Le Puy - things to see and do
"Tourists" have been visiting Le Puy en Velay for over a thousand
Houses in the historic quarter of Le Puy en Velay
The first European "tourists" were pilgrims; and it
was in Le Puy en Velay that many of the early pilgrims gathered for the
start of the
arduous journey to the shrine of Santiago de Compostella, the great
mediaeval pilgrimage destination in Spain.
The first pilgrimages set out from Le Puy in the late tenth
century, and during the Middle Ages,
the city became a major religious centre, the great starting point for
one of the major Compostella
pilgrimage routes, the Via Podiensis.
It was in the cathedral at Le Puy, in
1095, that Pope Urban II announced the preparation of the
While the idea of trekking to Santiago faded away for
centuries after the Middle Ages, becoming a task only to be undertaken
very devoted or (fool)hardy, it is now well back in fashion.
Today, Le Puy has returned to its important position as the
starting point for the greatest European pilgrimage route, a hiking
trail of over 1000 km undertaken each year, in whole or in part, by
many thousands of pilgrims or hikers.
But while le Puy attracts many hikers and
pilgrims, preparing to set off for Compostella, or at least walk some
of the trail, there is no need to be a hiker to visit this lovely small
city. Le Puy boasts some remarkable historic monuments, and the
cathedral area is classed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Located a few kilometres from the upper reaches of the River
Loire, Le Puy - meaning "the Peak") grew up at the base of two
substantial masses of basalt, cones of ancient volcanoes. On the
smaller of these, 'l'Aiguilhe' (the needle), a small hermitage was
built in the year 969. It is still there today, perhaps the most
beautiful early mediaeval church in France. The only way to
reach the chapel of Saint Michel de l'Aiguilhe is up 268 steps; but
it's certainly worth the effort.
10th century door of the Chapel of St Michael
Larger, but also only accessible up steps, is the twelfth
century Cathédrale Notre Dame, one of the greatest and most
distinctive Romanesque cathedrals in France. Due to its situation on
the side of the "puy", the main entrance to the cathedral is in the
basement, and visitors must then climb up stairs, to emerge in the
middle of the cathedral.
The cathedral of Le Puy is remarkable not just for
its unusual configuration, but also for the Byzantine influence in its
architecture. The plan of the cathedral is a Latin cross, and
the nave is covered by domes, in the Byzantine style: but most
remarkable is the oriental-style use of different coloured stones on
the outside of the cathedral, as indeed also - and even more
intricately - at the chapel of Saint Michel.
11th century cloisters, le Puy cathedral
The same intricate use of polychrome stonework can be seen
in the cathedral cloisters, built in the 12th century, and certainly
the most distinctive cloisters in France, if not in Europe.
From a path winding up behind the cloisters,
visitors can then climb up to the great iron statue of Notre Dame de
France, erected in the year 1860 using the iron from 213 cannons
captured during the siege of Sebastopol, in the Crimea. There
is a magnificent view down over the roofs of the city.
Le Puy lace
city of Le Puy is a delightful maze of
small streets, flanked by tall houses painted in pastel colours. There
are lots of small shops, antique shops and cafés, and
visitors can also see
lacemakers at work, le Puy having been famed for centuries as a centre
for lace making. The tradition still survives to this day.
Le Puy's Musée Crozatier museum has a
substantial collection of 19th century French art and a large
collection of artefacts and of geological interest. The museum is
closed for renovation until 2015.
Le Puy is located about in the Massif Central
mountains about 100 km southwest of Lyon, and 150 km south of
Le Puy is not the easiest of
French cities to get to. Le-Puy–Loudes airport has two
flights a day (weekdays) to and from Paris Orly. Other than that, the
best solution is to fly to Lyon Saint
airport, and take the train or hire a car
train : From Paris or Lyon, take the TGV to Saint-Etienne,
where there are connections by local train to Le Puy. The railway
between Saint Etienne and Le Puy is very scenic, following the Loire
Gorge from just arter Firminy as far as the outskirts of Le Puy. Le Puy
can also be reached by local train from Clermont Ferrand; the route is
slow, but scenic.
Le Puy is located on the N88 trunk road which runs
from Lyon to Toulouse. The N88 is mostly dual carriageway between Le
Puy and Saint Etienne, where it joins the A47 motorway.
Le Puy also lies on the N102, linking Clermont-Ferrand and
Montélimar. This is on part of the recommended no tolls route
from northern France to Provence.
Close to le Puy, and visible from the
road to Clermont Ferrand, stands the mighty medieval fortress of
Polignac, built on the top of a large volcanic outcrop. It is one of a
number of castles in the area. The Loire gorges are very attractive,
and offer opportunities for kayaking, fishing and swimming. Southeast
of Le Puy are the Mont Mézenc and the Gerbier de Jonc, two
volcanic peaks on the eastern flank of the Massif Central. From the
tops of these, there are views over to the Alps on clear days.
More generally, le Puy is surrounded by the
uplands of the Auvergne
region, an area with huge opportunities for outdoor activities of all
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cottages near le Puy