The most dramatic approach to Clermont-Ferrand is from the Aubusson road or along the scenic rail line from Le Mont-Dore, both of which cross the chain of the Monts-Dômes just north of the Puy de Dôme. Descending through the leafy western suburbs, you get marvellous views of the black towers of the cathedral, which sits atop the volcanic stump that forms the hub of the old town.

Although its location is magnificent, almost encircled by the wooded and grassy volcanoes of the Monts-Dômes, in the twentieth century the town was a typical smokestack industrial centre, the home base of Michelin tyres. Today, however, focusing on the service industries and with two universities, Clermont-Ferrand is very different. Many of the old factories have been demolished, avenues have widened for tramways, and derelict blocks have become shopping malls. As a result, the old centre has a surprisingly hip and youthful feel, with cafés on the central place de Jaude – well placed for the morning sun – often full of students taking advantage of the free wi-fi offered around the square; come evening, nearby pavement bars fill up as the city’s boutiques and galleries shut up shop for the day.

Brief history

Clermont-Ferrand’s roots, both as a spa and a communications and trading centre, go back to Roman times. It was just outside the town, on the plateau of Gergovia to the south, that the Gauls, under Vercingétorix, won their only victory against Julius Caesar’s invading Romans. In the Middle Ages, the rival towns of Clermont and Montferrand were ruled respectively by a bishop and the count of Auvergne. Louis XIII united them in 1630, but it was not until the rapid industrial expansion of the late nineteenth century that the two really became indistinguishable.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

France features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Why you should go back to Paris in 2017

Why you should go back to Paris in 2017

There’s nowhere else quite like Paris. No other city can match the allure of its rooftop vistas, café-lined boulevards and striking monuments. Paris’s abil…

11 May 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
Video: a 1 minute guide to France

Video: a 1 minute guide to France

There's little wonder that the land of châteaux, Champagne and croissants regularly tops lists of the world's most visited countries. France beguiles travell…

28 Apr 2017 • Colt St. George videocam Video
24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month