A Walk on the Mild Side

  • © Sebastien Martin

    © Sebastien Martin

A Walk on the Mild Side

by Felicity Long

A Walk on the Mild Side An above-the-clouds exploration of Auvergne 
 We all have different definitions of comfortable shoes. For me, it means anything flat with laces and other than what’s in my gym bag, I don’t have too many of those. For the other hikers we encountered moving single file along the narrow summit of Puy de Sancy in France’s dramatic Auvergne, however, it clearly meant regulation hiking boots, combined with walking sticks sometimes one in each hand and serious expressions. The truth is, my interest in the village of Le Mont-Dore, the town about five miles from the mountain, was more about spas, dining and even a spot of shopping than treading on slippery rocks at the top of a 6,000-plus-foot volcanic mountain peak. That said, the “little walk,” which lasted about half a day, was nothing short of fabulous and has become, along with the aforementioned spas and restaurants, one of my favorite girlfriend getaway vacation activities of all time. For one thing, you only need a normal fitness level to negotiate the hike, thanks to a funicular at the base station that whisks hikers up the side of the mountain to a scenic narrow trail just wide enough to travel single file. Once there, the above-the-clouds view is dazzling, and the walk becomes just that, a walk along a green velvet path strewn with wildflowers without any vertical climbing. Eventually, the path widens and descends into a picturesque meadow dotted with horses and cattle, and it is here that my improper footwear, slippery against the rocky path, became a minor issue, but admittedly, one of my own making. One of the best things about accomplishing any sort of physical challenge is the reward afterward, and we soon found out that this region was bursting with possibilities. We paid homage to the spa culture that has flourished here since the Romans first discovered its thermal springs centuries ago by exploring the Old World Spa Thermal du Mont-Dore, situated in a historic monument. Visitors can take guided tours of the ornate interior or opt for one of the dozens of health treatments, all based around the healing volcanic waters of the area. In the village of La Bourboule, only about three miles away, the equally grand Grands Thermes de La Bourboule boasts waters said to help with respiratory problems, asthma and skin conditions. Most hotels in the area offer spa packages, we discovered, including ours, the charming, 42-room Belle Epoque Le Parc des Fées in La Bourboule. Of course, because this is France after all, we investigated the local restaurant scene, paying special attention to regional cheeses, most notably Saint-Nectaire, Blue d’Auvergne and Cantal, washed down with local Gamay and Chardonnay varietal wines. L’Amuse Bouche, also in La Bourboule, serves up traditional cuisine like foie gras and tiger shrimp from about 30 to 60 euros a person, while the Auberge des Skieurs focuses on regional specialties for a bargain 15 to 30 euros. As to shopping, alas, there wasn’t time, but we all know what was No. 1 on my list: a pair of new shoes. 


Hotel Le Parc des Fées, Quai Maréchal Fayolle, La Bourboule +33 4 7381 0177 www.parcdesfees.com

Thermes du Mont-Dore, BP 4063240 Le Mont-Dore +33 (0) 825 800 339 www.chainethermale.fr/cures/stations-thermales/le-mont-dore.html#station 

Grands Thermes de La Bourboule, 76 bd Georges Clemenceau BP 85-63150La Bourboule +33 (0)4 73 81 21 00 www.grandsthermes-bourboule.com

L'Amuse Bouche,15 rue des Frères Roziers 63150 La Bourboule +33(0)4 73 21 68 85 

Auberge des Skieurs, 7 rue Montlosier 63240 Le Mont-Dore +33(0)4 73 65 05 59