Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is one of the new regions of France, composed of the former regions of Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes.
For natural splendor and palette of colors, there’s nowhere else in France that can pack in so much: it is a land of volcanoes and snow-covered peaks; the land of fresh air and thermal spas; the region of crystal clear lakes and roaming rivers through deep gorges.
The region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes also boasts vibrant cities like Lyon, Saint Etienne, Grenoble or Clermont-Ferrand and architecture passionate will fall in love with Auvergne’s Romanesque churches and the region’s picturesque small towns.
The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is divided into twelve departments and it has one métropole: Ain, Allier, Ardèche, Cantal, Drôme, Isère, Loire, Haute-Loire, Puy-de-Dôme, Rhône, Savoye, Haute-Savoye and the métropole of Lyon.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Auvergne Rhône-Alpes, France.
BY PLANE: Lyon-Saint-Exupéry (LYS) is one of the top five airports in France, with many international flights to Europe, Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia), Asia (Turkey, Armenia), Middle-East (Emirates, Qatar), and America (Montréal in Canada). If you don’t plan to visit Paris during your next trip to France, consider booking a flight directly to Lyon.
BY TRAIN: Traveling in France by train is straightforward. Top destinations like Lyon, Annecy, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne, or Clermont Ferrand, are mostly served by fast trains. The territory is also crisscrossed by secondary roads, served by regional trains (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes TER trains).
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes by Car
The region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is a great place for memorable French road trips. With a car, some good tunes, and the best company, you are set for one of the best adventures in your life. Driving in France is very easy, and with the car, you can go off the beaten path to get the most out of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
Recommended road trips in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes:
If you don’t have your own car, we recommend booking in advance through platforms like Discover Cars. This site takes all major rental companies, such as Hertz, Avis, etc., and compares prices for you. Check out our best tips for renting a car in France.
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Tourist Attractions
What to do in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France? The list of best things to do in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes includes sightseeing, pretty towns, history, and natural wonders!
1. Visit Lyon
Lyon is France’s third-largest city and a major tourist destination. Founded 2,000 years ago, Lyon’s streets are a living museum, with beautiful historical buildings and interesting art galleries and museums. Check out this Lyon itinerary with the best things to do in Lyon for two days.
Lyon is also the capital of gastronomy, so be sure you dedicate some time to learn about Lyon’s most popular foods and, most of all, taste them! This Lyon Old Town Food Tour includes 6 to 8 tasting stops in the Old Town and has excellent reviews.
Lyon is also an excellent base camp to explore the countryside on day trips: places like Pérouges, Aix-les-Bains, or Annecy are great day trips from Lyon within a couple of hours’ drive.
2. Winter Sports
Looking for winter destinations in France? Head to the region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes for a fun white holiday. Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is the first European region for skiing with 173 alpine and nordic ski resorts. With large ski areas connected to village resorts, there is something for everyone.
The French Alps is home to the three largest ski areas in the world, well known for the quantity and quality of the snow and skiing itself.
Auvergne’s five mountain ranges are good for skiing too, and they are an affordable alternative to destinations in the Alps and the Pyrenees.
3. Chamonix and Mont Blanc
Don’t miss Chamonix, a charming ski town in the French Alps with must attractions like the Sea of Ice or the Aiguille du Midi.
L’Aiguille du Midi (3,842 m) is a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif, accessible by cable car. One of the top tourist attractions in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, L’Aiguille du Midi, is the highest attraction in Europe, offering visitors a unique panorama that embraces the highest peaks of Western Europe and a great opportunity to get closer to Mont Blanc.
Chamonix and Mont-Blanc are also great destinations for a summer holiday in the French Alps. Due to its proximity to the Swiss border, Chamonix and Mont-Blanc are also popular day trips from Geneva (the Swiss city is located only a 1-hour drive).
4. Annecy and Lake Annecy
The French Alps host 3/ 5 of the biggest lakes in France: Lac Léman (internationally known as Lac Genève), Lac du Bourget (the biggest and deepest lake in France), and Lac d’Annecy.
Cradled by forested peaks, Lac d’Annecy is France’s second-largest glacial lake, and it also claims to be the cleanest lake in Europe.
Located on the lake’s northern shore, the city of Annecy is a picturesque place to walk around with beautiful medieval buildings, canals, and plenty of relaxing and romantic spots to explore. The city is also the starting point of many wonderful hikes, to the gorges on the River Fier or up to the Tournette peak for a breathtaking view of the lake.
5. Auvergne Volcanoes & Puy-de-Dôme
The Chaîne des Puys, which includes as many as 80 dormant volcanoes, stretches over an area of 45 km in the northern Massif Central to the west of the central French city of Clermont-Ferrand.
One of the Auvergne tourist attractions is the first UNESCO natural heritage site in France Mainland, and it’s a paradise for walking and hiking.
The range’s highest point is the iconic lava dome of Puy-de-Dôme, which stands at 1,465 meters high. Today, it is possible to reach the summit in just 15 minutes thanks to an electric train that winds up to the top. From there, there’s an amazing bird’s eye view over the Regional Natural Park of the Volcanoes of Auvergne, the Dorez mountains, and the mountains of Cantal.
6. Picturesque Small Towns
The region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is dotted with many picturesque small towns, with 22 villages labeled “most beautiful villages of France”. If your time is limited and you cannot explore them all, be sure to visit Pérouges – one of the best day trips from Lyon – and Yvoire, on the French south shore of Lake Léman.
7. Gorges de l’Ardèche
The Gorges de l’Ardèche, locally known as the “European Grand Canyon”, are located in the French department of Ardèche. They form a thirty-kilometer long canyon running from Vallon-Pont-d’Arc to Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche.
In addition to a rich historical and archeological site, the canyon is a tourist attraction, drawing over a million visitors per year for hiking, sightseeing, and kayaking.
In Gorges de l’Ardèche there’s the famous Pont d’Arc, the symbol of the Ardèche department. This is a unique geological phenomenon 54 meters high and 60 meters large dug by the Ardèche river and turned into a stone archway past the river. Known as the ‘natural gateway to the Ardèche Gorge,’ it is a must-see during the canoeing down the river.
8. Romanesque Churches of Auvergne
Architecture passionates will love the Romanesque churches of Auvergne, the oldest Christian buildings built to last (after 800 AD). There are big basilicas and cathedrals like those in Clermont-Ferrand, Issoire, St. Nectaire, Brioude, and St. Saturnin. Some beautiful examples of the architecture also show up in small towns like St. Menoux and Salers.
9. Spa Towns of Auvergne
Auvergne is a great destination for wellbeing activities and health treatments, with water coming out of the ground at high temperatures. Thanks to the richness of its volcanic soil, Auvergne contains a variety of thermal sources to treat many conditions, perfect for a quick recovery during the cold winter.
Among the ten Auvergne spa towns in the Massif Central, Vichy is the spa resort par excellence but there are other popular names like Châteauneuf-Les-Bains, Mont Doré, or Chaudes-Aigues. The latest is the hottest in Europe, with water coming out of the ground at 82°C!
10. Château de la Roche
The castles of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes are not as famous as Versailles or as spectacular as the Loire Valley Castles, but this does not mean that they are not beautiful!
Amongst them, Château de la Roche stands out as one of the most picturesque castles in the region due to its wonderful setting, and it deserves to be on the list of most beautiful castles in France. Located in the Loire department, on an island in the lake formed by the Villerest dam, this is a 13th-century castle that went through a deep restoration in neo-Gothic style in the 1900s.
Today, Château de la Roche host many costume events, treasure hunts, and other fun family activities.
11. Le Mont Aiguille, in Le Vercors
Mont Aiguille, in the heart of the Vercors Massif, is a wonderful place to explore. Located between the departments of Drôme and Isère, this atypical shape will make a sumptuous decor during your hikes in this natural park.
Amongst the beautiful hikes in this area, we recommend the Tête Chevalière hike, one of our favorite hikes in France.
12. Palais Idéal, by Facteur Cheval
Le Palais Idéal (Ideal Palace) is a monument built by the postman Ferdinand Cheval, from 1879 to 1912. It is a hymn to nature, with touches of Hindu and Egyptian architecture. The palace also has some elements inspired by the Bible.
According to his memories, in April 1879, the rural postman stumbled against a stone during his daily tour, failing to fall on the road. It was a curious and beautiful stone that he will call “the stumbling block.” During the following days, always along his daily tour, the postman found other singular stones, more beautiful than the first one. He then decided that if nature could make “sculpture,” he could also become an architect.
The Ideal Palace is listed as a Historical Monument since 1969. It is considered the only representation of Art Naïf in architecture.
13. Les Monts du Forez
Les Monts de Forez is a natural region located in-between the départements of the Loire and the Puy-de-Dôme. These granite mountains offer walkers multiples hikes through meadows, forests of fir and beech, and high plateaux.
The highest point in the Forez Mountains is Pierre-sur-Aute (1,634 meters). Months du Forez is a great opportunity to relax and enjoy nature and precious moments in rural France.
14. Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe
This Romanesque chapel in Le Puy-en-Velay, crowning the top of a volcanic core, is dedicated to Archangel Michel, and it’s been a popular pilgrimage route since Medieval times. It can be reached via 268 stone steps that wind up the side: after all, everybody knows that Saint Michel likes the heights!
On the way to the top, there are two chapels dedicated to the other archangels Gabriel and Raphael, and an interesting exhibition detailing this place’s geological and religious story with videos and models. Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe is a wonderful place to visit, with great views of Le Puy’s Ville-Haute and the surrounding countryside.
Enjoy unique French wines and local products in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. The region is home of 10 AOP vineyards, (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) including three world-famous wines – Beaujolais, Côtes-du-Rhône and Savoie. It also offers the largest cheese platter with twenty-one AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) cheeses and two cheese routes.
The region has ninety Michelin-starred chefs, including nine chefs with 3 stars. Three cities in the region – Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, Annecy – are part of the top ten places to eat best in France 2021.
We hope that you enjoyed this list of best things to do in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. If you want to learn about other French regions, head to this article on the Regions of France, where we have summarized the highlights of each region.
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