The Pays du Combrailles is a vast area of the mountainous Massif Central in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of central France, characterised by high granite plateaux interspersed with ponds, and cut south to north by the Sioule river valley.
The Sioule is the backbone of the Combrailles, linking the landscape with the Chaîne des Puys mountain range and the Gour de Tazenat, a crater lake of volcanic origin and site of the Lemptégy volcano. This EDEN (European Destination of Excellence) finalist is accessible by the A89 motorway from Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse or Montpellier.
The Combrailles tourist office nominated the volcano as a unique cultural project, a true small Strombolian cone with a complicated volcanic history. Today it forms an integral part of the local tourist landscape, but it’s also home to the result of an unprecedented project: to make it possible to visit the interior of a volcano.
The three-hour guided visit combines a film screening with spectacular 4D effects; an exploration of the volcano interior on foot or by train, taking in the old mining equipment (trommel, crusher, screening machine, etc); and a thrilling feature amusement called ‘La Mine Explosive’ (The Explosive Mine), which captures the true power of nature. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, sample local dishes at the on-site Restaurant du Volcan de Lemptégy. Aligot is a rich potato and cheese dish from Auvergne and definitely gets our vote.
The Combrailles area offers a wealth of other activities for nature lovers too: canoeing down the Sioule, hiking and mountain biking, fishing, horse-riding in the grove, swimming in the crater lake, climbing and hot-air-ballooning. Tourism initiatives have put the focus on the area’s natural and historical importance, which include the Combrailles Maison Archéologique, Vulcania, majestic châteaux and several themed museums.
Allied to a territorial network of craftsmen and restorers, and bolstered by a series of festivals and events, the Pays du Combrailles has a lot to offer to culture vultures in 2018.