Salers - Old Volcanoes, Cow Bells and Getting Away from it All.
If you would like to get away from home for a short break and to explore a bit more of the vastness of France; then there are interesting places to visit whichever direction you travel from Quercy. The problem is that there’s always some reason not to take the time off and simply go and explore.
If 2015 is the year when you are going to start to take time and do more things for yourself then here’s a suggestion for a location that I hope may inspire you to pack an overnight bag and just set off.
Salers lies high up in the "Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne" at an altitude of 950m. Its unique 16th century architecture with houses made of dark lava-stone and topped with turrets; give the village a magical charm. A fortified village with ancient ramparts and sweeping grassland slopes leading into almost Alpine style valleys. The views are wonderful and the herds of heavily belled cows add a very particular and memorable charm.
This is a lovely area for walking and as well as the walking directly from the village, a short and very picturesque drive away is the Col du Pay de Peyrol which at 1589 meters is the highest road pass through the Massif Central. This Col regularly features in the Tour de France and it is well worth exploring. At the time of visiting (June) the roadside flowers were amongst the most exceptional I have ever seen. I strongly suspect this is the same at any time from the start of spring.
The village is famous for a couple of related things. Firstly its unique variety of cattle and secondly its famous and very enjoyable cheese. The cattle, legend tells us, were designed by God to reflect the original bright-red lava that originally spewed from the regional volcanos.
There is much written about the origins of the Salers Cattle. The peoples of the region were historically a mixture of Celts and Iberians, suggesting that the cattle perhaps also migrated from Iberia and that there was then an onwards migration to the United Kingdom as they do have many similarities to cows native to Devon. Other research, including the use of DNA suggests that the cattle migrated from the direction of Turkey maybe even 10 000 years ago. The cattle are very resistant to extremes in temperature and have been exported to areas as diverse as Texas and Russia.
Secondly, the cheese. Le Salers is a semi hard, pressed, uncooked cheese made only between the 15th April and 15th November when the cows are at grass. It’s similar to Cantal cheese - which is produced from the same cows' milk when they are fed on hay during the remaining months of the year - and it is thought to have been produced in this region for at least 2000 years.
The maturation lasts a minimum of 3 months but can be prolonged to 1 year depending upon the flavour required. Salers, as with Cantal, is a cheese with a dry rind. However, in contrast to Cantal, the raw whole milk must be processed on the farm, immediately after milking. After maturation, Salers cheese wheels weigh between 30 and 50 kg and about 400 litres of milk is required for each one.
This cheese came popular when Maréchal de Senneterre served it at the table of Louis XIV. Maréchal de Senneterre is also responsible for the popularity of the Saint-Nectaire and Cantal cheeses. Salers cheese has benefited from the Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) since 1961.
Back to the village itself. There are interesting small streets to explore and a good number of options for eating and drinking. There is a lovely enclosed park area which is ideal for anyone travelling with a dog that needs to have a run around and the views from this park area are just wonderful.
Close to this park area there is plenty of free public parking and the hotel that we stayed in for our visit. Hôtel des Ramparts (www.salers-hotel-remparts.com) which was very comfortable and with a location that would be hard to beat. We did not eat at the hotel as we chose to explore the village but there is a restaurant and the rooms were comfortable and in our case had wonderful views across the valley. The hotel is also suitable for anyone travelling with a dog.
Driving to Salers takes about 2.5 hours from Cahors (approx. 170 km). The access is by small roads and so it takes a little longer than the route on a map suggests. Well worth the effort for a short break which leaves you feeling like you have been somewhere very different without any security checking and queuing for your luggage.
More information - www.salers-tourisme.fr