A major site, symbol of the Auvergne, the puy de Dôme attracts more than 500,000 visitors every year. To approach it, all you have to do is walk along the snowy paths, through the hazelnut and beech woods, to appreciate the exceptional panorama of this haven of peace. The beauty of the landscapes, the quality of the welcome and the commitment of the inhabitants to preserve it have earned it national recognition, the Grand Site de France label. And in winter, this belvedere offers unique landscapes
Strolls and viewpoint on the Chaîne des Puys
Rising to an altitude of 1,465 metres, the puy de Dôme is located in the centre of France, in the department of Puy-de-Dôme, a few kilometres from Clermont-Ferrand, in the heart of the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Nature Park. Between the Limagne plain and the Combrailles plateau, it offers a unique panoramic view of the 80 volcanoes that make up the Chaîne des Puys, the most beautiful volcanic complex in Europe. A reassuring silhouette to look out for on your return from a trip, it is the unmissable site for Sunday family walks. And it captivates by the extraordinary panorama from the summit. In this haven of silence, the first thing you notice are the unusual forms of volcanic activity, a lunar landscape of craters and cones, golden brown or green, nestling or overlapping as far as Sancy in the south and Limagne in the north, followed by vast stretches of wild moorland interspersed with mountain forests.
The puy de Dôme, birth of a volcano
On the puy, we find traces of the famous temple of Mercury. Built in the 2nd century AD, this building is one of the largest Roman sanctuaries in the West. In antiquity, on the southern flank of the summit of the puy there was a complex system of processional arrangements leading the faithful to the entrance of the temple. Its façade consisted of four large pillars surmounted by capitals of the Corinthian type. However, it remains difficult to estimate its monumentality. Abandoned from the 4th century, giving way to a monastic establishment, it was forgotten until the end of the 19th century when the first excavations uncovered remains of masonry and antique furniture, coins and marble fragments. After a major campaign of excavations between 2000 and 2004, the Department and the State (DRAC Auvergne) began restoration work.
But the Romans probably never suspected the volcanic nature of the site on which they erected the Temple of Mercury. It was in the middle of the 18th century that geologists from the Paris Academy of Sciences wanted to discover the true nature of the Auvergne mountains. One of them, the naturalist Jean-Étienne Guettard, claimed that, as in Pompeii, they were volcanoes, but it was not until the explosion of Mount Pelée in 1902 that their kinship was understood.
The puy de Dôme, a double trachyte dome, was born 11,000 years ago on the site of two slag cones, the puy Lacroix to the south and the small puy de Dôme to the north. It is a volcano of the Peléen type, pyramidal in shape, with a base of nearly 1,300 metres and a height of about 500 metres. Its dome is made of light-coloured trachyte. The rock is cut into long vertical blades, between these blades yellow deposits of sulphur or sulphates indicate the ancient fumaroles. At the bottom of the slopes, the landslides of the two domes piled up debris of all sizes
A fauna and flora adapted to an extreme climate
The puy de Dôme is the first real obstacle to bad weather coming from the Atlantic Ocean. It is situated between two marked climatic regimes, undergoing oceanic influences on its western slope, giving a lot of precipitation in winter, and continental on its eastern slope, characterised by strong thunderstorms in summer. Temperatures at the site vary throughout the year as well as during the day. Average daily minima can reach -17 °C in winter and exceed 25 °C in summer. Large temperature differences are observed between the summit and the plain. Especially in winter, temperature inversion phenomena occur, resulting in hot and dry weather at the summit, while the plain remains shrouded in fog with much lower temperatures. This is a good time for walking. As early as autumn, snow may appear at the summit and in winter it remains snowy for more than three months. Enough to treat oneself to dreamy walks.
Because of these conditions, the puy de Dôme shelters remarkable and very diversified species according to their level. With a bit of luck, you may be able to spot the chamois, discreet and wary, in the rocky areas, in the forest and on the pastures, but also surprise a few deer feeding on berries and tree shoots. On the Goat's Path, you can catch a glimpse of the linnet, whose male in spring loses its winter plumage to become scarlet red, while on the Muleteers' Path the machaon, a butterfly with white or yellow wings stained with black, twirls around. You will also see the magnificent Apollo, a protected species of large butterfly with white wings spotted with black and red dots. But the most unusual remains the grey foghorn, a protected species of bat, which comes to hunt at night on the puy de Dôme. Favour the easily accessible places to contemplate the open landscapes of the wind-swept high altitude lawns, dotted with rocks which shelter cranberries, walk through the moors to see the sheep grazing which help to preserve the landscape, you will admire a varied vegetation with typical plants such as the hornbeam, blueberry and broom. Finally, take advantage of the subtle smells of the forest composed of fir, birch, hazelnut and alisiers.
This exceptional site abounds with fun and cultural activities accessible to all free of charge, such as torch-lit descents, the installation of a skating rink to indulge in the joys of sliding in a privileged natural environment, dog-sled baptisms, etc
But the puy de Dôme has also long been a popular hiking spot for the first tourists, and the site was so successful that an inn and then a hotel were established there. And it has also been about forty years since the liberals took off from the top of the puy de Dôme, with the very first hang-gliders.
Climb aboard the Panoramique des Dômes, the electric train with a rack-and-pinion system, allows you to climb the steep slopes in all seasons to reach the summit in fifteen minutes, while enjoying the scenery of the Chaîne des Puys. It is also possible to walk up the 350-metre drop to the summit via the Muleteers' trail. This path would be the old way that used to lead pilgrims to the temple of Mercury. On the other side, the Goat Path, which is equipped with stairs, also allows you to reach the summit and meet the shepherd and fragile species. Once at the top, a breathtaking panorama is waiting for you. This winter, for sure, we're going to take it all in our stride!
When? Every season has its advantages. And in winter, the beauty of the landscape is breathtaking
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