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Stage town for the 9th time

Prefecture of Cantal (15)

Population: 26,000 (Aurillacois, Aurillacoises)

Specialities: cantal, Auvergne cheeses, Couderc gentian liqueur, charcuterie, pounti, potée auvergnate, Salers meat.

Personalities: Gerbert d'Aurillac (Pope), Paul Doumer (President of the Republic), Pierre Poujade (politician), Olivier Magne, Pierre Trémouille (rugby), Christophe Laborie (cycling). 

Economy: food industry (meat, milk, Cantal production). Couderc distillery, with its famous gentian liqueur, and famous companies such as the Leroux and Bonal cheese dairy, as well as Morin (ripener), MAS charcuterie establishments and Teil salaisons, part of the Altitude group. The umbrella capital of France. Aurillac is also home to what was once Europe's leading manufacturer of health duvets and pillows, Abeil, and to plastics manufacturer Qualipac, which specialises in the varnishing of plastic parts, injection moulding and electroplating.

Sport: Stade aurillacois Cantal-Auvergne (ProD2 rugby), Aurillac Handball Cantal Auvergne, Athlétic Club Vélocipédique, Aurillac Football Cantal Auvergne. BAAG (basketball).

Heritage: château Saint-Étienne, abbey church of Saint-Géraud, national stud farm.

Festivals: International Street Theatre Festival / Aurillac Swing Festival / Aurillac en scene Festival (June) / Goudots Gourmands Festival (gastronomy) / Salon entre les Mondes (fantasy literature) / Rapatonadas (November).

Labels: Town of art and history / Ville fleurie (3).

Website: www.aurillac.fr


AURILLAC AND CYCLING

Aurillac has hosted the Tour de France on eight occasions, six of them finishes, the last in 2008, when Luis Leon Sanchez broke clear in the final toe claim the first of his four victories in the event in twelve appearances. The last two winners in town have also been Spanish, with Eduardo Chozas clinching victory in 1985. For the Tour's last visit to the Cantal prefecture in 2011, the race took the route to Carmaux, where André Greipel won in a bunch sprint. Aurillac has hosted some of France's biggest races and has always produced a prestigious winner: Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de l'Avenir in 2005, Peter Sagan in Paris-Nice in 2010 and Edvald Boasson-Hagen in the Dauphiné in 2019. Among the riders born in Aurillac are David Delrieu, who started the Tour twice in 1997 and 2000, and Guy Lintilhac, who started the 1951 Tour. François Bidard graduated from Aurillac, where he studied, and was Cantal champion.  Every year, Aurillac organises the Souvenir Antonin Magne in honour of the two-time winner of the Tour de France in 1931 and 1934, who was born in Ytrac, 8 km from Aurillac, even though he spent most of his life in Livry-Gargan.


SIGHTS:  

  • Street theatre festival

Created: 1986.

History: the Aurillac International Street Theatre Festival was created by French director Michel Crespin. From the third edition in 1988 onwards, the festival poster featured a character with an astonished expression on his face: this illustration by Henri Galeron has been present on the posters for every edition since. Prior to the festival, as part of the Préalables programme, companies have been presenting their shows in a number of towns in the department since 1999. In 2004, the Éclat association, which produces the festival, set up Le Parapluie, an international centre for artistic creation and research, with the aim of promoting street theatre.

Characteristics: Aurillac is regarded as Europe's biggest theatre and street arts festival, popular with audiences who appreciate its openness as much as with professionals, with hundreds of shows performed free of charge in the open air or under a big top, by some 600 companies from all over the world. Organised by the Éclat association, the festival runs for four days every year, from the Wednesday after 15 August to Saturday. Attendance has risen to around 200,000 over the four days of the 34th edition in 2019.  

  • Château Saint-Étienne

Construction: 9th to 19th centuries.

Style: medieval and troubadour.

Characteristics: Built on a 685-metres high hill, Château Saint-Étienne dominates the town. All that remains of the original castrum is a square tower with its imposing mass. There are three distinct periods of construction: the 9th century at the base, the 12th century and then the 14th century. The upper-level dates from the 19th century, and a terrace has replaced the old pavilion roof from the 18th century. Square in plan, the tower stood over thirty metres high until 1747, when it was levelled. You entered through a doorway seven metres above ground level, like the Saint-Simon tower, which also belonged to the abbey, and from there you descended to the ground floor via a ladder. The abbey had a network of other towers built on the same model, such as those at Naucelles and Faliès. The main building at the foot of the tower was destroyed by fire in 1868. A vast building was rebuilt on the initiative of Louis-Furcy Grognier in the style of the Palais des Papes in Avignon. In fact, rediscovering the local origins of Pope Sylvester II, a municipal subscription was launched to erect a statue of him, and the theme of the Popes' Palace became that of the architect Juste Lisch.

Current use: Château Saint-Étienne is now the site of the House of Volcanoes Museum and the Haute-Auvergne centre for the study and protection of the environment, with a university research laboratory.

Listed as: Historical Monument since 2010.  

  • Saint-Géraud abbey church

Construction: 10th to 19th centuries.

Style: Romanesque

Characteristics: the Romanesque elements were destroyed several times, and the last restoration in the 19th century completed the nave with three bays and a porch, and rebuilt the bell tower from scratch. At 77 metres, the current bell tower of the Abbey of Saint-Géraud is the tallest building in the town.

History: Saint-Géraud d'Aurillac is an ancient Benedictine abbey, modelled on the abbey of Cluny. It was founded before 885 by Count Géraud of Aurillac. The abbey was a leading intellectual centre in the Middle Ages. It also had more than a hundred dependencies and possessions, including around forty priories stretching from Auvergne to Spain and covering a dozen dioceses.

Listed as: Historical Monument in 1920 and 1942.  

  • Aurillac National Stud

Built: 1983

History: When Napoleon I reorganised the stud farms in 1806, the Aurillac stallion depot was moved to the Visitation convent in Rue des Carmes. It was also at the beginning of the 19th century, in 1821, that the first races were organised in Aurillac. In 1973, the Aurillac stallion depot had 47 stallions and the facilities in Rue des Carmes were becoming increasingly cramped, outdated and difficult to access from the town centre. That's why a new stud farm was built in 1983 to the south of the town on a 17-hectare estate handed over to the State by the Cantal department, close to the racecourse and riding school, creating a thirty-hectare equestrian centre on the immediate outskirts of the town, to which a pony club was added.  

  • Cantal Prefecture

Construction: 19th century.

Style: neoclassical. 

Features: built between 1800 and 1806 to plans by engineer Lallié, then completed in 1814 by engineer Demets, representing the first prefecture built as such in France. Neo-classical in style, it comprises a pedimented forebuilding on the west facade and a rotunda, both decorated with Doric pilasters and a frieze of metopes. The interior of the rotunda houses an Empire-style drawing room with star inlaid parquet flooring and a stucco coffered cupola.

Listed as: Historical Monument since 2004.


TO EAT:

  • Pounti

This speciality from Auvergne is the epitome of the complete one-dish meal, containing meat, vegetables and fruit and a discreet mix of salt and sugar. It's also an economical dish, making good use of leftovers and, as such, was best served with the evening meal. It is a pâté (baked in a terrine or casserole) made from wheat (or rye) flour mixed with eggs and milk, chard leaves, bacon and prunes. It is usually eaten cold or lightly fried in slices, accompanied by a salad. It can also be used to accompany poultry. It can also be pan-fried in the form of small patties, similar to farçous.

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