Our motorhome journey took us next to St Flour in the Auvergne, a two tiered town with a lower more modern town and historic medieval town sitting on the top of the volcanic hill like a cherry on a cake. We had chosen to park in the aire in the old town, travelling through the lower part, up the hill past the basalt lava columns and into a large, leafy area which looked perfect. Parking up in the early evening however, we found that there were several souped up cars surrounded by loitering teenagers and we got the distinct impression that this peaceful looking parking spot was soon going to become alive with noisy boy racers showing off their moves and revving their engines. Having experienced this type of night before we made the instant decision to move on and go to the parking area down at the bottom of the town instead.
Locating the motorhome parking place next to a small stream and with a lovely view of the now lit up town perched up on the rocky spur above we felt much more comfortable, put on our thermal screen and settled down for the evening. All was well until what seemed like the middle of the night when we were suddenly jolted awake at the sound of horrendous rumbling noises all around us. Totally confused thinking it must be thunder, peering out the window revealed a large coach parked opposite dropping off about 50 youngsters who had presumably been on some sort of trip, dragging their suitcases past the front of our motorhome to their waiting parents parked nearby in their cars. So much for a more peaceful spot!
Waking up in the morning, not exactly feeling refreshed, we were engulfed in cloud and a not so balmy 12 degrees so we put the heating on, had breakfast, dressed and got ready to go, driving Buzz back up to the top car park so we could explore the old town. Gingerly stepping out of the motorhome, the air felt uncomfortably cold and a bitter wind whipped around us blowing leaves around our ankles.
A lot of the medieval town buildings have been built with black lava rock resulting in a bit of a dull effect, especially on a dull day! It wasn’t long before we realised the streets were pretty much deserted and looking in the shop windows we soon realised that in this particular town everything was closed on a Monday which combined with the miserable weather made everything feel a bit lacking. That’s not to say we didn’t notice some of its redeeming features such as a pretty street with a collection of metalwork birds scattered all along its length, the brightly painted shutters and the character of the old buildings. There are a couple of anicent stone gateways in the town, one of which is the Gate Thuile. Walking through the gate we came across a monument to honour the French poet Camille Gandilhon Gens d’Armes who wrote the poem ‘La Cite du Vent’ – City of wind – which we thought highly appropriate on this particularly gusty day!
In the centre of the town at the Place d’Armes we came across the 15th century twin towered gothic cathedral of St Pierre, the highest cathedral in Europe at almost 900m above sea level. Dark and almost mysterious on the outside it gives a strong impression and once inside the darkness continues, the minimal light inside due to the lack of windows, a deliberate design choice to help protect the building in its high, exposed position from the harshness of winter. Inside there is a ‘Black Christ’, also known as ‘Beautiful Black God’, a large statue of Christ on the cross created in dark walnut wood. Right next door to the tourist office there is a viewpoint behind the Alfred Douet museum of art and history where you can see far reaching, panoramic views to the east of the town.
Moving the motorhome once more, we drove back down the hill and parked in the lower town deciding that it would be wrong not to have a quick look around here too before we left and we’re glad we did. The lower town sits along the Alder River and has a charming old bridge (Pont Vieux) and a newer bridge crossing it either side of the Saint Christine Church and a picturesque view back up to the old town.
Our visit to St Flour turned out to be much briefer than we had expected, mainly because of the weather. We had also intended to stay and explore the beautiful countryside on the outskirts of the town but decided to give it a miss and move on. The empty roads, closed shops and grey skies didn’t really leave us with a good impression and we must admit we scooted through the streets quickly, not wanting to hang about because we just couldn’t get a feel for the place which was a real shame because we could both imagine that in different circumstances we would have loved it.