from the Puy-de-Dôme. With obvious haste, we steer our heavy boxer effortless through dens city traffic. After all, we are expected at the Michelin Adventure. Of course we are well aware that Clermont-Ferrand and Michelin have a special bond, nevertheless, we are at a loss of words as we visit the interactive museum. Bibendum, the mascot, whom we call "bonhomme Michelin" for convenience, nods when he notices the Road 5 GT tyres mounted on our BMW.

By the way, these Michelin tyres continue to perform well when the sky falls on us in Volvic. We should have known better because the Auvergne is not the water tower of France withoutwithout reason. Rainwater ends up being mineral water here, the best in its kind better even than in Volvic. Nevertheless, we order a white wine on a covered terrace. This way we get at least some sunshine in our glasses. The sturdy castle of Tournoël and the statue of Mary, a few meters up and overlooking the town, are features we will visit later that week.

In Besse-et-Saint-Anastaise, many buildings are erected with dark lava stonewhich makes sense since, like Volvic, the town is situated alongsidean old lava flow. The town flourished in the Middle Ages. This can be seen in the well-preserved heritage. Centrally located, between the Monts Dore and Cézallier massifs, you find yourself in the "petite cité de caractère" to explore the best the Auvergne has to offer.

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The Cézallier, a small version of Mongolia

The BMW now weaves its way through the landscape with surprising ease. The environment is captivatingly beautiful. The infinite plateau of the Cézallier, as an example, places man and machine as a tiny point in the one  right perspective. The vast grassy plain with merely a few gentle curves on the horizon are more reminiscent of the Mongolian steppe than of a stratovolcano that spewed hell some million years ago.

The ravages of time, notably the glaciers in the last ice age, have scoured the land almost to the bare surface. Swampy bogs and a multitude of puddles and lakes are silent witnesses of a panorama where you hardly meet a living soul. A seemingly  perfect backdrop for a superb picture featuring a bike and its owner. Solitude can be quite charming!

Puy de Sancy, the roof of the Auvergne

Unlike the Cézallier, the Monts Dore massif is much more popular. Wellness and winter sports go hand in hand in famous spa towns like Le Mont-Dore and La Bourboule. In the Auvergne, water does not only falls from the sky but is also found in numerous wells and surface waters! No time however for a relaxing spa experience, we push forward to the Puy de Sancy, at a height of 1,886 m, it is considered the roof of the Auvergne. The volcano, or rather what is left, is at the highpoint of the Massif Central.

Unfortunately, we have to skip the cable car of Le Mont-Dore. The foggy webcam image at the top of the Puy de Sancy says it all: every disadvantage has an advantage murmurs our Bavarian companion. This way we have plenty of time to enjoy her company while we are on the move. Without ado we ride along the shores of the mysterious Lac du Guéry heading for the famous twin rocks of Tuilière and Sanadoire. The Scottish landscape we know so well from our previous trips inevitably comes to mind.

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Chaudefour Valley, unknown but appreciated

Hardly one hour later, we find ourselves in a totally different, almost alpine, landscape showcasing the glacial valley of Chaudefour. Fire and water, or rather volcanoes and glaciers, have done an excellent job. The unfolding nature reserve, with splashing waterfalls, steep rocks and sharp ridges, seems like paradise. Once again, we have the landscape for ourselves.

Via the D996, we slowly find the civilized world again. Tourist highlights such as Chambon-sur-Lac, Murol and Saint-Nectaire throw themselves with all their assets under our wheels... and in front of our lens. A volcanic mountain lake, a sturdy knight's castle and a protected farmhouse cheese are the crumbs of the Auvergne. And all this within a quarter of an hour's drive!


The Limagne plain

Each day in the saddle forges the most solid friendships. So much so that we almost ended up under the sheets with our German friend in Châtel-Guyon! The Driver's Room is definitely a very special place to spend the night. A garage as a loft! Which biker never wanted to fall asleep with his sweetheart at hand? Especially since the Spa de la Belle Époque is the ideal starting point for exploring the fertile Limagne plain, once a vast lake (lacus magnus).

Under the sleeping but omniscient eye of Vulcan, our BMW has carte blanche for the whole day. Although ... in Riom, the ancient capital of the Auvergne, we spend more than a little time. The same applies, how could it be otherwise, in the praline (!) village of Aigueperse. The old tanners' village of Maringues is also worth a stop. In other words, our last day is again a busy one.

Tired but satisfied, it is time to think about the return journey. Fortunately, the sun is shining!

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