Anchoring the center of France is the Massif Central, a
rugged plateau of ancient granite and hardened lava, punctuated
by vocanic peaks and deep river gorges. This is the land of the
Auvergne, a region of natural beauty and dramatic landscapes,
located midway between Paris and the Mediterranean.
Inhabited since prehistoric times, regional artifacts suggest
that the Celts lived here as early as 400 BC. Today, the
Auvergne boasts some of France's most beautiful Romanesque
churches, medieval castles, and Renaissance palaces. The first
cathedral to be built in present-day Clermont-Ferrand was
erected by Saint Namace in 450 AD, and rebuilt in the Gothic
style beginning in the thirteenth century. In the medieval town
of Montpeyroux, one of the most beautiful villages in France,
artisans can be found practicing their ancient crafts in the
A major natural monument in the Auvergne is Puy de Dôme,
an extinct volcano which rises 1,465 meters (4,807 feet),
providing breathtaking views of the Puy mountain chain and the
green plains below. A winding road takes visitors to the peak,
where remains of the Roman Temple of Mercury can still be seen.
On this site in 1648 Blaise Pascal performed his famous
experiment on the weight of air.
The area is a paradise of outdoor activities, including skiing,
rafting, biking, golfing, hiking, and hang-gliding. Lakes
Guéry, Aydat, Pavin, and Chambon provide excellent
opportunities for water sports such as canoeing, fishing,
swimming, and sailing.
Renowned for its cheeses, widely-available selections include
the blue cheeses Fourme d'Ambert and Bleu d'Auvergne, as well as
Cantal, Salers, and St-Nectaire. Local dishes include pounti, a
soufflé-like creation composed of ham, eggs, vegetables,