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The Massif Central is a large, diverse granite plateau infused with spectacular beauty, often called “la France profonde” — the rugged heartland of the country. The Massif encompasses nine départements, four of which make up Auvergne. With few large cities, this part of France is a “must see” on anyone's itinerary to experience the beauty of its valleys and mountains, castles, lush forests, Romanesque churches, charming villages, delicious regional cuisine, and wonderful local people.

The highest peaks of the Massif are in Auvergne, a rich land of green pastures and gentle foothills. Hiking, fishing and boating are popular pastimes. In the winter months, cross-country skiing is very popular, but, because the local mountains are not extremely high or always covered in snow, there is less downhill skiing. It is an ideal destination for lovers of the out-of-doors, but certainly not limited to those pursuits.

Throughout the area, castles exist that are open to the public for visits. We have counted 45, only seven of which offer bed and breakfast accommodations or dining facilities. The majority have historic tours, museums, expositions, son et lumière and concerts.

The Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d'Auvergne lies west of Clermont-Ferrand in the Puy-de-Dôme — a region of extinct volcanoes — and is one of many areas within Auvergne that are protected from incursion by any kind of development. The area is still not overrun by tourists, and the local inhabitants are happy with the level of activity as it is today.

An advantage of a visit to this region, aside from the lovely open roads and lack of crowds, is that prices are still so reasonable. The available inns are exceptional in quality, as well, which makes it even more desirable.

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FRANCE On Your Own

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