On the Quest for Nattitude in Auvergne
Auvergne by no means is a tourist hub in the way the French Riviera or Paris are; and while this could potentially suggest a lack of some sort, most locals will agree that the region is far better off without the crowds. I, for one, wholeheartedly think that part of what makes Auvergne so attractive is precisely the fact that it is still under the radar – my adoptive region, nestled in the centre of France and where I lived as an expat for many years, was one of the calmest, most serene yet enlightening places I have visited in the Hexagon. For Auvergne has little to envy to other French regions: it has iconic mountains (dormant volcanoes, at that!), historic villages, firmly implanted culinary traditions and a wide network of wildlife-oriented hotels which celebrate the outstanding natural beauty that encircles them.
What’s with the Nattitude?
A clever play on words between “attitude” and “nature”, Nattitude is an accommodation label created to promote eco-friendly and authentic hotels that blend in with their environment, places where nature comes first and foremost, and where visitors are encouraged to immerse in their surroundings.
Datcha Anastasia, for example, is a bed and breakfast located seven kilometres southwest of Super-Besse skiing station and picturesque 12th century village and welcomes guests year-round in a modern setting despite being in a 100-year old stone house. The friendly and chatty hosts, Joël and Gérard, offer a delightful table d’hôte service inspired by the rich terroir cuisine so typical of Auvergne (in other words, expect lots of cheeses).
A Land of Volcanoes…
Visiting Auvergne without setting foot at Vulcania would be a blasphemy. Volcanoes are timid beasts that we, mere humans, know relatively little about. Entirely devoted to the science of volcanoes and located in the very heart of Chaînes des Puys, Vulcania is a theme park that will appeal to both adults and kids. It features rides, 5-D films (The Awakening of Auvergne Giants film is riveting and will surprise you in more than one way, I’ll say that), instructive exhibitions and a hot air balloon for panoramic views of the illustrious mountains.
Why not use this outing in nature as an excuse to go on one of Auvergne’s many picturesque hikes? Nearby Puy-de-Dôme is the most popular and certainly the most iconic – and for lazy hikers like me, a rack railway is available to take you back to the base. A lifesaver in my case!
… And Cheeses
Did you know that Auvergne is home to five different AOP cheeses? If you are a fan of the aromatic and salty stuff like I am, I suggest you spend a day touring the popular Auvergne Cheese Trail, which features the likes of Cantal (very firm and cheddar-like, dates back to the Gauls, favorite of Louis XIV), Salers (subtly flavoured, semi-hard and made from raw milk), Saint-Nectaire (very creamy, the most sold farm cheese in France) as well as Fourme d’Ambert (semi-hard and delicate blue cheese, one of the country’s oldest) and the world-famous Bleu d’Auvergne (strong blue cheese with potent character). The Auvergne Cheese Trail consists of 40 different stops – an idyllic way to discover first-hand the exclusive savoir-faire of local fromagers, and to visit the 11 “Most Beautiful Villages in France” nestled between the mountains of Auvergne along the way.
Horizons Land Art festival
The nature, culture and gastronomy of Auvergne can be discovered in an unusual way through the Horizons Land Art festival: from June to September, 10 ephemeral works of land art will be showcased in different areas of the Sancy Mountains, giving the opportunity to both locals and visitors to see the natural beauty in which they stand from a brand new perspective.
Even though I left Auvergne a little while ago, few things make me more happy than stumbling upon Saint-Nectaire at my local market. So many fond memories in such a tiny slice of cheese! In hindsight, Auvergne was the best possible host region for my stint as an expat in France; it opened my eyes to unsuspected treasures (admittedly, very few people are aware that there are volcanoes in France) and proved that French hospitality does exist, despite what Parisians would like tourists to believe.