I’m never quite sure which destination appeals to me more: Cantal or Corsica. They are both mountainous and beautiful in their own way, but very different. Cantal, of course, is easier to get to, being only just over two hours’ drive away. Since we first discovered it in the early 1990s, we must have visited at least 15 times. This year, we’ve been fortunate enough to go twice: once in May and then last weekend.
The village of Thiézac, north of Aurillac in the stunning Cère Valley, has been our favourite stopping place for more than 20 years. The Hôtel l’Elancèze is simple but clean, serves good food and the staff are friendly and helpful.
Thiézac has changed over the years. Originally, the main road sliced through it, but a bypass was built in 1993 and it’s now much quieter. It’s also an excellent base for walking, since several good hikes start from the village itself. Others are easily accessible by car.
On our first day we decided to walk on the ridge opposite Thiézac, ending at the Plomb du Cantal (1,855 metres), an extinct volcano, which is the highest point in the Monts du Cantal. The walk started at this former buron, now a restaurant, where the cowherds lived and made Cantal cheese during the summer months.
About halfway along, on the Puy Gros, we came upon this primitive cross set in a walled enclosure. Rectangular blocks of stone had been placed in front of it to make a crude chapel.
The chapel, known as la Chapelle du Cantal, was founded in 1687. It was intended as a place of worship for the cowherds, since the nearest church was too far away. The chapel was in use until the Revolution, after which it fell into ruin. Once covered with lauzes (stone tiles), it also had a small bell tower. Every July, the “shepherds’ mass” is still celebrated there.
The path well trodden
Day 2 took us to the peak of l’Elancèze (1,571 metres), a walk we do almost every time we go. It’s a stiff climb, but worth it to picnic while enjoying the fabulous views over the Cère and Jordanne Valleys and the Monts du Cantal. In autumn you can hear stags bellowing in the woods (although, strangely, we didn’t this time). The trees were turning and we could see far into the distance.
Our last night was enlivened by traditional Auvergne country dancing. A coach party was staying at our hotel and the entertainment was laid on for their benefit, but our waiter said we were welcome to stay. In fact, the dances were very similar to those they do around here, to the tune of an accordion and a cabrette (a smaller version of bagpipes) and accompanied by much whooping and clattering of clogs.
The photos of the dancing aren’t brilliant but the lighting was too bright and it’s not easy to take shots of whirling figures. However, you can see the extravagant corsages sported by the women. There’s a story behind that, which I happened to know already.
La Reine Margot, who was married to Henri IV of France but was later estranged from him, had a reputation for loose morals. While staying at the Château de Carlat in 1585 (the area where we were staying is known as the Carladez), Margot was entertaining a new lover when the lords returned unexpectedly from hunting. In her haste, she put on her bodice the wrong way round, thus exposing her bosom. To cover herself, she stuffed a bouquet of flowers into her cleavage and started a new fashion for women in the area. The tradition has endured in the dancers’ costumes.
As ever, I felt a little wistful as we drove away the next day. But we intend to return in the spring.
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