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Auvergne Rhône-Alpes is one of the new regions of France, composed by 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: this 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.
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.
In France, most of the people prefer to talk about the departments, instead of regions and we will also use them from time to time on this post. Auvergne Rhône Alpes has 12 départments and 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.
Lyon is France’s third-largest city and a major tourist destination. Founded 2.000 years ago, the streets of Lyon are a living museum, with beautiful historical buildings and interesting art galleries and museums.
Lyon is also the capital of gastronomy so be sure you dedicate some time to learn about the most popular food in Lyon and, most of all, taste them!
Lyon is also an excellent base camp to explore the countryside on day trips: places like Pérouges, Aix-les-Bains, or Annecy are great trips from Lyon within a couple of hours’ drive.
Looking for winter destinations in France? Head to Auvergne Rhône-Alpes for a white holiday of winter sports and some fun.
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is the 1st European region for skiing with 173 alpine and Nordic ski resorts. With large ski areas connected to village resorts, there is something for everyone.
Les Trois Vallées in the French Alps is the largest ski area in the world, with 600 kilometers of pistes and luxury in their resorts. In winter, the famous ski stations of Chamonix, Courchevel, Megève, Méribel, Val d’Isère, Val Thorens attract tourists from all around the world.
Auvergne’s five mountain ranges, instead, are an affordable alternative to destinations in the Alps and Pyrenees.
Chamonix and Mont Blanc
Don’t miss Chamonix, a charming ski town 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. This is the highest attraction in Europe offering the visitor 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 is a great day trip for anybody visiting the French Alps. Due to its proximity to the Swiss border, Chamonix and Mont-Blanc are also a very popular day trip from Geneva (the Swiss city is located at only 1-hour drive).
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.
Auvergne Volcanoes & Puy-de-Dôme
The Chaîne des Puys, which includes as many as 80 dormant volcanoes, stretch over an area of 45 km in the northern Massif Central to the west of the central French city of Clermont-Ferrand.
This 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.
Picturesque Small Towns
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 – a picturesque medieval walled town cream-colored limestone houses – and Yvoire, on the French south shore of Lake Léman.
Gorges de l’Ardèche
The Gorges de l’Ardèche, locally known as the “European Grand Canyon”, is 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 that was dug by the Ardèche river and it turned into a stone archway past the river. Known as the “natural gateway to the Ardèche Gorge”, this is a must-see during the canoeing down the river.
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.
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 10 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.
Château de la Roche
Perhaps the castles of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes are not as famous as Versailles or as spectacular as the Loire 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 on an island in the lake formed by the Villerest dam, in the Loire department, this is a 13-century castle that went through a deep restoration in the Gothic style in the 1900s.
Today, Château de la Roche host many costume events, treasure hunts, and other interesting activities great for adults and kids.
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.
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 has also some elements inspired by the Bible.
According to his memories, in April 1879, during his daily tours, the rural postman stumbled against a stone, failing to fall on the road. It was a curious and beautiful stone, that he will call the “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 a classed Historical Monument since 1969. It is considered the only representation of Art Naïf in architecture.
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 (1634 meters). Months du Forez is a great opportunity to relax and enjoy nature and precious moments in rural France.
Gastronomy in Auvergne Rhône-Alpes
Enjoy unique French wines and local products! Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is home of 10 AOP vineyards, (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) including three world-famous Beaujolais, Côtes-du-Rhône and Savoie wines. It also offers the largest cheese platter with 21 AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) cheeses and two cheese routes.
The region has 90 Michelin-starred chefs, including 9 with 3 stars and three cities in the region – Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, Annecy – are part of the list of top ten places to eat best in France 2019.
We hope that you enjoyed the main places to visit in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. If you want to learn about other regions head to this article on the Regions of France, where we have summarized the highlights of each region.
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