The Route of the Water Cities of Massif Central


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© Pixabay CC

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 13 March 2023, updated on 15 April 2024

The Route des Villes d'Eaux du Massif Central brings together 17 water towns spread over 4 regions and 8 French departments. You will find the rolling hills of the Bourbonnais to the gorges of the Ardèche and the Cévennes, the green hills of the Creuse to the volcanoes of the Auvergne and the Aubrac plateau, in the heart of the Hexagon

First step : The Morvan (Burgundy)

  • Saint-Honoré-les-Bains

It is the only "Ville d'Eaux" of the Nièvre. With its majestic "1900" thermal baths, located in the heart of the thermal park, and its numerous villas with eclectic styles, it constitutes the archetype of the "Belle Epoque" resort.

  • Bourbon-Lancy

In Southern Burgundy and in the immediate vicinity of the Auvergne, the small town of Bourbon-Lancy leads its visitors into a universe that pleasantly mixes styles and eras. From the medieval district to the 19th century thermal baths, passing by the 18th century castles, everything here is a pretext to travel in time...

Second step : Bourbonnais (Auvergne)

  • Bourbon-l'Archambault

Former capital of the Dukes of Bourbons in the Middle Ages, the small town of Bourbon-l'Archambault has kept the atmosphere of this period, typical of the places that knew the rich hours of history, and has one of the most beautiful thermal baths in Europe, classified as a historical monument.

  • Vichy

Vichy, the queen of the spa towns, owes a lot to Emperor Napoleon III who came here for five cures between 1861 and 1865 and who favored the emergence of the most remarkable thermal heritage of the entire Massif Central: thermal baths, of course, but also a Palais des Congrès-Opéra, eclectic villas, large hotels, two casinos, a racecourse, two golf courses... not to mention 150 hectares of parkland linking the Emperor's chalets to the pavilion of the famous Célestins spring.

  • Neris-les-Bains

If Neris' thermalism dates back to the Romans, as shown by many vestiges scattered throughout the city, Neris-les-Bains combines today the charm and the heritage of the "Villes d'Eaux".

Proud of its "Belle Epoque", the small spa town of Allier has preserved its 19th century thermal baths, parks, Italian theater, casino and even an emblematic train station, recently converted into a conference center.

Third step : The Combrailles

  • Evaux-les-Bains (Limousin)**

In Evaux-les-Bains, well known for its Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul abbey church, the thermal tradition goes back to the Romans. The town has kept some vestiges of these ancient times, including an ancient circular pool, before the construction of the Grand Hôtel Thermal in 1831, now connected to a modern thermal establishment, entirely rebuilt in 2001.

  • Châteauneuf-les-Bains (Auvergne)

In the secret territory of the Combrailles, in the west of the Massif Central, Châteauneuf-les-Bains is located along the banks of the Sioule, upstream from the historic bridge of Menat. Known for its bottled water, it is rich in numerous springs, to be discovered along several signposted routes.

Fourth stage : At the doors of the volcanoes (Auvergne)

  • Châtel-Guyon

At the gateway to the Auvergne Volcanoes, with its many villas and large hotels, several thermal baths and a casino... Châtel-Guyon is a "Belle Epoque" spa town, whose buildings are organized around the thermal park. It is here that Guy de Maupassant wrote his novel "Mont-Oriol", which recounts the creation... of a thermal spa!

  • Royat-Chamalières

At the foot of the Puy de Dôme, Royat-Chamalières is a town of waters with a "Belle Epoque" thermal district. From the park to the refreshment room, including the train station, the thermal baths and the Pavillon Saint-Mart, the resort's first thermal establishment, recently converted into a museum dedicated to thermalism, Royat-Chamalières has managed to showcase its thermal heritage.

Fifth step : The Sancy (Auvergne)

  • Saint-Nectaire

Of Saint-Nectaire, we certainly know the cheese and the Romanesque church of the XIIth century, but we should not forget the springs which allowed the thermalism to develop from 1820, with the creation of big hotels, villas and thermal baths, today reconverted into a tourist office!

  • La Bourboule

Built in the 19th century, below the original village of Muratle-Quaire, La Bourboule is a "Belle Epoque" town with a very homogeneous architecture. Here, the Grands Thermes (thermal baths) look like an oriental palace and the town hall has the particularity to be installed in the premises of the first casino of the resort.

  • Le Mont-Dore

In Le Mont-Dore, thermalism has its origins in antiquity, whose spirit can be found in the magnificent thermal baths, classified as a historical monument. Home to many monumental hotels, this spa town may seem dark and austere, but this is only a facade!

Sixth step : Cantal and Aubrac (Auvergne)

  • Chaudes-Aigues

The only resort in Cantal, Chaudes-Aigues owes its name to the heat of the Par spring which, with 82°C at its emergence, is reputed to be the hottest in Europe. Here, no "Belle Epoque" heritage but houses with lauze roofs which make the resort a small postcard village...

Seventh stage: The Cevennes and the Ardèche (Rhône-Alpes)

  • Saint-Laurent-les-Bains

Close to Lozère, Saint-Laurent-les-Bains is a very small resort in the Ardèche Mountains, perched in an exceptional setting. Built on the Roman road leading to Aubenas, the village is home to monumental thermal baths rebuilt in 1997.

  • Meyras / Neyrac-les-Bains

In the heart of the Pays des Jeunes Volcans d'Ardèche, the historic village of Meyras, labeled "Village de Caractère", is a small medieval town on which depends the resort of Neyrac-les-Bains, located in a maar (crater), and with a very contemporary architecture.

  • Vals-les-Bains

Archetype of the "Belle Epoque" spa town, Vals-les-Bains offers its visitors a spa district rich in hotels and other buildings dating from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Here, one can come and observe the geyser of the intermittent spring, stroll in the parks or admire the façade of the first thermal establishment, now integrated into the contemporary architecture of the new thermal baths.

Last stop : The Loire (Rhône-Alpes)

  • Montrond-les-Bains

Between the Monts du Forez and the Monts du Lyonnais, the town that has long been known simply as "Montrond", in reference to the hillock on which the town's fortified castle has stood since the 11th century, only became "Montrond-les-Bains" at the end of the 19th century, when thermal water was discovered in its subsoil thanks to a mining borehole!

In order to welcome a worldly clientele, the architects of the Villes d'Eaux vied with each other to build monuments according to the fashions conveyed by the Universal Exhibitions and the Colonial Exhibitions.

By Redazione

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