Magazine article Geographical

Another World: Jo Sargent Visits the Auvergne, France, and Discovers a Region Distinct from the Rest of the Country

Magazine article Geographical

Another World: Jo Sargent Visits the Auvergne, France, and Discovers a Region Distinct from the Rest of the Country

Article excerpt

Located in the heart of the Massif Central, the Auvergne region of France has traditionally maintained a degree of insularity that singles it out from the rest of the country. Indeed, the area has been described as an island surrounded by land.

This feeling of detachment can be ascribed, at least in part, to the fact that, until the 16th century, the Auvergne had its own language, Auvergnat. However, probably more influential is the region's unique landscape--a legacy of its volcanic history--which is characterised by a mix of steep gorges, crater lakes and mineral and thermal springs.

The perfect way to appreciate the region's natural beauty is through a visit to the Auvergne Volcanoes Park. Covering an area of 395,000 hectares, the park comprises three distinct extinct volcanic mountain chains and two volcanic plateaux. The oldest of the areas is the Monts du Cantal, with the younger Monts Dore to the north. Between the mountainous areas are the two high volcanic plateaux of the Artense and the Cezallier. Even further north are the younger Monts Domes, also known as the Chaine des Puys, containing Puy-de-Dome. At 1,468 metres, this is the highest peak in the chain. The puy--French for volcanic summit--can be climbed via a series of paths that become increasingly narrow the higher you go. Once atop the peak, you can circle the crater on foot, or, if you're feeling particularly brave, you can paraglide back down.

The Auvergne's volcanic legacy has had a significant impact on the people, culture and produce of the area. The soil found above the calcite and volcanic rock tends to be thicker and richer than the thin, acidic soil found in granite areas. Because of this, the Auvergne has become known as one of the best places for grazing sheep and cattle in France. The mountains around the southwestern village of Salers have been used for grazing since the 13th century. Such is the reputation of the grass today, that land is currently worth ten times as much as it was a decade ago.

Indeed, Salers has its own breed of cattle, which has been native to the region since prehistory. Like the land on which they graze, Salers cows are a prized breed: there are presently 186,000 in France alone, and the breed has been exported as far afield as Siberia, Africa and Canada. …

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