Tuesday 22 June 1999


This tour was based from a workshop in a hamlet near Paulhaguet, itself a small village on the Clermont-Ferrand to Le Puy en Velay railway line, most of the way to Le Puy. Travel was via Eurostar to Paris, metro to the Gare de Lyon, to catch the train via Clermont-Ferrand to Paulhaguet, which has a stop which barely counts as a station. The Auvergne tour itineraries have since changed, even to using different hotels in the same towns.

The standard tours were 6 nights of either Valleys or Velay; I did an 8-nights combination, slightly customised for the fact that one of the usual hotels was hosting a wedding party one of the nights I was there. The accomodation was generally unpretentious, but comfortable with plenty of good cooking at dinner.

Taking the tour in June '99 I spent the first night in Chavaniac-Lafayette (that's Lafayette as in the American Revolution, back when the two countries were in accord about revolutions and that sort of thing), before being transported to the base workshop. The journey from Paulhaguet came back through Chananiac to Siaugues St. Romain for the night, then on to St. Paulien. From here, I took a side trip to see the "fortresse feodal" as the roadsigns put it at Polignac (see picture).

This view is taken from the minor road that runs through the village of Blanzac, which was the recommended route, but for cycling, the smoother surfaced main N102 which cuts through some of the terrain is actually a better road, especially on a Sunday when it's very quiet.

This is one of many castles in the region, which was really only pacified and integrated into France in the last couple of centuries. Polignac's castle was never taken in siege, and was supposedly run by as wicked a set of Barons as you'd ever expect to find in a historical romance. It still looks impressive, even though within the walls, apart from the one tower, there are but a few crumbling bits of masonry and open grass.

From Polignac, I headed north to Allegre, where the ruined castle has left only a grand gateway and a small tower. As I approached the town (on foot, as my chain had snapped between Polignac and St. Paulien - while I could freewheel some of the way, it was convenient that it was only a ten mile walk, though the heat was something fierce), I had wondered just what that thing that was slowly coming into view was. This view is from about a mile south of the town.

Here I rested a couple of nights, taking a day off from the road. When I set off, the weather reminded me that the town is at over 1000m altitude (1107m at the base of the archway), with low cloud providing fog cover as I headed north to la Chaise Dieu, (which was annoying at the time, and is now doubly so as the recent tour routes don't go near this side of the valleys) remaining until I dropped below the cloud base as I headed down the painfully long - 20-odd miles - freewheel to Brioude, with the brakes needing to be pumped most of the way.

Brioude is the major town in this region, and the Hotel de la Poste et Champanne where I stayed was the best on the trip (large comfortable rooms, excellent food, and busy friendly atmosphere). I would recommend this as a base for anyone wanting to do an independent tour of the region.

Now it was already time to return the bike and on the way, another magnificent ruined castle described as a Chateau Feodal, this one at Domeyrat. Alas, I passed this one during the long lunch break, so carried on to the base workshop, and waited, sipping water in the scant shade and sultry heat until my lift to that night's hotel. Given that I was travelling from Brioude the next day, that would have seemed the obvious place to stay, but no, I was billeted at a motel somewhere in between, and taxied again the next morning.

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