parts 1 and 2 of this guide, we took you on byroads from Rouen, in
Normandy, as far as the southern border of Auvergne, on the high
plateaux of the Massif Central. Part 3 takes you through High
Languedoc - the most sparsely populated part of France -
through the Tarn Gorge, over the Causses and down to the Mediterranean
To reach Saint
you can either follow part 1 of this guide to
byways through France, or else come down faster from Calais using the main route south
via Rouen and Orleans.
Saint Amand Montrond is 5 km from Exit 8 on the A71
guide part 3: From the hills of the Gevaudan to the
Map markers: the
o markers on the route locate and give very brief
information on places described in the route guide
Leave Saint Amand Montrond on the D2144 (former N144) signposted
Montlucon. At the hamlet of Meslon, turn right on the D1 for Ainay le Vieil ★★ where you
can visit one of the most charming small chateaux in France, a
defensive 14th century chateau surrounded by a lily-filled moat.
Return to the D2144 and continue south in the direction of
Montlucon. You are now in the region of the Auvergne.
After 6 km, fork left onto the D978A, signposted Cerilly and Bourbon
Arch. You will soon find yourself in the ancient forest of
Tronçay ★★ ,
which used to provide the timbers for the French navy in the olden
After about 12 km of forest road, in the middle of
the forest, turn right for Cerilly ★ on the
D953. Cerilly is a sleepy little town with an early medieval church
with a curious-shaped tower. From Cerilly keep heading
southeast on the D953 to Ygrande ★ , which is another
small town with a twelth-century church with a large stone spire. From
Ygrande, continue on the D953 to the local market town, and former
capital of the Bourbons , .
l'Archambault ★★ is
an attractive small town, dominated by the great medieval fortress of
the Bourbons; vestiges of the city walls still survive to this day, and
the town also has a 12th century romanesque church in the local style.
At Bourbon, you leave the D953 and head southeast on the D134
which will take you as far as the small town of Souvigny.
another very attractive small town, and its great priory, built in the
12th century, was one of the five major priories depending of the great
Benedictine abbey of Cluny, the largest in Western Europe.
After Souvigny, continue southeast on the D34 to Besson,
then follow the D232 signposted Chatel de Neuvre. Here you will join
the D2009 (once upon a time the N9), onto which you turn south and
follow as far as Saint Pourcain.
From Besson to Saint
Pourçain sur Sioule ★ you pass
through an AOP vineyard area. It's a small vineyard area, with 600
hectares of vines spread over a large area; but it's growing, and it's
the only vineyard area you'll go through on this route. You'll see the
occasional vineyard beside the road, and wines can be tasted on some
estates, or at the Cave coopérative in Saint Pourçain (visits and
To leave Saint Pourçain, cross the bridge, then
at the first roundabout turn right following the green and
blue signs for Clermont Ferrand. After 4 km, at the roundabout, turn
left to follow the D6 signposted Vichy
. Follow the D6 for 22 km, through Bellerive, then over the bridge to
Vichy on the other side of the river Allier.
an attractive small spa town, known for its naturally-carbonated
mineral waters, for its belle-époque ambiance, and for having been the
seat of the Pétain government in France during the Second World War.
It's a small town with fine parks, an opera house, spas, a large lake,
and plenty of shops. There's on-street parking, and the famous
waters can be tasted for free at the Célestins spring, beside the
Boulevard Kennedy (turn right after the bridge). There are also plenty
Leave Vichy following the blue motorway signs for A89
and green signs for Thiers
and Le Puy. You
will soon find yourself on the D906, which you will follow all the way
to La Chaise Dieu.
35 km south of Vichy, and just off the D906, the
small town of Thiers
worth a visit. It is the French capital of cutlery, or coutellerie,
knife-making. The ancient upper city hangs precariously to the side of
a steep hill, down which surging waters have for over 700 years
provided the power to turn the lathes for making knives.Some 70% of the
knives made in France are made in Thiers, and there are all sorts of
knife shops, craft workshops, several museums, factory visits and other
Return to the D906 to continue your journey south,
following Le Puy and
Ambert. It is 50 km to Ambert. Well before you reach Ambert, you'll
feel that you're entering the mountains, as the road begins to twist
and turn: but for the time being you'll be mostly in the valley, with
forested hills all round. the part of France is known as the Monts du
a tranquil small town in a valley. it is best known for its circular
town all, once the town's grain store, and for the Richard de Bas paper mill
kilometres east of the town, this historic mill has been making paper
in the traditional way since the 14th century, and still does so. It's
a unique piece of Europe's industrial heritage.
From Ambert it's another 30 km to La Chaise Dieu.
As you climb up to
this historic site, standing at an altitude of 1000 metres,
winds gently up through spruce forests.
La Chaise Dieu ★★
is known throughout France for its music festival (late August) and for
its great Benedictine abbey church, dating from the 11th-14th
centuries. The abbey is known worldwide for its unique late medieval
frescoes portraying the Dance of Death. The town itself is small, just
over 600 inhabitants, a cluster of houses and a few small shops round
the great abbey.
► More on Auvergne: see Auvergne regional guide
with next column
has selected a range of hotels along the
route. Click markers to book online with our partner Booking.com. There
are also campsites and motorhome overnighting
areas in many of the small towns along the way
Leave La Chaise Dieu on the D499 following signs
for Brioude. After 4 km the D499 turns right. You continue straignt
ahead on the road that is now the D19, for a 30 km drop down to
Brioude. At Lamothe, turn left at the roundabout to cross over the
river Allier which you last crossed in Vichy. straight ahead following
signs for Brioude centre at the next roundabout. As you enter Brioude,
there is a larte free car park on the right, just after the railway
bridge (parking "Centre historique").
is one of the most attractive small towns in France, one of Michelin's
small towns that are worth the detour, and an art and history area. Its
basilica, with the relics of the saint who was martyred
here, is the biggest romanesque church in Auvergne and one of
the finest in France, getting a top Michelin ★★★ ranking.
It has fine frescoes, and a unique medieval mosaic floor. Brioude also
has an aquarium, a lace-making museum and art shops and galleries.
After Brioude, you'll travel down the beautiful Haut
Allier valley ★★
with a whole succession of delightful small towns and villages. Leave
Brioude on the D912, following signs for
Vieille Brioude. In Vieille
go through the village to admire the fine single-arch stone bridge over
the river Allier. There is also a wine-making museum just beside the
church before the bridge. No need to cross the bridge, as you're going
to come back and take the D585 which will take you down the west bank
of the Allier, in the direction of Lavoûte-Chilhac.
Eight km south of Vieille Brioude, admire the site of the
castle of Saint Ilpize ★, on a
rocky outcrop high above the river. If you want to visit it, turn left
at Villeneuve d'Allier, and cross a fine 19th century suspension
bridge, and up to the castle, which is free to visit at all times.
From Villeneuve, continue down the D585 to Lavoute Chilhac ★. This
delightful large village has an impressive medieval hump-backed
single-span stone bridge over the Allier. Just beyond it, the 14th
century priory, hidden behind an impressive 18th century crescent, is
worth a visit.
Don't cross back over the bridge. Leave Lavoûte on the D4,
then keep following signs for Chilhac. Chilhac ★ is a
very pretty village, perched on the top of a volcanic outcrop. It is
the site of some of the oldest recorded traces of human life in Europe,
and the small paleontolotgical museum is worth visiting.
Leave Chilhac on the D41, which drops down to the river
Allier. Admire the impressive basalt organ rocks at the base of the
cliff below the village, then cross the Allier on another suspension
bridge, and continue along the D41 until it meets the D585 again, which
you now follow to Langeac.
Continue south out of Langeac on the D585 following Saugues.
After 6 km admire the village of Chanteuges
nestled on the side of another volcanic outcrop. You can drive up to
the top of the outcrop to visit the romaneque 12th century abbey.
A mile after Chanteuges, (not recommended for camping cars,
which should continue on the D585 to Saugues) turn left onto
the D30 signposted Saint Arcons, Prades and Haut Allier - les gorges.
Admire the very pretty village of Saint Arcons, then turn right onto
the D48 following Prades. You'll pass beside a little medieval church
standing all on its own - a historic 13th century pilgrimage chapel
Sainte Marie des Chazes, before reaching Prades.
Prades ★ is as
far as the road goes into the Allier gorge. The small village is
dominated by an extremely impressive cliff made up of towering basalt
Remain on the west bank of the river, and leave Prades
following the C7 up out of the deep valley in the direction of Saugues.
After 9 km turn right onto the D589 for the last 10 km to Saugues, a small
town lying at an altitude of 1000 metres. This is the last town in the
|Map Key: (clickable
||Quality / classic independent
hotels or B&B with
||Four-star and quality three star hotels -
such as Mercure or Novotel
||Budget and economy hotels - 2 or 3 stars
chains such as Ibis or Campanile
||Independent budget hotels
clusters: more than one hotel of different
bring you the
best choice of hotels, About-France.com
is partnered with Accor