If you are in the area and the weather is even halfway decent, a visit to the Puy de Dôme is a must. Its peak is at 1,465 metres, and it offers spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.
It was a hot day, 32 degrees or so in the afternoon, so we took the train up to the peak. This left us with plenty of energy to explore the summit, you can walk round it, take in the chains of volcanoes stretched out below you, you get a distant view of Vulcania (the best way to see it, in my opinion) and of Clermont-Ferrand some 15Km to the East.
There was a gentle wind blowing, just enough for paragliders to be able to maintain height, or gain some with a bit of skill and luck. They dotted the sky with their coloured wings, and since we have both done a little in the past, we were able to appreciate and enjoy watching their technique.
Incidentally, there is a little monument to a prize-winning flight that was made from Paris to the top of the Puy de Dôme in 1911, in a time of under 6 hours. The feat was thought to be impossible, and the prize of £4,000 was a considerable incentive. A bit like the X-Prize today.
The sites at the top and bottom of the mountain, and the train itself, have recently been redeveloped using a budget of nearly 97 million Euros of taxpayers' money. The site isn't completely finished yet, but the new modern rack-and-pinon electric train that takes you to the top is in service. The information panels tell us that using careful energy management, the train coming down provides half the electricity needed by the train going up, which would be a good thing, except there was only one train on the track.
The train ran once per hour, and took about 15 minutes or so to reach the top, where it waited for 15 minutes before coming down again. So you could be waiting up to 45 minutes for the train, and guess what there wasn't any of, on the platform, for waiting passengers? Yep, seats. Well in truth, at the bottom station there were three folding chairs that looked like they had been bought on expenses at Super-U or the like. It seems to me that the people who are most likely to want to take the train are those who are least able to make the 45-minute hike up to the top, so would be the most in need of a chair. Who designs this stuff?
The main holiday season starts in July and we were there in the off season, towards the end of June. The train, when it set off, was nevertheless full, with passengers standing in the aisles because all of the seats were taken. I think they have a capacity problem. The train was as long as could be accepted by the platform, so it can't be made any bigger without big structural changes, but it could probably be split into two, since there were 4 carriages I think, and there was a passing place halfway up the mountain to allow trains to cross each other. But running trains of half the size every half hour instead of one big one every hour doesn't increase the capacity at all; I think the best they would be able to manage is to run the trains every 20 minutes, an increase in capacity of 50%. Doesn't look like enough to me.
There was no air conditioning in the train, and in 32 degree outside heat, with big glass windows, it got hot. The platform at the bottom was open to the air, the platform at the top was enclosed, and was air-conditioned. So people catching the train down would get on the train, bake for a bit, decide it was better on the platform, and go out again to sit (on the floor, of course) before getting back on the train again just before it left.
I'm starting to think that France doesn't "do" tourism. I'll elaborate on this theme, some time when the muse takes me, and I've thought about it a bit more.