Clermont Ferrand, France Hotels, Resorts & Hotel Accommodations

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CLERMONT FERRAND
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Clermont-Ferrand is a city and commune of France, in the Auvergne region, with a population of 140,700 (2008). Its metropolitan area had 409,558 inhabitants at the 1999 census. It is the prefecture (capital) of the Puy-de-Dôme department. Clermont-Ferrand sits on the plain of Limagne in the Massif Central and is surrounded by a major industrial area. The city is famous for the chain of volcanoes, the Chaîne des Puys surrounding it. The Puy-de-Dôme (13km from the city) is the highest of these and well-known for the telecommunication antennas that sit on its top and are visible from far away. Clermont-Ferrand is also famous for hosting world's number one International short-film festival as well as Michelin 's corporate headquarters, the famous wheel company created more than 100 years ago in the city. Clermont-Ferrand's most famous public square is place de Jaude, on which stands a grand statue of Vercingetorix sitting imperiously on a horse and holding a glaive. The inscription reads: J'ai pris les armes pour la liberté de tous (English: I took to arms for the liberty of all). This statue was sculpted by Frédéric Bartholdi who also created the Statue of Liberty. Recently, Clermont-Ferrand, which was France's first city to get a trolley (abandoned after world war II), installed a brand new one, therefore linking city's north and south neigbourhoods. read full wikipedia reference about Clermont Ferrand, France

CLERMONT-FERRAND lies at the northern tip of the Massif Central. Although its situation is magnificent, almost encircled by the wooded and grassy volcanoes of the Monts-Dômes , it has for a century been a typical smokestack industrial centre, the home base of Michelin tyres, which makes it a rather incongruous capital for the rustic, even backward province of the Auvergne.

Its roots, both as a spa and a communications and trading centre, go back to Roman times. It was just outside the town, on the plateau of Gergovia to the south, that the Gauls under the leadership of Vercingétorix won their only, albeit indecisive, victory against Julius Cæsar's invading Romans. In the Middle Ages, the two towns of Clermont and Montferrand were divided by commercial and political rivalry and ruled respectively by a bishop and the count of Auvergne. Louis XIII united them administratively in 1630, but it was not until the rapid industrial expansion of the late nineteenth century that the two really became indistinguishable. Indeed, it was Clermont that took the ascendancy, relegating Montferrand to a suburban backwater.

Michelin came into being thanks to the inventions of Charles Mackintosh, the Scotsman of raincoat fame. His niece married Édouard Daubrée, a Clermont sugar manufacturer, and brought with her some ideas about making rubber goods that she had learnt from her uncle. In 1889, the company became Michelin and Co, just in time to catch the development of the automobile and the World War I aircraft industry. The family ruled the town and employed 30,000 of its citizens until the early 1980s, when the industry went into decline. In the years since, the workforce has been halved, causing rippling unemployment throughout Clermont's economy. Many of those who have lost their jobs are Portuguese immigrants, imported over the last thirty years to fill the labour vacuum and well integrated with the local population.

As in many other traditional industrial towns hit by recession and changing global patterns of trade, Clermont has had to struggle to reorientate itself, turning to service industries and the creation of a university of 34,000 students. Nonetheless, many people have moved elsewhere in search of work, reducing the population by nearly a tenth. The town has changed physically, too, as many of the old factories have been demolished .

The most dramatic and flattering approach to Clermont is from the Aubusson road or along the scenic rail line from Le Mont-Dore , both of which cross the chain of the Monts-Dômes just north of the Puy de Dôme. This way you descend through the leafy western suburbs with marvellous views over the town, dominated by the black towers of the cathedral sitting atop the volcanic stump that forms the hub of the old town.

Clermont's reputation as a ville noire becomes immediately understandable when you enter the city's appealing medieval quarter, clustered in characteristic medieval muddle around the cathedral - it is due not to industrial pollution but to the black volcanic rock used in the construction of many of its buildings. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame stands at the centre and highest point of the old town; Freda White evocatively described its sombre grey-black-stone lava from the quarries at nearby Volvic as "like the darkest shade of a pigeon's wing". Begun in the mid-thirteenth century, it was not finished until the nineteenth, under the direction of Viollet-le-Duc, who was the architect of the west front and those typically Gothic crocketed spires, whose too methodically cut stonework at close range betrays the work of the machine rather than the mason's hand. The interior is swaddled in gloom, illuminated all the more startlingly by the brilliant colours of the rose windows in the transept and the stained-glass windows in the choir, most dating back to the fourteenth century. Remnants of medieval frescoes survive, too: a particularly beautiful Virgin and Child adorns the right wall of the Chapelle Ste-Madeleine and an animated battle scene between the crusaders and Saracens unfolds on the central wall of the Chapelle St-Georges.

If the day is fine, it's worth climbing the Tour de la Bayette (Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sun 3-6pm) by the north transept door: you look back over the rue des Gras to the Puy de Dôme , looming dramatically over the city, white morning mist retreating down its sides like seaweed from a rock.

A short step northeast of the cathedral, down the elegant old rue du Port, stands Clermont's other great church, the Romanesque Basilique Notre-Dame-du-Port - a century older than the cathedral and in almost total contrast both in style and substance, built from softer stone in pre-lava-working days and consequently corroding badly from exposure to Clermont's polluted air. For all that, it's a beautiful building in pure Auvergnat Romanesque style, featuring a Madonna and Child over the south door in the strangely stylized local form, both figures stiff and upright, the Child more like a dwarf than an infant. Inside, it exudes the broody mysteriousness so often generated by the Romanesque style. Put a coin in the slot and you can light up the intricately carved ensemble of leaves, knights and biblical figures on the church's pillars and capitals. It was here in all probability that Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade in 1095 to a vast crowd who received his speech with the Occitan cry of Dios lo Volt (God wills it) - a phrase adopted by the crusaders in justification of all subsequent massacres.

For general animation, shopping, drinking and eating, the streets between the cathedral and place de Jaude are best, with the main morning market taking place in the conspicuously modern place St-Pierre just off rue des Gras. Place de Jaude remains another monument to planners' aberrations in spite of the shops, the cafés well placed to take in the morning sun and an attempt to make it more attractive with trees and a fountain. Smack in the middle of the traffic, a romantic equestrian statue of Vercingétorix lines up with the Puy de Dôme.

Away from these central streets, there is nothing to tempt the pedestrian, save perhaps rue Ballainvilliers , whose eighteenth-century facades recall the sober, sombre elegance of Edinburgh and lead to the city's most interesting museum, the Musée Bargoin (Tues-Sun 10am-6pm), with displays of archeological finds from round about. These include lots of fascinating domestic bits: Roman shoes, baskets, bits of dried fruit, glass and pottery, as well as a remarkable burial find from nearby Martres-de-Veyre dating back to the second century AD: a young girl's plaited blonde hair, her thigh-length boots, dress, belt and goatskin shoes. There is also an extraordinary collection of wooden limbs found during building operations, buried in a covered-over spring in the suburb of Chamalières: the gifts of people whose ailments had been cured thanks to these waters. Upstairs is a very handsome exhibition of oriental carpets and kilims.

The city's two other museums are not of great interest. Musée Lecoq , directly behind the Musée Bargoin (May-Sept Tues-Sat noon & 2-6pm, Sun 2-6pm; Oct-April 10am-noon & 2-5pm), is devoted mainly to natural history - and named after the gentleman who also founded the public garden full of beautiful trees and formal beds just across the street. Musée du Ranquet , to the west of the cathedral at 34 rue des Gras (Tues-Sun 10am-6pm; free), is housed in a noble sixteenth-century house, containing, at its most interesting, a collection of traditional tools and domestic objects and two versions of seventeenth-century philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal's calculating machine.

Montferrand is today little more than a suburb of larger Clermont, standing out on a limb to the north, but it's good for a stroll if you're feeling active. Built on the bastide plan, its principal streets, rue de la Rodade and rue Jules-Guesde (the latter named after the founder of the French Communist Party, as Montferrand was home to many of the Michelin factory workers), are still lined with the fine town houses of its medieval merchants and magistrates.

  

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