Visit Cantal, France
With its deep wooded valleys, fast moving streams, and unspoiled towns and villages, Cantal is a rural department with much to offer the tourist seeking to explore France 'off the beaten track'.
Selected places to visit in Cantal
Cantal, Auvergne: an introduction
The Cantal department is in south-central France, in the Auvergne region.
Cantal towns and villages
Despite the low population in the cantal, there are several towns and many small villages to discover. Among the most interesting towns are those at Aurillac and the cathedral town of Saint-Flour (both Saint-Flour and Riom-es-Montagnes are listed as 'plus beaux detour' towns in Cantal). Others to consider include Mauriac, Maurs, Montsalvy and Pleaux (all four are officially listed as 'small towns of character').
The villages of Salers and Tournemire are both listed as among the 'most beautiful villages of France' (both are north of Aurillac). A couple of other suggested villages include Vieillevie, Mourjou and Marcoles - you will discover many others with their own appeal and characteristics as you explore.
Scenery in Cantal
Dominated by hills and mountains, part of the cantal department falls within the designated Natural Regional park of the Auvergne mountains, and - not surprisingly given the nature of the department - the most visited destination in Cantal is a scenic highlight - the Puy Mary, a mountain (altitude 1783 metres) in the Parc des Volcans which has very far-reaching views it is also one of a handful of sites listed as 'Grand sites of France'. Also within the peaks of the 'Monts du Cantal' the Plomb du Cantal (altitude 1855 metres) can be reached by cable-car (or on foot!) and offers fantastic views. Many other slightly lower peaks and passes between the hills also offer great scenery.
The gorges along the River Truyere are also very attractive, most often seen in the Cantal region near the Gabarit Viaduct, a wrought-iron bridge constructed by Gustave Eiffel in the 19th century and an attraction in itself.
One interesting tourist route through the north of the Cantal department and giving a good introduction to the characteristics of the region follows a circuit starting from Mauriac,then a stop at Champagnac-les-Mines to see the church, on to Bort-les-Orgues (and the view from the 'orgues de Bort'), then through Condat to Riom-es-Montagnes and back to Mauriac.
Important Cantal monuments
Among the most important castles in the department are the Chateau de Val and the Chateau Alleuze. Other castles popular with visitors include the Chateau d'Anjony (medieval castle near Tournemire), the Chateau de la Vigne (medieval castle-manor house at Ally) and the Chateau de Pesteils (attractive castle at Polminhac with asscoiated parks and gardens to visit).
Among the religious monuments, the cathedral at Saint Flour is the most visited. several interesting roman style churches can be seen in the department - the Church of Saint-Leger at Cheylade is especially noteworthy because it has a remarkable painted ceiling. (If visiting the Roman church at Massiac also take the excursion to the Chapel Sainte-Madeleine, above all for the lovely setting).
Activities and leisure
The nature of the department means that outdoor activities are the key pursuit among visitors, and there are many opportunities within Cantal for hiking (both long-distance paths and short local trails, cycling (on road and off road), horse-riding, fishing, canoeing etc.
During the winter skiing is available at the higher altitudes (eg around Puy Mary) - Super Lioran (at Le Lioran below the Plomb du Cantal) is the most important winter resort. Want something less active? Perhaps head towards Chaudes-Aigues for one of the hottest spa treatments in France (the water emerges from the ground at temperatures up to 82 centigrade!).
See a list of all Cantal communes
Map of Cantal
French version: Cantal (Francais)