The Massif Central is the keystone of France, holding the country together by the sheer force of its grandeur.
It is surprisingly little known beyond its sprinkling of spas and the major cities of Clermont-Ferrand, Vichy and Limoges.
This remarkable, remote and rugged region is one of France's best-kept secrets.
The huge central plateau of ancient granite and cristalline rock that makes up the Massif Central embraces the
dramatic landscapes of the Auvergne, Limousin, Aveyron and Lozère.
Once a testing cross-roads for pilgrims, and strung with giant volcanoes, it is a region of unsuspected richness, from the spectacular towns of Le Puy-en-Velay, to the unique treasure of Conques. With its cratere lakes and hot springs, the Auvergne is the Massif Central's lush volcanic core, an outdoor paradise offering activities from hiking in summer to skiing in winter.
It also has some of France's most beautiful Romanesques churches, medieval castles and Renaissance palaces.
To the east are the mountains ranges of Forez, Livardois and Velay; to the west are giant chains of extinct volcanoes,
the Monts Dômes, Monts Dore and the Monts of Cantal.
The Limousin, on the north-western edge of the Massif Central, is gentler country with green pastures and blissfully empty roads.
The Aveyron spreads into the southwest from the Aubrac mountains, carrying with it the rivers Lot, Aveyron and Tarn
through gorges and valleys with their cliff-hanging villages.
To the east in the Lozère are the Grands Causses, the vast, isolated uplands of the Cévennes.
Then barren plateaux give farmers a poor living, but have been a favourite route with adventurous travellers across the centuries.