GR 400, an invitation to travel around the largest volcano in Europe

140 km long, it goes around the volcano Cantal and meanders through wild and unspoilt landscapes. The GR 400 long-distance hiking trail, which must be done on one or more trips, is a must for hiking enthusiasts and nature enthusiasts.

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In the heart of nature, in the heart of breathtaking mountainous landscapes, it will soon be used by many hikers who take advantage of the summer to discover Cantal. GR 400 is a 140 km long hiking trail that forms several loops so that hikers of all levels can enjoy: “The route has the special thing of almost walking around the Cantal volcano. It also has the special thing of passing through the most important summits. It makes loops around the heart of the massif, it can be done in several loops or all at once. It follows the valleys and peaks, it acts as a star around the heart of the massif ”. explains Jean Privat, director of Syndicat Mixte du Puy Mary. Nearly 475,000 hikers take the GR 400 in Cantal each year from May to October. The trail rises to 1816m in height and offers a unique panorama, a 360 ° view of the seven valleys spread out like a star around Puy Mary.

This unique place was formed 13 million years ago, where the volcano was formed before it fell asleep, about 2 million years ago. As for its name, Puy Mary, it would come from Mary (or Marius in Latin), disciple of Saint Austremoine, the first evangelist in the Auvergne. Well-groomed and equipped hikers immerse themselves in nature: “It is a route that offers changing landscapes, breathtaking landscapes, because we are definitely in the middle of the mountains. But there is a mountain character, strong and marked, with rocky hill. There are also mountain pastures, as in some higher mountain areas there are small lakes. All of this offers a fairly significant landscape diversity, and we are in a protected area, far enough away from urbanized areas. We are immersed ”, says Jean Privat. GR 400 offers “a perfect compromise for activities, particular hiking, but also all outdoor activities and immersion.”

GR 400 passes through many sights that delight tourists: “We have the heart of the massif, with the Puy Mary area, which is the central part of the GR 400, we also have the part of the Puy de la Tourte sector, which also offers views of Puy Mary, but also of the Valley of Mars. We also has the Puy Violent area, which dominates the heights of Salers and the Maronne valley.There is a magnificent view from this summit dedicated to pastoralism, with one of the largest cattle pastures in France.There is Lake Lanau, with the crossing of Chavaroche, from which we have a view of the circus Mandailles and the whole valley of the Jordan.states Jean Privat. Allow about 8 days to cover the entire trail.

GR 400 has 5 loops:

  • The loop of the Alagnon valley from Murat, which is 44 km.
  • The loop of the Cère valley starts from the Super Lioran, which is 39 km long.
  • The loop of the Jordanne valley, starting from Mandailles-Saint-Julien, which is 35 km long.
  • The Cirque du Falgoux loop, which is 39 km long.
  • The Clos Valley loop, which is 19 km.

But that’s not all. On the GR 400, hikers also benefit from the architectural and gastronomic riches of the Monts du Cantal: “The different villages present a landscape of small mountain villages with a rather rich building heritage. We also have a wide range of interesting gastronomic aspects, especially on the production of Cantal. Along the entire GR 400 you can find goat cheese producers, Cantal producers, Salers producers who allow hikers to refuel directly. ”specifies Jean Privat.

For wildlife enthusiasts, the GR 400 is the ideal place: “There are a few species that are found quite regularly on the GR 400: the chamois, the mouflon … We see them regularly early in the morning or at sunset, when the peaks have calmed down again. Marmots can also be observed in the Buron des Lacs sector. You can see vultures coming from Aveyron ”. The flora is also present: “Depending on the season, we can observe some rather symbolic species. The yellow gentian, spring senian, around May, which is also a beautiful species, the Martagon lily which is also found during this period, arnica … These are some of the emblematic species on the place”. explains Jean Privat.

GR 400 is of course in the middle of the middle mountain, but be careful of hikers, warns Jean Privat: “We have the impression that we are on hills, but we are really in a mountain sector with a changing climate as in the high mountains. We go from a mild climate to a climate that can be very humid, even cold, especially at night. You can go from strong sunshine to big storm in no time. We also have a very technical character in certain areas with passages that require you to be in the right shape. You need to at least be equipped: have everything you need like food on your back, water, some supplies, cereal bars, stuff like that.

Of course, it is necessary to be well equipped, but not only: “You also need a stick to secure certain crosses. You also need to know that you cross mountain grass areas, especially in the ridge sectors. In the summer there are either cattle herds or sheep herds. Crossing herds is not trivial, one must be careful and avoid cross them when you have a dog, especially on sheep herds that have guard dogs.You must be careful to respect the herd but also avoid endangering yourself.You need to inquire at the tourist offices, or even call mountain guides , if you do not feel able to leave alone in peace.advises Jean Privat.

It invites you to respect private property and stay on the route: “We must avoid walking in the meadows that are not marked. The mountain is not only a public good, there are also owners and farmers. You must share the mountain and have respect for the work of others. ” In fact, in recent years, a new public has benefited from the GR 400, according to him: “We had a population that was a very dedicated population that mastered cartography and navigation with a compass. Now there is also a new population discovering, in a kind of adventure tourism. They may have to go through service providers, through mountain guides. It’s a great way to learn about hiking, to learn about the mountains in complete safety. ” For those who want to camp on the GR 400, the rule is simple: “We have the right to bivouac near GR from sunset to sunrise.” The area is becoming more and more popular with tourists. At the top of Puy Mary there are 100,000 passengers each year.

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