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The heart of the Massif Central is the Auvergne, a wild and unexpected scene of extinct volcanoes (puys), stretching from the grassy domes and craters of the Monts-Dômes to the eroded skylines of the Monts-Dore, and the deeply ravined Cantal mountains to the forest of darkly wooded pinnacles surrounding Le Puy. It’s one of the poorest regions in France and has long remained outside the main national lines of communication: much of it is higher than 1000m and snowbound in winter.

If travelling by public transport, you’ll probably have to pass through Clermont-Ferrand, the Auvergne capital, and with its dramatic historical associations – it was the site of Pope Urban II’s speech, which launched the First Crusade in 109 – the city certainly doesn’t disappoint. The small towns in the spectacular Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne, like Orcival, Murat and Salers, are attractive; at St-Nectaire you can see a beautiful small church displaying the distinct Auvergnat version of Romanesque; and even St-Flour and Aurillac have an agreeable provincial insularity.

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