‘All holidays need luxury and I got it’

Jeff visits Gour de Tazenat, a volcanic lake in the Auvergne region of France

Jeff visits Gour de Tazenat, a volcanic lake in the Auvergne region of France

Rail boss Andrew Haines tokes notes from commuter Ron Mai on the 6.19am train from Portsmouth Harbour

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It’s one of the least populated areas in Europe, let alone France.

But what it lacks demographically, it certainly makes up for in charm.

The Auvergne is a truly beautiful and unique part of central France – a land of volcanoes, crater lakes, pretty chateaux, medieval cobbled streets, and a very famous spring water.

All non-geologist holidaymakers will be glad to know the last volcanic eruption was 6,000 years ago.

But evidence of its volcanic past is everywhere – from the breathtaking green peaks that resemble something from Jurassic Park, to the black stone architecture of historic cities like Clermond-Ferrand.

Auvergne is also home to the Michelin tyre – and this is where my trip started, at the Michelin Adventure museum.

Adventurous it was not, but certainly an interesting insight into transport history.

After a brief dalliance with urban life in Clermond-Ferrand, it was a car journey into the heart of rural idyll to a 14th century castle.

Des Rose et Des Tours is run by charming couple, Christiane and Gérard, who have turned their rustic castle into a low-key guest house and wedding venue.

Christiane is an accomplished cook and our party enjoyed a hearty meal, washed down with delicious local red wine. Her creamy potato pie was so good I had to ask her for the recipe.

My room was at the top of the castle. Waking up and opening those window shutters – with not a sound other than the birds – gave me that comforting holiday feeling.

My trip to the Vulcania Visitor Centre was one of the highlights of my getaway.

It’s fun for all the family, with interactive displays, exciting rides and a large meteor from outer space on display.

You could spend all day there and not get bored.

All holidays need a bit of luxury and I certainly got that when I spent a night at Le Chateau la Caniere hotel, a converted castle that offers five-star accommodation.

The biggest downside about going to this romantic, opulent place is knowing you have to leave.

But my depression was short-lived when I saw a 1968 Mustang waiting for me at the door as I checked out.

Our party went on a whistle-stop tour of the countryside in the classic car, run by Michel Treille, who runs Classicaraverne.

Memorable stops included the stunning River Sioule at Queuille, the pretty medieval village of Charroux, and the Saint-Pourcain vineyard, one of the oldest vineyards in France. I even got to drive the car for some of the journey.

Then it was on to Vichy. Think Bath, but Gallic.

It’s an elegant town with new pleasures on every street corner, whether it be opera houses, casinos, Byzantine monuments, or spring water spas.

My stay in the maritime-themed room of the guest house, La Demeure d’Hortense, was wonderful.

My final adventure was a visit to Volvic, which is known in French as the ‘town of stone and water’.

With unspoilt countryside for miles around, the purity of the water is undeniable.

It wouldn’t have been a trip to France without gastronomic pleasure and I would recommend Saint Sebastien’s Farm at Charroux. It’s one of many fantastic restaurants in this region offering lovely local meats and cheeses.

The Auvergne really does offer something for everyone.

A hire car would come in very handy to appreciate its real beauty as there’s so much to see.

ESSENTIALS

Flybe flies between Southampton Airport and Clermont-Ferrand three times per week between May and September, from £79 one way. Visit flybe.com

Prices are £77 per room, based on two sharing, at Rose and Towers hotel in Saint-genes-du-retz. Call +33 (0)4 73 63 68 08 or email christiane.greffier@orange.fr

A night at the Chateua La Caniere starts from £146 per room. Visit chateau-la-caniere.com

A stay at the La Demeure d’Hortense guest house in Vichy is around £90 per room. Call +33 (0)4 70 96 73 66 or visit demeure-hortense.fr

Vulcania Visitor Centre opens between 10am and 6pm during summer months and costs from £17 per adult and £12 per child. Visit vulcania.com

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