Allier: tourism and sightseeing

Photo of Allier in France

Visit Allier, France

A largely rural area neglected by many visitors to France, Allier has a unique quiet charm with unspoiled medieval villages, castles and historic towns against a scenic backdrop of hills, rivers and farmland

Allier visitor guide

The Allier department is in central France, towards the north of the Auvergne region and including the northern edge of the Massif Central. Our review of the highlights of the department bis broadly divided into north and south to help with your travel planning.

Places to visit in Allier with reviews from France This Way

Below you can see a description of Allier and its highlights. For details of each place (town, village, attraction...) that we have reviewed see places to visit in Allier.

Allier travel guide and highlights

South Allier

The town of Vichy, still best known for its role as the base for the Vichy Government during the Second World War, is towards the south-east of the Allier department and now attracts visitors principally due to its role as a spa town.

Saint Pourcain sur SiouleAbout 20 kilometres west of Vichy the small village at Charroux is officially listed as one of 'the most beautiful villages in France' and is very pleasant to explore with the curious feature that the centre of the village is a grassy courtyard rather than a car park!

North-west of Vichy we suggest you take a stroll around the quiet town of Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule which has some historical buildings of interest, and the small medieval village at Verneuil-en-Bourbonnais is among our favourites in the Allier.

At the town of Lapalisse to the north-east of Vichy you can visit the Chateau de la Palice, an impressive castle dating from the 13th-17th centuries.

Other highlights in southern Allier include the old village at the heart of Ebreuil; the medieval Abbey of Saint-Vincent, in a picturesque setting at Chantelle; and the small village at Arronnes.

Scenic highlights

Some of the most attractive scenery in the southern Allier can be seen to the west of Charroux, along the Gorges de Chouvigny which follow the course of the Sioule river, with a visit to the villages of Charroux and Ebreuil.

 
 

North Allier

MoulinsTowards the north of the Allier the cathedral town of Moulins is the 'capital' of the department, and nearby Souvigny is also worth a detour, principally to see the priory and churches in the town.

Just north of here we enjoyed exploring the classified 'remarkable garden' called the Arboretum de Balaine which covers an extensive area and is laid out quite informally around a (rather modest) chateau.

To the south-east of Moulins you can argue with the children about whether you should visit the wildlife and theme park of Le PAL at Dompierre-sur-Besbre or the attractive castles nearby: the Chateau de Thoury and the Chateau de Beauvoir. I'm guessing the elephants and park rides will win over renaissance architecture and attractive gardens but I recommend the castles anyway!

The medieval centre of Montlucon (west of the Allier department), and the Chateau des Ducs de Bourbon in the town are also recommended, while to the north-east of Montlucon you can visit the village of Herisson.

Herisson

The ruined castle at Herisson is one of the most dramatic of the castles in the Allier, while the Chateau d'Avrilly to the east of here at Trevol and surrounded by moats and extensive parkland, dates from the 15th century.

The spa town of Neris-les-Bains is just a short distance south-east of Montlucon and contains some architecture of the belle-epoque style (as do many spa towns in France).

The small village of Huriel to the east of Montlucon has a medieval fortified tower and a church that will be of interest to enthusiasts of romanesque style architecture.

Scenic highlights

The north of the department includes the 'bocage Bourbonnais' region (named after the historical Bourbon region) and is a an area of woodlands, quiet farms in the countryside, and small fields separated by traditional hedgerows, perfect for exploring by bike. The Castle of Bourbon-l'Archambault, whose substantial ruins dominate the village of the same name, falls within this area.

Further to the north-west of Allier, the Troncais Forest (predominantly oak trees) around Isle-et-Bardais covers approximately 100 square kilometres and offers attractive opportunities for hiking, with several lakes and springs to discover in the forest as well as some very old oak trees. The medieval centre of Ainay-le-Chateau here is also pleasant to explore.

Other information

Note: the Allier river itself crosses much of the Auvergne region, and the Allier gorges are a particular scenic highlight, but the gorges themselves are in the Haute-Loire department...

See also:

Map of Allier and places to visit

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More information

See more places, tourist attractions and local markets at visiting Allier

See an index of all Allier communes

French version: Allier (Francais)