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Auvergne and volcano country
3H07 by TEOZ
Clermont-Ferrand has a number of highlights, but for a family trip none is brighter than the Vulcania amusement park. The volcanoes that form this region are quiet mountains and crater-lakes today. The last one erupted about 6,700 years ago. But at Vulcania, we can live the eruptions over and over again.
Word of mouth had told us that the Dragon Ride was the best, so we started there and the kids were thrilled to go into the bowels of the earth and imagine monsters that live there. It was only the start of the rides. We are strapped into seats that move 100 different ways. We bounce and jolt and are surrounded by megawatts of rumble. We see the explosion of Mount St. Helens in the state of Washington in 1980. We watch a light-show eruption from inside the Grand Cratère and visit Mission Toba, the super volcano that demolished Toba, Indonesia, 74,000 years ago. And we scare ourselves at the Giants of Auvergne, an exercise in “what if they wake up.”
When it’s all over, it turns out that we learned quite a lot today about this Earth of ours, and it wasn’t boring. We might wish we knew French better, but we didn’t need the language to get it. Our little family retreated into town. It was still warm on this late afternoon, and we stopped at the Place de Jaude to watch the little kids playing with the fountains that erupt like the geyser at Vulcania from the square’s paving stones.
The next day, I took my adventurers on a little trip to the Michelin museum. The tire maker is headquartered here, far from the world’s automobile factories, because of strong family ties of the owners to this rugged part of France called the Massif Central.
Where Vulcania is active and participatory, “L’Aventure Michelin” is mostly static in the old style, where you look at objects and signs and screens and think about them. Audioguides are available in English, German, and Spanish, and there is a rubber tree plantation for my gardening wife. The kids – 8 and 10 – were not impressed, but I liked it that Michelin not only developed the first bicycle tires filled with air in 1891 and radial tires in the 1940s, but also ideas like the first maps, mileage makers and road signs in France and its world-famous tourist guidebooks and restaurant ratings.
NOT TO BE MISSED
France Rail Pass’partner:
1H29 by regional train TER
We walked around town looking over fountains and the gothic cathedral, La Dame Noire, built of black lava stone before heading back to the station to catch the SNCF’s afternoon coach to Langeac, a fine little Haute-Loire village where there is a summer festival celebrating the Marquis de la Fayette, who bought the chateau here after helping George Washington win the American Revolution.
The next day, we took the morning tourist train to Langogne. What an adventure.
The tracks were laid in the 19th Century when French engineers were proving what fabulous things they could build. The line follows the Allier River through the gorges it cut into the volcanic rock. Over its 67 km route, it burrows through 51 tunnels and jumps the gorges on 16 trestles that look like spider webs from afar.
The engineer knows that we are here for the views and slows down from time to time to let us drink in the beauty, the wild land, the roadless perspective. For these two hours, our kids become fans of train travel. They don’t miss the video games and cartoons that seem to hold their attention back home.
Most of the foreign tourists in France choose to walk on the Champs Elysées or climb the Eiffel Tour, but one famous British visitor chose this area to stretch his legs. When the wanna-be writer Robert Louis Stevenson was 26, he came to the village of Le Puy en Velay to get away from his father who disapproved of his chosen career. He decided one day to take a two-week hike through Auvergne to St. Jean de Gard, passing through Langogne. He wrote a book about his hike which was only a small success, but maybe it was while walking here that he dreamed up “Treasure Island,” the novel that put him on every bookshelf a few years later.
We took a tiny part of his trip. France has a long tradition of hiking, and trails called randonnées are everywhere. The Chemin Stevenson route is called GR70, and it is marked along the way with discrete red and white stripes on signposts and buildings.
My backpack had the water, pop and a bottle of wine, and my wife had the baguettes, the local St. Nectaire cheese and a hard sausage. The famous Laguiole pocket knife that I am taking home as a souvenir has a corkscrew, so we are all set. We hiked a little way up the trail that follows the National Highway 88 and the Ribeyre stream, found ourselves a nice spot for a picnic, then walked back the way Stevenson did. We slept very well indeed, and again the next day on the long ride back to Paris.
NOT TO BE MISSED
France Rail Pass’partner:
LANGOGNE - PARIS GARE DE LYON
6H37 by regional train TER + TEOZ via Clermont Ferrand
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|Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 December 2011 15:22|