Cantal: tourism & sightseeing
Visit Cantal (Auvergne, France)Car Hire Villas
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'.
The Cantal department is situated in the Auvergne region of south-central France and within the Massif Central. The centre and north of the department are an area of 'medium' mountains within the Regional Natural Park of the Volcanoes of Auvergne and the Monts du Cantal, while the rest of the region is mostly still quite hilly.
While it is the higher regions that attract the most visitors, in particular outdoor enthusiasts, there is a great deal to discover and enjoy throughout Cantal.
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.
We have divided the department into three regions below to help with your travel plans: north and central Cantal in the mountainous region; the south-east around Saint-Flour and the south-west around Aurillac.
Central and northern Cantal
Dominated by hills and mountains, this part of the Cantal department falls within the designated Natural Regional park of the Auvergne mountains.
Not surprisingly given the natural environment the most visited destination in Cantal is a scenic highlight - the Puy Mary which is a mountain (altitude 1783 metres) in the Parc des Volcans which has very far-reaching views and 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 town of Murat is in the heart of the Monts du Cantal region and as well as some historic buildings it also has some very impressive views across the surrounding hills.
A good introduction to the towns in this region is Riom-es-Montagnes which has an 11th century church and is well placed to see the countryside. West of here the town of Mauriac is another very typical Auvergne town, especially the 12th century basilica which is in a distinctive style you will see several times as you explore the region.
One recommended tourist route through north Cantal and giving a good introduction to 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.
The villages of Salers and Tournemire south-east of Riom-es-Montagnes towards Aurillac both developed around medieval castles and are both listed among the 'most beautiful villages of France' and very pleasant to explore.
The medieval Chateau d'Anjony is a medieval castle with a massive donjon and towers near Tournemire, and further west the village of Pléaux also has several medieval buildings to explore in its picturesque centre.
One very unexpected highlight as you explore is the small roman style Church of Saint-Leger at Cheylade. Not particularly remarkable from the outside, the inside of the church is especially noteworthy because it has a remarkable painted ceiling made up of hundreds of small individual painted blocks of wood.
Other castles of interest include the Chateau de la Vigne, a medieval castle-manor house at Ally to the west. To the far north of Cantal the Chateau de Val (at Lanobre) is a medieval castle on the edge of a lake and among the most interesting castles in Cantal.
During the winter skiing is available at the higher altitudes (usually around Puy Mary) and Super Lioran (situated at Le Lioran below the Plomb du Cantal) is the most important winter resort.
Saint-Flour and south-east Cantal
The principal monument of interest in Saint-Flour is the cathedral, the most visited religious monument in the department, and there are various other notable buildings in the historic centre.
The gorges along the River Truyere are also very attractive, most often seen in the Cantal department close to the Garabit Viaduct, a wrought-iron bridge constructed by Gustave Eiffel in the 19th century and an attraction in itself.
The imposing Chateau Alleuze is also in the Gorges de Truyere region, with its substantial ruins standing on a hilltop at Alleuze.
At Massiac to the north-east of this region there is a pleasant small village with a roman style church: if visiting Massiac be sure to also take the excursion to the Chapel Sainte-Madeleine, a small 12th century chapel in a lovely setting on the edge of a raised plateau with far-reaching views.
If you prefer to do something less active during your visit you can visit Chaudes-Aigues to the south-west of Saint-Flour for one of the hottest spa treatments in France: the water emerges from the ground at temperatures up to 82 centigrade.
Aurillac and south-west Cantal
The capital of the department is the town of Aurillac which has a very pleasant old town to explore containing various buildings of historical interest and a wide selection of shops.
We also recommend a detour to see Laroquebrou to the west of Aurillac, another village overlooked by an imposing medieval castle and in a picturesque riverside setting.
Further south, the small town of Maurs is, like many towns in the region, centred around its church and also has a small historic old-town to explore.
The Chateau de Pesteils, built and developed over several centuries, is a substantial castle at Polminhac with associated parks and gardens to visit, and one of the most impressive castles in Cantal.
You will find several small villages close to here that merit exploring such as Mourjou and Marcoles. In Montsalvy there is a short marked trail around the village that presents all the most important landmarks and is a pleasant way to explore, and in scenic Vieillevie you can also see a castle and church.
Although we mention various villages above that we have visited or have been recommended to us you will discover many others with their own appeal and characteristics as you explore.
Both Saint-Flour and Riom-es-Montagnes are listed as 'plus beaux detour' towns in Cantal, that is, towns that are officially recognised as good places to stop and visit or stay overnight.
Map of Cantal and places nearby
See more places, tourist attractions and local markets at visiting Cantal
See an index of all Cantal communes
French version: Cantal (Francais)