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Coat of Arms of Cantal
Location of Cantal in France
Department number: 15
Region: Auvergne
Prefecture: Aurillac
Subprefectures: Mauriac
Arrondissements: 3
Cantons: 27
Communes: 260
President of the General Council: Vincent Descoeur
Population Ranked 92nd
 -1999 150,778
Population density: 26/km2
Land area¹: 5726 km2
¹ French Land Register data, which exclude estuaries, and lakes, ponds, and glaciers larger than 1 km2.

Cantal (Occitan: Cantal, Cantau, Chantal, Chantau) is a department in south-central France. It is named after the Cantal mountain range, a group of extinct, eroded volcanic peaks, which covers much of the department.



Cantal is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790. It was created from a part of the former province of Auvergne, called Haute-Auvergne.




The department counts several remarkable buildings. Among them, the Romanesque religious buildings like the churches of Cheylade (century Xi), Dieno or Massiac. Some churches are in the Gothic style like the cathedral of St Pierre de Saint-Flour (century XV).


  • International festival of street theatre of Aurillac.
  • Festival of the music of the world in Murat
  • 36 hours : Various little scenes with dances


  • Museum of Art and Arqueologia of Aurillac (34,100 visitors/year)
  • The House of the fauna in Murat (23,500 visitors/year)
  • Museum of the Géothermia in Calores-Agudo (20,600 visitors/year)
  • Museum of the Volcanos in Aurillac (20,100 visitors/year)
  • Museum of the ray in Marcenat (11 500 visitors/year)
  • Museum of the "Haute Auvergne" in Saint-Flour (11 100 visitors/year)
  • The House of the Chestnut in Mourjou (5 200/year)
  • Museum of Georges Pompidou in Montboudif (3 500/year)
  • Museum of the Accordion in Siran
  • Museum of the Agriculture in Auvernia in Coltines


Dishes of Cantal are made of basic recipes. In origin, they were designed to satisfiy hill farmers. They had very physical work: Looking after cows, the manufacture of cheese, etc.

Thus, ham, cheese, vegetables are at the basis of the dishes in this department, such as:

  • The Aligot (also in Aveyron): Cheese (Fresh Tome) with creamed potatoes
  • The Truffade: Crushed potatoes with cheese (Fresh Tome) garlic and lardons.
  • The Pounti: A dish made with herbs, lard and Swiss chard.
  • The typical cheese Cantal, which can be chosen young, old or "entre-deux".

Music & dance - Nature and Sport influences

The typical dance in Cantal is called La Bourée. People dance with the sound of accordion, in typical costumes.

Sport has a very important influence in the culture of the department, especially those in contact with nature. Inhabitants enjoy cycling, excursions, hang gilding, aquatic activities ...

Cantaliens have naturally adapted their behaviour and activities to their environment, made of great spaces, a bit savage.


The department is part of the current region of Auvergne and is surrounded by the department of Puy-de-Dôme, Haute-Loire, Aveyron, Lot, Lozère, and Corrèze.

The principal towns are Aurillac, Saint-Flour, and Mauriac. The topography of Cantal is hilly, the highest point is Le Plomb du Cantal, 1858 metres.


The very clerical and Catholic Cantal is an old stronghold of the right and the old electoral base of President Georges Pompidou. Only the area around Aurillac, historically anti-clerical and Radical has some left-wing support.

The President of the General Council is Vincent Descoeur of the Union for a Popular Movement.

Party seats
Union for a Popular Movement 13
Socialist Party 5
Miscellaneous Right 5
Miscellaneous Left 3
MoDem 1


The department of the Cantal has different types of climates according to the geographical position.

The west is well watered, thanks to abundant precipitations coming from the Atlantic. The temperatures are smooth generally, whereas the East is much drier and cooler.

As a matter of fact, there is abundant precipitation on the central area. To this fact, it is necessary to add the effect of the altitude: the climate is quite cold in winter (It snows almost every winter) but it can be very hot during the summer (especially in the southern part of the department which has borders with Aveyron and Lot)

In the central part of the department, that it is to say the highest ground, the altitude surpasses 1,000m easily: It can be very cold, The snow falls in abundance and can remains up to six months on the tops. The temperatures can fall, in the heart of the winter, to below -15 °C, whereas at the height of summer 25 °C is often reached.

The weather forecast of the television networks often indicates Aurillac as the coldest city of France in the morning. Whilst not doubting the temperatures observed by Meteo France, it is helpful to explain why. The explanation is simple:

  • The scientific weather station of Aurillac is at an altitude of 640 metres.
  • The temperature diminishes at 1 °C each 150 m.
  • Meteo France only puts an index of 30 cities on the map and Aurillac is the only city at this altitude.

These low morning temperatures could indicate an inhospitable place with a grey and low sky. The reality is totally different: In Aurillac fog is rare and disappears quickly. There is generous sun all year long and the wind is not usually strong. Cantal is well South (same latitude as Bordeaux) and the annual sunshine hours show it: We just have to compare the annual number of hours of sunshine (average from 1991 to 2000):

Nimes: 2590 h - Millau : 2120 h - Aurillac: 2080 h - Toulouse: 2010 h - Bordeaux: 1990 h - Lyon: 1930 h - Limoges: 1870 h - Tours: 1800 h - Nantes: 1690 h - Paris: 1630 h.

The Cantal is a mountainous department whose altitude varies between 250 m in the valley of the Lot River and 1855 m in the top of Plomb du Cantal. The temperature variations can be very high from one place to another. It is not colder in the Cantal than in other mountainous regions like the Vosges or Jura. The prevailing winds and the relief divide the Cantal into 4 climatic zones:

  • The West is subject to oceanic winds which bring rains.
  • The mounts of the Cantal and the Cézallier, which create a rain shadow, have a specific climate: it rains and snows quite often.
  • The Planèze of Saint-Flour and the region of Massiac receive less precipitation, owing to winds coming from the North and the South.
  • The plateaus of the Margeride and the Aubrac have harsh winters and pleasant summers.

Communes of Cantal are regularly submitted to violent summer storms. According to specialists, the lightning flashes in this department are among the most spectacular in France.


Aubrac Cows on the Plomb du Cantal.jpg
  • Agriculture and animal husbandry (Aubrac and Salers cows)
  • Craft industry is still very prevalent: Joinery, restoration of dwellings, small manufacturing and maintenance of private gardens ...
  • Family, festival and winter tourism.


The inhabitants of the department are called Cantaliens or Cantalous.

Cantal is still one of the most isolated and unpopulated French departments (with Lozère and Creuse). Its capital, Aurillac, is the Departmental Capital the furthest from a motorway in France.


Railway bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel (Garabit viaduct)

Located in the Parc Regional des Volcans d’Auvergne, the Cantal is a department of little urbanization. The main industry is tourism, especially rural tourism.

The most visited places are Puy Mary (1787 m) considered to be one of the prettiest panoramas in Europe, the Plomb du Cantal (1855 m), the village of Salers, the Gorges of the Truyère (with the Garabit viaduct, the castle of Alleuze), the town of Boisset, Pierrefort...). The Parc naturel des Volcans d’Auvergne features several inactive volcanoes. Cantal also has numerous castles. Puy Mary can be accessed by car easily. And for those who prefer to hike up, it is a very doable hike that doesn't require any special hiking skills. It is also possible to hike to the near-by Puy de Peyre-Arse(1806m). Le Lioran or Super Lioran are the best places to start the hike. Le Lioran is accessible by rail or bus and Super-Lioran is just a km away from Le Lioran. From Super-Lioran it is also possible to hike to Plomb du Cantal. There is also an option of taking the cable car to Plomb du Cantal from Super-Lioran. Super-Lioran tourist office has various hike routes in the region. There are also various adventure courses, dirt bikes, summer luges etc that run in Super-Lioran( see Le Lioran Tourism).

In spring and summer

Among the various activities offered in this department, the "Massif Cantalien" can be discovered through walking, horseback riding or mountain biking excursions (tracks are especially designed for this). Aquatic sports are also popular, thanks to numerous lakes.

The department also proposes more classical activities like mountaineering, canoeing or fishing. The landscape also allows the practice of free flight : Base jump fans frequent the sector around the Puy Mary or the Valley of Brezon.

In winter

Thanks to its landscape, Cantal can count on a good snow level, which allows winter sports. The station of the Lioran (greatest ski-resort of the Massif Central) allows alpine skiing (with specific adaptations for snowboard) or ice-skating. Excursions in snow shoes are also possible. The department has several hundred kilometers of cross-country skiing tracks.

See also

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CANTAL, a department of central France, formed from Haute-Auvergne, the southern portion of the old province of Auvergne. It is bounded N. by the department of Puy-deDome, E. by Haute-Loire, S.E. by Lozere, S. by Aveyron and Lozere, and W. by Correze and Lot. Area 2231 sq. m. Pop. (1906) 228,690. Cantal is situated in the middle of the central plateau of France. It takes its name from the Monts du Cantal, a volcanic group occupying its central region, and continued towards the north and east by ranges of lower altitude. The Plomb du Cantal, the culminating summit of the department, attains a height of 6096 ft.; and its neighbours, the Puy Mary and the Puy Chavaroche, attain a height of 5863 and 5722 ft. respectively. Immediately to the east of this central mass lies the lofty but fertile plateau of Planeze, which merges into the Monts de la Margeride on the eastern border. The valley of the Truyere skirts the Planeze on the south and divides it from the Monts d'Aubrac, at the foot of which lies Chaudesaigues, noted for its thermal springs, the most important in the department. Northwards the Monts du Cantal are connected with the Monts Dore by the volcanic range of Cezallier and the arid plateaus of Artense. In the west of the department grassy plateaus and beautiful river valleys slope gently down from the central heights. Most of the streams of the department have their sources in this central ridge and fall by a short and rapid course into the rivers which traverse the extensive valleys on either side. The principal rivers are the Alagnon, a tributary of the Allier; the Celle and Truyere, tributaries of the Lot; and the Cere and Rue, tributaries of the Dordogne. The climate of the department varies considerably in the different localities. In the alluvial plain between Murat and St Flour, and in the southwest in the arrondissement of Aurillac, it is generally mild and dry; but in the northern and central portions the winters are long and severe and the hurricanes peculiarly violent. The cold and damp of the climate in these districts are great obstacles to the cultivation of wheat, but rye and buckwheat are grown in considerable quantities, and in natural pasture Cantal is extremely rich. Cattle are accordingly reared with profit, especially around Salers and in the Monts d'Aubrac, while butter and Roquefort cheese are made in large quantities. Large flocks of sheep pasture in the Monts d'Aubrac and elsewhere in the department; goats are also reared. The inhabitants are simple and primitive and accustomed to live on the scantiest fare. Many of them migrate for part of the year to Paris and the provinces, where they engage in the humblest occupations. The principal articles of food are rye, buckwheat and chestnuts. The internal resources of the department are considerable; but the difficulty of land-carriage prevents them being sufficiently developed. The hills and valleys abound with game and the streams with fish. Cantal produces a vast variety of aromatic and medicinal plants; and its mineral products include coal, antimony and lime. The department has no prominent manufactures. Live-stock, cheese, butter and coal are the principal exports; coal, wine, cereals, flour and earthenware are imported. The department is served by the railways of the Orleans and Southern companies, the construction of which at some points demanded considerable engineering skill, notably in the case of the viaduct of Garabit spanning the gorge of the Truyere. Cantal is divided into four arrondissements - Aurillac, Mauriac, Murat and St Flour-23 cantons and 267 communes. It belongs to the region of the XIII. army corps and to the academie (educational division) of Clermont-Ferrand. Its bishopric is at St Flour and depends on the archbishopric of Bourges. Its court of appeal is at Riom. The capital is Aurillac (q.v.), and St Flour (q.v.) is the other principal town.

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