Natural and tourism heritage in Haute Loire
1. An exceptional natural environment
Short toed eagle - Chazieux 2008 - by Jennifer Sjolund
Photo taken from the patio outside Lou Coucaye;
click it to enlarge.
The area is ideal
for: nature lovers, ramblers, mountain-bikers, kayakers, ornithologists
(see bird watching
You may see kingfishers, kites, golden orioles,
herons, maybe hoopooes, and hear nightingales. The area is famed for
its population of; short-toed eagles which nest
on the hill behind the village.
valley for all seasons.....
As in many parts of Europe, the climate
has been a bit haywire in recent years; but here is what it is like in
a normal year......
Spring bursts upon the Haut Allier valley with all its force, as
the daytime temperatures warm up rapidly. The lusciously green
hillsides are ablaze with wild flowers, particularly the bright yellow
broom, but also a marvellous mix of buttercups, wild narcissi and
orchids, rare pasque flowers (deep red wild anemones - strictly
protected) and many more.
remains a beautiful "green" month, as the early spring flowers give way
to white marguerites, mauve scabius and more. The wild narcissi and
Alpine flowers however, are not far — just a few miles by car
or even on
foot up to the 1000 metre hilltops opposite, where spring comes just a
are normally warm months: as in most of southern France, the hillsides
pale golden colour, offset by the deep green of the beech, oak and pine
forests opposite. These are the months for kayaking down the river,
hiking on the hilltops, picking wild raspberries and bilberries, or
just lazing on the village beach, and swimming in the river. (The
beach, about 300 yards from the village, offers good swimming, shallow on the near side
but up to 3 metres deep by the diving rock at the far side). There is
programme of summer
concerts (choral, chamber music, etc) in historic churches
and other locations in Saint
Ilpize and the Haut Allier
valley and nearby. In the first half of July, nearby Brioude hosts one
of France's premier art festivals, the Biennale de l'Aquarelle, a
two-week international watercolour festival, now the biggest event of
its kind in France (Every other year - odd-numbered years, 2013, 2015,
in Auvergne is a mellow
most of the summer holidaymakers have gone home, leaving the valley
deserted except for those who live there all year round. Days can still
warm, even hot, but evenings become much cooler. This is a month for
a time for hikers and wanderers.
depending on how much summer warmth has been soaked in by the thick
walls, you may need to turn on the radiators; the
bright yellow and brown and the fields revert to green. In the early
the hills opposite often rise from a sea of mist in the valley below.
In 2014, daytime temperatures were regularly in the twenties right up
to the end of October.
Allier: a designated
area in Europe's environmental heritage.
Chazieux lies at the
the Haut Allier area, which has recently been designated as one of
France's areas of outstanding environmental value and interest, under
the E.U. "Natura 2000" program. The valley has been selected on account
of its abundant and rich flora and fauna.
2000 is a European
Union programme designed to select and preserve a complete range of the
best surviving natural environments throughout Europe.
Tourism - Activities
château at Saint Ilpize, a short walk from Lou
The "Brivadois" region of the Auvergne - the area around the
town of Brioude - is rich in history, art,
A twenty-minute walk from
the cottage brings you
to the ruins
of the mediaeval chateau de Saint
on a craggy rock
300 feet above the river. The walled keep contains a small romanesque
painstakingly restored in 2000-01. Below the castle is the village of
with its suspension bridge high over the river. Between the gite and
the castle, there is also a historic vineyard, the "vine conservatory",
where the old terraces have been renovated and some thirty
traditional varieties of vine have been replanted with the
saving them from extinction.In
addition to being a magnificent wildlife area, the Haut Allier is also
one of only 41 designated rural "Areas of art and history" in France
two hour walk (or 20 minute drive) in the other direction
visitor to the beautiful small town of Lavoute Chilhac,
ornithological centre, its 18th century abbey, its high mediaeval
bridge over the river, and its old tall narrow houses, between river
a very attractive old market
town, with narrow streets,
small shops and a very fine romanesque
basilica of Saint Julian,
famous for its unique
early mediaeval mosaic floor and its mediaeval frescoes.
This is the largest Romanesque church in Auvergne,
a pilgrimage church which is the
St.Julian's church among all the other St. Julian's churches worldwide;
it was in Brioude that Saint Julian, a Roman centurion, was martyred;
his relics lie in the crypt of the basilica.
Indeed, the whole "Haut Allier" area is rich in romanesque churches (many
frescoes), cloisters, and castles —
from imposing mediaeval
the château de Lafayette - birthplace of General
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More photo galleries
Auvergne is a fabulous region. There are hundreds of walks in easy
striking distance of the gite - even right from the doorstep.
Lou Coucaye has maps and trail guides for local
A little more than an hour away are the Plomb
or the Puy
de Sancy, the highest points in Auvergne and the Massif
at around 6,000 ft, offering excellent hill walking and mountain
Both peaks have cable cars.
popular day trip is a drive to the high "pas de Peyrol" pass in the
Cantal mountains, from where the energetic can climb to the top of the
Puy Mary, and the even more energetic can embark on lengthy ridge walks
Kayaking, mountain biking
There are two or three companies offering kayak
hire (+ pick up and return) at Langeac, Lavoute Chilhac or Villeneuve
d'Allier. Bikes can be rented in Brioude; and sometimes there may be
bikes available for free hire at the gite.
The Haut Velay railway - a popular day out for the family
for France, the Haute Loire department offers a great choice in terms
of heritage railways and tourist rail routes. The department has two
heritage railways, including a steam service on the metre-gauge Chemin de Fer du Haut Velay
, and a panoramic diesel car on the Agrivap
line which runs to La Chaise Dieu. There is also a special tourist train
in summer on the SNCF line through the Allier Gorge, departing from Langeac.
But in addition to these dedicated tourist trains, there are ordinary
train services running on the Allier Gorges route and across the
Cevennes to Nimes on "La Ligne du Cévenol
, a spectacular single-track line with countless tunnels and viaducts.
It is also possible to go by train from Brioude or St Georges d'Aurac
to le Puy on a very scenic branch line, or from Arvant (near Brioude)
to the foot of the ski resort with its telephériques at Le Lioran. All
the local scenic rail routes go up to an altitude of over 1000 metres,
and the station at Le Lioran is at 1152 metres.
More historic sites:
- Brioude - 15 km away - is
one of the most attractive small towns in France. It has the largest
Romanesque church in Auvergne with exceptional mediaeval frescoes
(three stars - the top rating - in the Michelin Green Guide), a
delightful historic centre, a new Arts centre in a Renaissance
building, opening with a Chagall exhibition in summer 2018, a
lace-making museum and an aquarium. There's also a modern indoor
pool for times or days when river swimming in the Allier is out.
Gallo-Roman lead and
antimony mine at La Rodde (about 15 km), with
underground mine tours (weekends May to October, but daily in July
- The castle
(20 km) with
enactments, or the same on a larger scale at the castle of Murol (70
km), or the impressive medieval keep at Polignac, near le Puy.
- The medieval romanesque church, unique frescoes, and
cloisters in the village of Lavaudieu (20 km)
- Other small churches with impressive mediaeval frescoes in Blassac,
- The historic
windmills at Ally (12
km), with exhibition
on wind power, and the The Ally
until recently France's largest windfarm - 26 turbines - provides clean
energy for a third of the "Haute Loire" department. The nearest wind
generator is about 5 miles from the gite.... (but cannot be seen nor
Eiffel's famous Viaduc du Garabit, with boat trips in the
Gorges de la Truyère (40 km).
- The Resistance
Museum at Mont Mouchet
one of the
hubs of resistance activities during the second world war, where RAF
airmen made many drops.
- The small city of Le Puy en Velay,
capital of the Haute Loire (50 km), with its unique 10th century chapel
of St Michael, perched dramatically atop a rocky pinnacle, and the
medieval cathedral, one of the great starting points on the historic
pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. A Unesco world heritage site. The city, famous for its
lace, has an attractive old quarter with narrow streets where craftsmen
and artists ply their wares.
The village has nothing.....
its peace and quiet and its beautiful location.
d'Allier (3 km) has a
post-office and a bar-restaurant. A new
store opened in 2014 to replace the old bakery.
shopping, there is
kms away, with a
full range of shops including a small
hypermarket and a bustling Saturday market; Brioude also has a
hospital, a train station, a new swimming pool, a lace museum, and an
Chilhac / Saint-Cirgues (15 minutes by car) has a post office, a
bakery, a butchers, a pharmacy, a tourist office, and a convenience
store, plus three restaurants and a couple of cafés.
About 8 hours' drive from Calais, via the A71 / A 75 motorways, about 7
hours from Le Havre. The gite is about 20
miles from the A 75 motorway exit 20. Brioude has a train station with
direct services to Paris and Nimes. Nearest airports: Clermont
Ferrand 1 hr
(direct flights from Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam , London .) or Rodez 2h 30 (Ryanair from Stansted)