Le Puy-en-Velay in Auvergne is a peaceful and religious haven in an ancient volcanic landscape that is famous for its statue of Our Lady of France who looks down over the city.
On arrival in Le Puy-en-Velay, it is impossible to miss the town's most famous symbol - the statue of the Virgin Mary with child, known as Our Lady of France. Created by the sculptor Jean-Marie Bonnassieux, the cast iron statue was inaugurated in 1860 and weighs in at 110 tonnes, standing 22.7m high on its pedestal. A place of spiritual discovery and relaxation, Le Puy-en-Velay is generally considered the starting point of the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route following the Via Podiensis route down through Conques, Mossiac and Osabat to the Spanish border. The city is built in an area of ancient volcanic activity that has produced a fascinating landscape of basalt rock and dormant volcanoes. In more recent times, Le Puy-en-Velay has become known for its traditional lacemaking industry which it continues to keep alive today with the National Conservatory of Lacemaking and the Education Centre of Lace. Much of the upper town is protected by UNESCO and the cathedral, built on Mount Anis, is a UNESCO-listed monument. Renovated in the 19th century and restored in the late 1990s, the Le Puy-en-Velay cathedral has one of the most beautiful Romanesque cloisters in Europe and the treasury contains embroidered vestments and devotional paintings dating from the 15th to 19th century. The Hôtel-Dieu, which once received pilgrims and cared for the poor, is now an interactive museum with heritage workshops for kids.
Fancy getting hands-on with lacemaking, then why not try a workshop at the Educational Centre of Lace which also does distance learning courses for people in France and abroad? Buy the materials you need, or, if you just want to appreciate the fine craftsmanship then take a tour of the showroom where the theme changes each year - past shows have featured religious lace and royal white lace. The Crozatier museum contains collections dedicated to just about everything from fine arts to ethnology, and from paleontology to mineralogy. Get out and about in the countryside with cycle paths, nature trails and mountain biking routes weaving through country roads, tiny villages and wonderful valleys. Climb up the 82m high ancient volcano chimney atop which resides the chapel of St Michel d'Aiguilhe by walking up the 268 steps to the summit. Nearby, in the heart of the Borne valley, is the Sanctuary of St Joseph of Good Hope. Constructed on the site of a former castle chapel in 1918, it is overshadowed by a 22.4m tall reinforced concrete statue of the saint who was inaugurated in 1910. If you take the trek up to Durande, the highest point in the district at 1299m high, it is well worth the effort for a stunning panoramic view of this incredible landscape. Le Puy-en-Velay is a crossroads for several walking routes but its most famous is the GR40, also called the Tour des Volcans du Velay, which offers a fantastic 9-day 182km loop that takes you through the best of this volcanic countryside. The GR65 will take you along the ancient route of Via Podiensis. With the Limagne Marsh an important ecosytem of various flora and the beautiful Beaume waterfall making a deep cut into the basalt rock before dropping 27m below in an area of craggy forest that is full of animal life, Le Puy-en-Velay has much to offer those with a yearning to explore.
Celebrate the Middle Ages with the Festival of the Bird King every third weekend of September, a huge Renaissance fayre with thousands of costumed performers and local residents who spend the weekend in tented camps reenacting battles, making traditional crafts, and recreating medieval daily life. The festival stems from an age-old archery tournament which continues at the fayre today whilst, in the city, troubadours, acrobats, jugglers and more take to the streets. Le Puy-en-Velay is also famous for its celebration of the Jubilee when the Annunciation of Mary falls on Good Friday - after this last occurred in 2016, there will be a wait of 100 years before the next one. Wander through the streets full of small shops selling local produce, and, in particular, don't miss out on Le Puy-en-Velay's best known local specialities, Le Puy green lentils which have AOC status and are known for their unique peppery taste, and a local green-coloured alcoholic drink called liquer de Verveine that contains verbena and a mix of over 30 other herbs which is said to have digestive properties.
Holidays in France
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