The peaceful yet friendly Allier department is largely undiscovered by visitors to France. Created from parts of the former provinces of Auvergne and Bourbonnais, this superb department is one of four which make up the Auvergne region.
With its beautiful mountains and gorges, lush forests, fertile valleys, heathlands and limestone hillsides, over 5000 km of waterways, in excess of 500 chateaux and yesteryear charm it is easy to see why Allier is referred to as the ‘Dolce Vita’ of the Auvergne.
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Town property guide
Cities of the Allier department
The principal cities in Allier are Moulins, Montluçon and Vichy.
Situated on the banks of the River Allier and capital of the department of the same name, Moulins is a lovely city whose rich history as the seat of the Ducs de Bourbon is in evidence everywhere in the magnificent architecture which has survived them including the magnificent gothic cathedral of Notre Dame with its fantastic stained glass windows (currently home to the remarkable 15th century Triptyque of the Maitre de Moulins), the 45m high Jacquemart bell tower, the chateau des Ducs and the Mal Coiffée, the remains of the 15th century castle around which the town developed (currently being renovated). And with over 50 restaurants, many shops and all the amenities you might expect of a bustling town (including banks, schools and hospitals); sports such as badminton, waterpolo, cycling, horseriding all available locally; and festivals taking place throughout the year (such as the Festi BD de Moulins and the ‘pocket-opera’ festival), it easy to see why Moulins is popular with those wanting to buy property in Allier.
The medieval city of Montluçon is situated in a valley amongst the Combraille hills, overlooked by the Bourbon chateau and is in the western corner of the department. Primarily an industrial town, Montluçon is nonetheless very picturesque with its narrow winding streets of 15th and 16th century buildings, timber houses and monuments, not to mention the wonderful flowers everywhere which have led to Montluçon winning the French equivalent of the city in bloom award several times. There are plenty of things to do in Montluçon with museums (eg the Museum of Folk Music), exhibitions, theatres, parks, gardens and many historical buildings open to the public, including the 12th century Église Saint Pierre de Montluçon and 14th century Église Notre-Dame de Montluçon. There are also many sports and leisure activities available locally include swimming, horse riding, golf, martial arts and roller hockey. And with thermal baths, banks, bakers, supermarkets and an impressive range of restaurants offering everything from haute cuisine to Pizza, traditional Auvergne dishes to Moroccan, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, Montluçon has everything visitors to Allier could want.
Famous since roman times for its restorative thermal springs which have attracted such nobles and celebrities as letter-writer Marie de Rabutin-Chantal Marquise de Sévigné (whose hand paralysis was reportedly cured by their waters), the daughters of Louis XV and both the mother and brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, Vichy is located in the south-east corner of the Allier department. Although known for being the seat of France’s collaborationist government during the occupation of France (1940-4) Vichy has today shed its shady past to become a prosperous and desirable place to live with beautiful and luxurious mansions and villas along the banks of the River Allier and many restoration projects currently underway to restore the town and its baths to their best. With all the amenities you have come to expect (including banks, bakers and supermarkets), many shops, numerous cinemas and theatres, interesting museums, a wonderful array of restaurants and some beautiful parks, Vichy really does have something for everyone. Why not visit the remarkable Art Nouveau-style Opera House, the beautiful Église Saint-Louis or take part in one of the wide range of sports and leisure activities available locally including water skiing, golf and rugby?
Allier is very diverse in terms of its landscape, ranging from mountains such as the beautiful Montagne Bourbonnaise (the Garden of France) with its ski resort (Loge des Gardes, 1287 m) and beech-flanked slopes to fertile plains and valleys like those traversed by the River Allier, from the savage beauty of the dramatic Gorges de la Sioule which have been carved out of the pink granite rock over time to the impressive Forêt de Tronçais, a 300-year old oak plantation (the largest in Europe) with trees up to 40 m high. The department has over 100 lakes and 5000 km of rivers and streams full of fish (including trout, carp, pike, perch, crayfish and even the rare freshwater grayling) and thermal baths in Bourbon l’Archambault, Néris-les-Bains and Vichy (evidence of the volcanic past of this area although the Auvergne remains Europe’s largest volcanic area as its volcanoes are classified as dormant rather than extinct).
The cuisine of Allier and Auvergne
Potatoes, cabbage, pork and cheese are the mainstays of the simple, filling cuisine of the Auvergne region of which the department of Allier is a part. Traditional dishes include truffade (a type of pancake made of shredded potato and cheese and sometimes bacon and garlic), potée Auvergnate (cabbage, potato, pork and sausage casserole, seasoned with parsley, bay leaves and / or cloves), pounti (a pork, swiss chard and prune terrine with herbs and onions) and aligot (cheese mixed with mash potato and sometimes garlic). Dishes specific to Allier itself include pâté aux pommes de terre (potato slices and crème fraîche baked in the oven until the dish is covered with a golden-brown crust and looks like a pie) and le piquenchâgne (a pear cake made using whole pears soaked in sugar, cream and alcohol, stood upright in the cake mix with the stalks sticking out).
Regional cheeses include bleu d’Auvergne, Cantal, Fourme d’Ambert, Murol, Saint-Nectaire, tomme d’Auvergne, Salers, bleu des Causses and Gaperon. These are all made from the milk of cows grazing on the area’s volcanic slopes. The Auvergne region is also famous for Puy lentils and the quality of its walnuts.
Activities in Allier
So what can you do in Allier? The answer – just about anything! Sports available locally include swimming, martial arts, climbing, horse riding, cycling, mountain biking, dirt biking, tennis, badminton, squash, roller hockey, rugby, football, basket ball, volleyball, hiking, bowling, petanque, billiards, golf, fishing, fencing, gymnastics, aerobics and many more. Why not pamper yourself at one of the many thermal baths or springs in the vicinity? How about visiting one of the many 14th and 15th century Bourbon chateaux or gothic churches in the area? With over 1000 lakes and 5000 km of water ways in the department, why not have a go at water skiing, canoeing or any number of other water sports available? – Whatever your interest you can pursue it here.
Tourism office in Auvergne:
Our team of sale advisers at Sextant Properties will be happy to help you to find a property in Auvergne . We have a large network of partners in Auvergne. All of them are registered French real estate agents and speak both French and English. Whatever kind of property you are looking for: farmhouse, longere, barn, gite, B&B, country house, mill, castle or chateau, we will do our best to find a property in Auvergne matching your requirements.