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Clermont-Ferrand offers a calming experience in the volcanic Auvergne

Everyone knows Michelin tyres. And everyone knows the Michelin man.

But how many people know the city that the Michelin empire played a huge part in growing?

Clermont's Gothic cathedral (2924634)
Clermont's Gothic cathedral (2924634)

Clermont-Ferrand is in the heart of the Auvergne region of France, one of the biggest cities in the Massif central.

And now it's less than an hour and a half away by plane, the perfect distance for a weekend getaway.

The importance of Michelin to the city is clear, right from our very first stop at L'Aventure Michelin, dedicated to the tyre giant.

It reveals a roll-call of firsts from the pioneering company - the first cycle with rubber tyres, the first car with rubber tyres, the first spare tyre, the first concrete road signs.

Inside L'Aventure Michelin (2924614)
Inside L'Aventure Michelin (2924614)

Michelin also built the first landing strip in the world, on the spot where the city's airport now stands.

There's also every copy of the well-known Michelin Red Guides, the first of their kind, which gave motorists travelling further afield on their brand-new rubber tyres information on food and lodging in unfamiliar towns.

The surrounding hills of Clermont were home to a huge winemaking area until railways allowed other remote places to be connected and export their wine.

Michelin stepped in to offer work to former wine growers, along with housing, hospitals and schools.

And the legacy of Michelin continues over the road at the city's Stade Marcel Michelin, home of the ASM Clermont Auvergne rugby union team.

The Stade Marcel-Michelin, home of rugby union club ASM Clermont-Auvergne (2924618)
The Stade Marcel-Michelin, home of rugby union club ASM Clermont-Auvergne (2924618)

The ASM - Association Sportive Michelin - was created by Marcel Michelin to provide recreation and sports to the firm's workforce and their families and the stadium stands on the original plot of land where the association began.

It's close to the heart of town and the mother of its most famous player, winger Aurélien Rougerie, has been the mayor of the city.

A tour of the stadium is followed by an immersive experience – ASM Experience – a fun exhibition where you can travel through the displays answering questions on whether you would make the squad.

There's even the chance to attempt three penalty kicks, of which I successfully send two over the post.

Today's Gothic cathedral, built of black lava, dominates the city. The last stone was laid in 1884 and as the volcanic stone was being cut for building, the quarry foreman needed to cool down blades so decided to drill down under the lava for water, giving birth to the Volvic water brand in the process.

There are three volcanoes under the city, one is the hill in the centre. The rock was easy to dig into so there are up to six levels of cellars in a home and the city has the most cellars of any one place.

A reviving and very welcome sugar hit after a walking tour of the city comes from Martial Ray where we try pâtes de fruit.

The fruity sweets started as a method of preserving fruit and are a speciality of the city.

Another stop-off is the Fromagerie Nivesse, where plates of cheese and a bottle of wine offers the chance to taste locally-produced St Nectaire, Cantal and Bleu d'Auvergne.

It's a cheese-lover's paradise and I bravely manage to eat more dairy produce than I've ever had in one sitting before.

Fromagerie Nivesse (2924620)
Fromagerie Nivesse (2924620)

But no visit to the birthplace of Michelin would be complete without a trip to a restaurant holding one of its famous stars.

The art deco Hotel Radio opened in 1930 and the chic white and black dining room might have seemed intimidating but for the very warm welcome we received.

The meal is, predictably, utterly fabulous, and we leave hoping that our laughter and enthusiastic reception of the wonderful food didn't disturb our very upmarket fellow diners.

The rooftop view from the Hotel Litteraire Alexandre Vialette (2924636)
The rooftop view from the Hotel Litteraire Alexandre Vialette (2924636)

Other fantastic food stops during the weekend included La Flèche d'Argent restaurant in the Princesse Flore hotel.

The exquisite presentation of each dish made the meal a pleasure for the eyes and the tastebuds.

Another was former coaching inn Auberge de la Moreno, where we were fed a range of different starters with delicious local specialities. But the crowning glory of the meal was the famous regional dish truffade, a gloriously gooey and not-remotely-health-conscious concoction of potatoes and cheese.

Vulcania's tethered hot air balloon (2924624)
Vulcania's tethered hot air balloon (2924624)

A ride in a tethered balloon at volcanic theme park Vulcania offers a chance to view the craters and peaks of the surrounding countryside, before descending underground to watch entertaining film shows and displays which clearly explain the geological phenomenon of volcanoes.

It's a fun and interactive way to find out more about the region and its history.

Vulcania, as seen from the park's hot air balloon (2924622)
Vulcania, as seen from the park's hot air balloon (2924622)

And it's a fully-relaxing end to the visit with a trip to the spa town of Royat, which overlooks Clermont and is home to Royatonic baths and spa.

There is a huge range of water jets, jacuzzis and plunge pools with outdoor and indoor options.

The jets pummel tense shoulders into submission and I'm only tempted out by an appointment for a treatment on a hydromassage bed.

As I watch a travel companion virtually float out of the room with a beatific smile on her face, I know I'm in for a treat.

And 20 minutes of laying in a darkened room as more water jets tackle every limb, I'm left blissfully calm after a packed weekend.

And dreaming of booking a return visit.

For further information on Clermont Ferrand visit : www.auvergnerhonealpes-tourisme.com

For information and bookings on Ryanair visit Ryanair.com

Fly from London-Stansted to Clermont-Ferrand from March to October

Two flights weekly on Mondays and Fridays

From €24.99 (one way) to travel in August, subject to availability

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