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Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d'Auvergne

The Auvergne’s most exhilarating views are among the volcanic cones, snow-lashed peaks and crater lakes of its Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans ( One of France’s largest regional natural parks at 3897 sq km, this photogenic section of the Massif Central mountains is a geological jigsaw of granite plateaus and glacier-sculpted valleys, puckered by dozens of sleeping volcanoes.

Outdoor exploration is the parc's main pursuit, with countless places to hike, bike and (snowfall permitting) ski. Quick to the rescue of stiff leg muscles are thermal spas, some with Roman origins. Farm-style cooking is another draw, especially when St-Nectaire and Salers cheeses are involved.

Regional history is also worthy of note. Fortifications such as Volvic's Château de Tournoël and epic Château de Murol bear witness to a battle-torn medieval past, while palatial spas and townhouses in Le Mont-Dore and La Bourboule were left behind by the 19th century's affluent leisure class.