Dwight Peck's personal website

Kristin's visit: Southwest of France 2009

Maddening months at work, trying to migrate a very large Web site to a different technology, and no end in sight. It's time to take a break and, as luck would have it, Kristin's coming for a visit. We'll go to France for a while.


You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Another of Kristin's inspired inspirations. We've left Beaulieu, 13 June, and passed by Argentat, head of the navigable Dordogne, and leapt onto the motorway at Tulle or Egletons or someplace and hurtled on eastward, and now we've wandered through the country lanes of Auvergne to find the Auberge de Mazaye, looking forward to the specialities of the terroir, and we were not disappointed.

But first, before dinner, we're going over to visit the nearby Puy-de-Dôme, centrepiece of the volcano range and namesake of the département in which it resides. Soaring skyward at 1465m (same altitude as my old chalet back in Leysin), evidently it boasts interesting technical installations on the summit. (Vulcania, the "European Park of Volcanoes", the world's only educational theme park on volcanoes, is just nearby, but we're in a hurry to get on top of one of the originals.)

After a hearty sandwich jambon at the auberge on the Col de Ceyssat (1078m), we're starting out to see what's on offer at the top. That guy was apparently contemplating mountainbiking to the top with his baby strapped on behind him, with a teensy cycling helmet on, but he's giving it up and turning round a hundred meters from the carpark. So we won't have to call the police on him.

At the summit, more than we'd bargained for. It turns out that, like Mt Washington in New Hampshire, USA, there's a road up the other side, so we stroll around to see the splendid sights amongst groups of heavy greying motorcyclists, specially-equipped buses with older folks up for lunch with their helpers, Italian tourists in mini-dresses and towering highheeled shoes.

Here are some of the puys, or volcanoes -- I believe that this is looking off southward. The north-south Chain of Volcanoes, the "Chaîne des Puys", has 80 or 90 of these things along the Massif Central for 45 kilometres or more.

That's northward, I believe. (Steven Poole, in Unspeak [2006], has a nice riff on why we keep saying "I believe" instead of I think; because even if we're wildly wrong on the facts, no one can impugn the sincerity of our beliefs.)(As Tony Blair said about invading Iraq -- "I do really believe it. I may be wrong in believing it but I do believe it.")

But this would definitely be looking northward, I'm sure of that much, because we were wandering around the northern side of the restaurants and antennae and what not, and were disconcerted to find . . .

. . . an unexpected city virtually underfoot. A better look at the map would have prepared us, but there you are. (Those are hang gliders ornamenting the sky in the upper right.)

That's Clermont-Ferrand, in fact, lucky to have a dormant volcano so close by, for nature hiking, lunches, cellphone reception, etc. If it stays dormant.

A last stop in at the tourist facilities . . .

. . . and then down we go again.

Over the years, it's the downhills that we remember most.

A very nice wandery path down, with the automobile road there in the middle distance, and the Col de Ceyssat in the upper left corner.

Time for dinner in the teensy-weensy village of Mazaye -- very good local things, quite generous; stuck back in the corner, though, to let the high-rollers and local recidivists bask in the conviviality of the main room. No hard feelings.

And now, the next day, alas, right through Clermont-Ferrand, not much fun, to rejoin the autoroute on the other side, then past St Etienne and Lyon to home. Another time off work well spent with Kristin's advanced planning skills and eclectic tastes.

1. Salers
2. Conques
3. Château d'Anjony
4. Bourdeilles
5. Brantôme & Castles
6. Oradour-sur-Glane
7. Périgueux
8. St Céré, Montal
9. Rocamadour
10. Château de Castelnau
11. Beaulieu
12. Puy-de-Dôme

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 13 September 2009, revised 7 September 2013.

South France, December 2014

SW France, June 2009

SW France, November 2008