Visiting Clermont-Ferrand without climbing the Puy de Dôme (1465m), the closest and highest peak of the Monts-Dômes, in the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne, would be like visiting Athens without seeing the Acropolis. And if you choose your moment – early in the morning or late in the evening – you can easily avoid the worst of the crowds. You can climb to the top of the puy (“peak”) in about an hour (2.3km) or take a rack railway, the Panoramique des Dômes, which brings you to the top in thirteen minutes.
The result of a volcanic explosion about ten thousand years ago, the Puy is a steep 400m from base to summit. Although the weather station buildings and enormous television mast are pretty ugly close up, the sense of airy elevation and the staggering views (as far as the Cantal mountains and even to Mont Blanc when conditions are favourable) more than compensate. The on-site café-bar is a great spot to watch paragliders jumping off from the summit, and you’ll also get a bird’s-eye view of the other volcanic summits to the north and south, largely forested and including the perfect, 100m-deep grassy crater of the Puy de Pariou.
Just below the summit are the scant remains of a substantial Roman temple, dedicated to the god Mercury, some of the finds from which are displayed in Clermont-Ferrand’s Musée Bargoin.