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Natural wonders and beguiling small towns and villages add to the allure of the Maison

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

The appeal of the maison can be attributed to the compelling landscapes of the region

The appeal of the maison can be attributed to the compelling landscapes of the region. Located in a small market town, it is a maze of old streets. Its markets and fairs are some of the most important in the region. On a steep bluff overlooking one end of the town is the 11th century keep of the Chateau St.-Etienne, locale of the fascinating Musee des Volcans.

The Maison is within the Massif Central, a dense cluster of mountain ranges covering nearly 33,000 square miles and encompassing almost a sixth of France. It is a place where rivers run through impressive gorges and forests range from dense woodlands to spacious oak groves. France’s most diverse geological region, the Massif Central is home to the Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans where several hundred volcanoes can be seen. These magnificent geological features are linked by high plateaux and vast flows of lava eroded by glaciers dating back to the Quaternary period. As an interesting aside, no two volcanoes are the same, a fact quickly revealed in the park. Among the different types, scoria cones are the most common. Also known as Strombolian cones, they are easy to recognize. The crate sits atop a cone formed by a “scoria,” the volcanic spray and pozzolan spray thrown out during an eruption. “Maars” are circular crates that can measure several hundred yards in diameter. The ash, blocks of earth and volcanic spray thrown out by the explosion are left around the crates in the shape of a ring or crescent and form the maar. Dome volcanoes are often formed following very violent eruptions. After the initial eruption that opens the crater in the ground, the lava rises to the surface. Since it is too thick to flow, it accumulates to form a dome. Lastly, “Planezes” are very old lava flows transformed into low plateaux.

Due north of the maison, the 16th century town of Salers crowns a steep escarpment. Classed as one of “The Most Beautiful Villages in France,” Salers reflects its 16th century heyday in cobblestone streets, 15th century ramparts and handsome Renaissance houses of gray volcanic stone, many with pepper-pot turrets, mullion windows, towers and carved lintels. The structures completely encircle Grande Place and remain as examples of the extraordinary architecture of that period.

For more information: Monasteries of France