On the road
Sub-prefectures: Montluçon, Vichy
Less than three hours from Paris, Allier is such an easy-going department it was dubbed "the Dolce Vita of Auvergne". To be in the heart of France suits it well. At the crossroads of Oc and Oil, the two languages which became French, home to luxury thermal towns and astonishing cities likes Vichy, Moulins or Monlucon, Allier is an intriguing territory.
Preserved lands like the Bourbonnais farmlands, the gorges of La Sioule, the forest of Troncais, and hundreds of castles are up for visitors to discover.
And the presence of both the Vichy waters and the astonishing wines of St Pourcain in the same department is ample proof of the department's diversity.
Sub-prefectures: Autun, Chalon-sur-Saone, Charolles
Saone-et-Loire is in size the 7th biggest department in France. In the south of the Burgundy region, it is close to four other regions and is renowned for its agricultural resources: fine wines, Charolais beef or Bresse poultry. Its industrial background is also very varied with mines in Blanzy and Montceau les Mines, metal works in Le Creusot and Gueugnon or Chalon.
Population: 1,7 million
The department is named after the river flowing through it. The most part of the territory consists in hills, Monts du Beaujolais in the north and Monts du Lyonnais in the south. They are boarded by the Saone valley and in Lyon by the Rhone valley.
Created in 1793 by a split of the Rhone-et-Loire department, it was progressively enlarged by communes taken from the nearby departments of Ain and Isere.
Economically, the activity concentrates around Lyon, France's third largest city and second agglomeration, especially well-placed in the field of new technologies. Chemicals and petrochemicals are based south of Lyon along the A7 motorway to Vienne. The Gier valley is in a critical restructuring phase after the decline of traditional industries. But Rhone is also Beaujolais, exporting wine all over the world and the presence of some of the best-known chefs in the world. Lyon has been dubbed the French capital of gastronomy.
Km 5 : Varennes-Sur-Allier
Merovingian coins signalling Vorogio (Voroux) indicate existence of the church of St Pierre de Vouroux since the early Middle Ages. The chapel dedicated to Notre-Dame de la Ronde, built in the 12th century, is in any case the oldest building in Varennes today. The town probably became a fief of the Bourbons since Duke Louis II (1336-1410) built the 14th century fortifications, which left the Poterne tower overlooking the local flood, the Valencon. Its strategic position on one of the main roads of the kingdom was not a peaceful one and wars and epidemics frequently hit town.
In 1440, Varennes was besieged by King Charles VII, fighting a rebellious fifth Duke of Bourbon. In 1591, the locals stayed faithful to Henry IV during the Wars of Religion and were later rewarded when the king offered them a bell that still rings today in the town hall belfry.
In the late 17th century, constant warfare had depleted Varennes. It became a canton chef-lieu in 1790 after a fusion with neighbouring Vouroux and Chazeuil. Varennes is the town in which Coco Chanel learnt to sew when she spent her holidays at her aunt's. It is also the birthplace of Max Favalelli, a journalist, writer and crossword specialist, who followed several Tours de France as a reporter in the 1950s.
Auvergne owes its name to the powerful tribe of the Arverns, whose most famous chief was Vercingetorix, the Gallic enemy of Julius Caesar. The region was for long remote from France's main roads. The isolation, broken by the construction of the A75 motorway, somehow slowed the economical development of the region. Auvergne's largest town is Clermont-Ferrand, whose urban area with more than 400,000 inhabitants accounts for nearly a third of the region's population. Despite is weak local market, Auvergne is home to some national and world giants in their fields, like Michelin (tyres), Limagrain (seeds) Aubert et Duval, Centre-France-La Montagne (press), Volvic (mineral water). Several dynamic smaller companies as well as Clermont-Ferrand's two universities account for a very lively and prosperous region. Green tourism is quickly expanding, notably in the Nature park of the Auvergne Volcanoes.
Tour de France of the Monuments Nationaux
Château of Bouges
The charm of a furnished residence and its landscaped garden.
Built in the Italian style during the reign of Louis XV, the Château contains furniture of exceptional quality, a large collection of objets d'art, gardens with trimmed box trees, a park of 80 hectares, former stables, a harness room and a museum of horse-drawn carriages.
Site with the “Outstanding Garden” label.
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