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journey to the heart of the Small Character Towns of Cantal

Character? They have these emblematic villages of Cantal, nestled in the heart of the largest volcano in Europe. Discreet and secret, they intrigue. Historical and authentic, they deserve to be visited. From Murat to La Roquebrou: follow the guide.

For this second part of the journey to the heart of the Small Towns of Character from Auvergne, towards Cantal. Marriage of mountain and countryside landscapes, sometimes tinged with colors of the South: these Small Towns of Character of Cantal [1] have something to like. To appeal to nature lovers. Featured are the summits of Cantal: Puy Mary, Grand Site de France, and Plomb du Cantal. Pleasing foodies. Cantal is one of the five Auvergne PDOs (along with Salers, Bleu d’Auvergne, Saint-Nectaire and Fourme d’Ambert); to be enjoyed at the tables of starred chefs Serge Viera (Chaudes-Aigues) and Renaud Darmanin (Marcolès), like the chestnut, the other emblem; as for the truffade, it is the standard-bearer of this small land of delights. This is enough to make you want to take the direction of Cantal, far from imagining that while crossing it, treasures of villages invite you to stay there.

Murat, the city of art

On the Clermont-Ferrand/Aurillac train line, obligatory stop at Murat to taste the vibrant life of one of the oldest towns in Cantal (270 AD). Murat Town Hall

Countryside and mid-mountain atmosphere (1000 m altitude), and immersed in history with its medieval and Renaissance houses built in lava stone, and its s7 sites listed as Historic Monuments. Its particularity, visible from the start? Its 3 basalt rocks: Bredons and its priory church, Good life with its monumental virgin and its basalt organs, Chastel-sur-Murat and its Saint-Antoine chapel. You go up there by paths from the heart of the village which contains other treasures: its master craftsmen, between tradition and innovation. Starting with Valéry Besse, creator of the “Le Murat” knife; beyond a kitchen utensil, a work of art that we would like to have at our table to cut local cheese and other sweets. A few steps away, Amandine Tardieu-Chabalier makes traditional Auvergnat jewellery: the Holy Spirit, once offered to the young bride on her wedding day; in the spotlight during the Festival of Crafts (August).

Our advice : stay in Murat to explore each treasure. It takes at least two days, if not three, to discover Murat: its heritage, its men and women, opt for a guided tour, stroll around and then stop off at the market. Finally, treat yourself to a break in the mountains: the Lioran resort is located 15 minutes away.

Menet with a Heart of Stone

A postcard: a village surrounded by fields and a gentle mountain, and bordered by a sparkling natural lake. City of the Regional Park of the Volcanoes of Auvergne, Menet is nestled at the foot of the Puy de Menoire occupied since the Bronze Age. Town hall of Menet

It is called “Menet la Blanche” in view of its geology, and its tradition of stonemasons (“Men” meaning stone). Menet has a wide variety of stones (trachyte, phonolite, tuff of Broc) exploited since Antiquity for construction, which gives the city all its beauty. A tradition of stonemasons that continues through its International stone symposium which brings together sculptor artists from all continents every summer for the creation of works; some of these works found on the aptly named “sculpted stone trail”. Note that Menet is at the heart of the gentian country ; you can savor the nectar of the same name (in moderation but with delight).

Our advice : take the path of sculpted stones. A shaded 3km course offering a very beautiful view of the village and the lake and enhanced by sculpted stone works. The path to the citadel and the interpretive trail around Lake Menet also offer beautiful walks between nature and culture.

Marcolès, the heart of the Cantal chataigneraie

Lunch at the Auberge de la Tour, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Marcolès, is a privilege to treat yourself to on the way. Laure Bechade / Le Figaro

Stroll through the “quarries”, the small alleys sheltering craftsmen and typical houses: the best way to discover Marcolès. /

Arrive at Marcoles welcomed and picked up by the sweet fragrance of lime trees. It is good to stroll through the “quarries” (cobbled streets in Occitan) of this circular city with granite houses whose Roman roofs evoke the South more than the Auvergne; stroll on sight, following the rosebushes adorning the Renaissance buildings, or the brand new route dotted with 16 useful information panels to discover the history and spirit of this small city with a very frank character. When you come to Marcolès, you activate airplane mode. The silence is golden and contrasts nicely with the intense artisanal activity that makes the heart of this village beat, which in the 16th century became “a good town in France”, a trading city. The potter, the blacksmith, the mead producer, the market gardener and the clog maker settled there out of love, for the village itself, in order to practice their art and embrace its way of life.

Our advice : stay at the Auberge de la Tour, a starred institution. A former coaching inn today a four-star hotel and gastronomic table. “Take local products, add the noble and rustic chestnut, mix with a good dose of commitment to flowers, bees, wild herbs and nature… season according to the seasons” : the note is given by chef Renaud Darmanin. Cantal and Salers take pride of place at breakfast, as this is AOP land.

Pleaux the elegant

Pleaux has a remarkable concentration of mansions, mansions, houses with towers, in basalt, granite and slate roofs. Adobe Stock

Change of scenery to enter a small city that shines with its beautifully preserved 15th, 16th and 17th century tower houses, which many of us have already dreamed of owning. Nobility of this land of castles. Between the Dordogne and Maronne valleys, Pleaux is an old bastide where there is indeed a remarkable (and unique) concentration of mansionscountry houses, tower houses, in basalt, granite and slate roofs. Stroll in the rue d’Empeyssine to secretly dream of one day living in one of these beautiful residences. Elegance also on the countryside side in the surrounding hamlets which reveal an equally remarkable little heritage: chapels, ovens, mills, dovecotes, crosses… Pleaux is also a reference in terms of ecotourism (labeled Green Station) and the starting point of pretty hikes in the heart of the Xaintrieland of transition between the Monts du Cantal and the Plateaux du Limousin.

A tip: discover Pleaux on the nature side. A generous countryside, castles on the right and on the left, picturesque gorges (La Maronne), dams and Lac d’Enchanet: to be discovered by walking on the marked hiking trails (yellow, green, blue) from Pleaux .

La Roquebrou, a castle and secrets

La Roquebrou is nicknamed “the gateway to the south”, nestled under a promontory dominating the entrance to the Gorges de la Cère, with a castle dominating in beauty. Laure Béchade / Le Figaro

To get a nice glimpse of it, you have to cross its bridge dating from the 13th century, and admire for a moment the interplay of mirrors with the river (the Cère). Immediately, we want to go up to see his castle (de Montal) built in the year 1000 and beautifully preserved; poets, troubadours and musicians stayed there. Up there, we go back in time. From up there, you can make out the alleys where potters, tanners and shoemakers worked, and where you can stroll along the Negrerieu (small crossing stream). In front sits a virgin. Below is erected a mysterious house on the side of a rock. the chicken house “: it would have housed the many mistresses of the Lords of Montal. Laroquebrou which also slums in mid-August each year with the largest boogie woogie festival in the world !

An advice :climb to the castle at sunsetand treat yourself to a guided tour on Wednesday evening. Another unmissable stop: Lake St-Etienne-Cantalès (4.4 km away); the largest artificial lake in Auvergne is a great place for swimming and leisure.

Last favorite step

(I miss THE photo but I send it to you; another one is waiting)

A little further Trizac, is not a city of character but known for its treasure: “The Garage”. For all those who want to taste a homemade truffade, THE culinary specialty of Cantal, this is the best address. “A dish that we eat on all occasions of life” as Dominique Peythieu says, in the kitchen since 2009 after transforming the family garage into a beautiful and good restaurant. And before sitting down to eat, why not get into the saddle for a one-hour horseback ride with Céline Burgaud who runs a national stud farm in Triziac. Another way to discover the character of Cantal, on a mount and in the heart of its nature.

[1] Small Towns of Character: the association was born in 1975 from the desire to bring together a network of small villages with a remarkable heritage and wishing to preserve it, in a logic of tourist development but above all of revitalization of the territory.

Practical notebook


To Murat

“Le Murat” cutlery, 28 rue Porte Saint-Esprit, 15300 Murat, Tel. : 04 71 20 14 82.

“Orandine” jewelry store, 9 Rue Saint-Martin, 15300 Murat, Tel. : 04 71 20 08 68.

“Aux Cornets de Murat” pastry shop, Town Hall Square; 15300 Murat. Such. : 04 71 20 04 48.

“Le Cellier de la Marmotte”, Maison de Goûter and handicraft store, 15 place Marchande, 15300 Murat. Such. : 06 87 43 89 86.

“Barn of the Upper Valley” (Auvergne cheeses), Pignou, 15300 Murat. Such. : 06 81 02 72 85.

To Marcoles

Auberge de la Tour, gourmet restaurant by chef Renaud Darmanin (1 star) and four-star hotel, Place de la Fontaine, 15220 Marcolès. Such. : 04 71 46 99 15

“À la Clairière”, Guest house and Cucina Italiana, at Camilla and Alessandro Battistel Laveissière, Lieu-dit La veissière, 15220 Marcolès. Such. : 09 50 30 08 03

“La Galoche du Cantal”, La Grange Suc 2 Faubourg Haut, 15220 Marcolès. Such. : 04 71 47 35 37

“The workshop of the two Lands”, Long Street, 15220 Marcolès. Such. : 06 28 19 75 26

“Saboterie Les Esclops”, Tustalou, 15220 Marcolès. Such. : 06 09 98 01 50

“Apis Terrae”, mead producer in Le Cassagnol, 15220 Marcolès. Such. : 06 59 22 49 50.

To Menet

“Pierre de Menet” association,

Lac de Menet**** holiday village, La Grangeoune, 15400 Menet. Such. : 06 42 04 85 37.

At La Roquebrou

Epicerie du Roquet (Salaisons), 15 avenue des plane trees, 15150 La Roquebrou. Such. : 04 71 46 00 07.

Maison Servant et Fils (Salaisons) Rue de la Trémolière, 15150 La Roquebrou. Such. : 04 71 46 00 27.

Maison Brunhes (Salaisons) 22 avenue des plane trees, 15150 La Roquebrous. Such. : 04 71 46 00 13.

Gîte la Colombine (typical half-timbered house), Merle district, 15150 La Roquebrou. Such. : 06 63 04 79 00.

International boogie-woogie festival:

In Pleaux

Les Ombrages (Charming guest house), rue d’Empeyssine, 15700 Pleaux. Such. : 04 71 40 47 66.

In Trizac

Restaurant Le Garage, 2 route de Mauriac, 15400 Trizac. Such. 04 71 78 60 79.


Small towns of character:

Cantal Destination:

Highlands Tourism (Murat) Tel. : 04 71 20 09 47.

Cantal Chestnut Tourist Office (La Roquebrou and Marcolès). Such. : 04 71 46 94 82.

Pays de Gentiane Tourist Office (Menet). Such. : 04 71 78 07 37.

Pays de Salers Tourist Office (Pleaux). Such. : 04 71 40 58 08.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Tourism:


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