The Chaîne des Puys – Limagne fault tectonic arena, a UNESCO property
Why is this a site of major geological importance?
Did you know that the Chaîne des Puys-Limagne fault tectonic arena boasts no fewer than 80 volcanoes? And that these volcanoes are strung out along a 30-kilometre line just four kilometres wide?
This makes them an alignment of volcanoes found nowhere else in the world, which in 2018 was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites because of its exceptional value.
But what exactly does this complex set of volcanoes tell us about the history of our planet?
The Chaîne des Puys-Limagne fault is the result of an extraordinary phenomenon that brought about a major change in the geography of our planet : the break-up of the continents! Formed between just 95,000 and 8,400 years in response to the formation of the Alps, the Chaîne des Puys is young – very young!
And it is precisely its young age that enables us to examine in great detail the landscape it formed, since erosion has not had a major effect.
This is, in fact, the only place in the world that provides us with a clear illustration of the phenomenon known as “rifting”.
Flying over thses mountains in a microlight with Delta Dôme will immediately give you a clear idea of what this spectacular line of volcanoes looks like. Because from a bird’s-eye view, it’s striking just how the 80 summits are perfectly aligned with the Limagne Fault, which separates the Dômes Plateau from the Limagne Plain. This is where the Earth was literally torn open, allowing magma to rise to the surface to form the sleeping giants we see today.
An ocean in Terra Volcana?
Believe it or not, that is what would have happened if the break-up of the continents hadn’t been halted! But even without a sea of blue surrounding them, the view from the tops of these volcanoes is incredible!
In Terra Volcana, we look onto the north face of the Chaîne des Puys. And it’s actually at Châtel-Guyon that the Volcans d’Auvergne Regional Nature Park begins – France’s biggest nature park, which includes the Chaîne des Puys.
And then there is everything that this volcanic activity has brought to the area…
Off the top of our heads, there’s the thermal waters of the lovely spa town Châtel-Guyon, Volvic natural mineral water, our beautiful Volvic stone… and a vast range of outdoor sports and leisure activities!
To start you off, how about stretching your legs along the wooded slopes of the Puy de Louchadière, before climbing the twin cones of Puys de Jumes and Puy de la Coquille for views that will leave you open-mouthed.
Reaching the summit of the Puy des Gouttes is even more impressive, giving you one of the best panoramas in the whole of Auvergne : peak after peak laid out before you, stretching af far as the eye can see, from the legendary Puy de Dôme to the iconic Puy Pariou…
If you the want to dive in and experience a volcano, head for the Volcan de Lemptégy and Vulcania nearby, where you can get up close and personal with these giants.
Come with us and fly over a nest of volcanoes…
In 2018, the Chaîne des Puys and the Limagne Fault joined the island of the Réunion, the lagoons of New Caledonia and the Gulf of Porto in Corsica as France’s internationally recognised natural sites.
UNESCO’s World Heritage programme works to preserve these places of universal value so they can be passed on the future generations. And it is essential that we look after our volcanoes. So, when you come and climb these mountains to get close to their amazing craters, here are a few golden rules that every nature lover needs to keep in mind:
- Please keep to the waymarked paths. The fragile rock of the Chaîne des Puys is constantly being eroded. It is up to all of us to look after the flora and fauna that call these 80 volcanoes home...
- Picking protected flowers is prohibited in Auvergne. Instead, you can take a camera with you to capture their stunning colours to enjoy forever.
- Sustainability is the future! Please use reusable drinks bottles and lunchboxes rather than disposable ones. And be careful not to drop any litter. We owe that much to these wonderful volcanoes!
- Many of the meadows on the flanks of these volcanoes are on private land where vast herds sheeps and cows are grazed. Please keep them in mind as you explore, being careful not to get too close or disturb them. These animals can’t say thank you, but they’ll certainly be thinking it!
In the spotlight: The Volvic Impluvium
The Impluvium is an integral part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site here, 38km2 of lush green countryside that gives you rise to the famous natural mineral water of Volvic, the town from where you can access the many and varied activities on offer.
Here, you’ll find educational trails, a fitness trail with 12 illustrated workout stations, an orienteering course, and a brand-new footpath : the Sentier de l’Impluvium… In short, this is the perfect playground for anyone who is into outdoor sports and leisure activities!
If you’re interested in biodiversity, in the Volvic Quarries and Caves Nature Reserve you’ll be in seventh heaven, because the disused underground quarries here have been colonised by bats.
Home to some 500 individuals each winter, this is the largest bat hibernation site in Auvergne.
To complete the picture, there are 72 species of birds and 37 butterflies, making this place a haven for biodiversity. With no shortage of footpaths waiting to be explored!
Lastly if geology is your thing, you’ll make a beeline for the Impluvium, because it is here that Volvic stone is found.
From the Plateau de Viallard, you get a stunning view of the surrounding countryside and the Puys beyond…
And on a walk on the Puy de la Nugère you’ll see the old stone quarries that are an important part of our local heritage.
This lesser-known Puy is where the famous Volvic stone – or trachyandesite – was formed. Top hear the whole incredible story, why not go on a walk there with a mountain leader?