Le Puy-en-Velay is a town of Art and History. The Regional Art and History department in Le Puy-en-Velay helps to raise awareness of these cultural treasures among local inhabitants, young people and visitors. All the year round, the department organises an introduction to the cultural heritage in 73 areas through visits and talks, activities adapted to a range of different audiences, exhibitions and publications.
Visit Notre-Dame Cathedral
On the site of a first church built in the 5th century, the Cathedral was erected on Mont Anis. In the 12th century, the flood of pilgrims led to four bays being added above a vaulted porch to counteract the slope of Mont Anis. Worshippers climbed steps to the entrance in the middle of the central nave.
In the 19th century, the building was greatly modified, but the six cupolas and the outstanding painting work were preserved. From 1994 to 1999, restoration work led to the reopening of the central stairs, which had been closed since the 18th century. Renovations were also carried out on interior decoration and on the double-sided casing of the 17th century organ.
A new altar was set up at the intersection of the transept. The “Black Virgin” replaced an older statue, which had been burnt during the French Revolution. It stands on the “pilgrims” altar, set against the wall.
Our tip: go to the back of the cathedral to see the impressive penitents’ chapel. Leave the Cathedral at Place du For to enjoy a 180° view over the town, with its brick roofs and mullion windows.
The Statue of Our Lady of France
With your head in the stars… Just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre, the monumental statue of Our Lady of France is an incredible technical feat. It was made in 1860 using metal from 213 cannons captured from the Russians during the Crimean War and donated by Napoleon III.
The statue was designed by J.M Bonnassieux. It is 22.7 metres high and weighs 835 metric tons. The site is extraordinary: the Corneille rock, an old citadel and the highest point in the Ponot Basin, provides a unique view of the Cathedral, the town and the region with its blue horizons.
It is easy to walk up to the monument, with information panels and an orientation table on the way.
Climb the Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Rock
The Puy-en-Velay basin contains basalt rocks, including the most spectacular of them, Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe (St Michael of the Needle). These “volcanic plugs” are the result of magma flowing upwards from volcanoes, like at Saint-Michel, and which were formed under the water of the lake some 2.2 million years ago.
The Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Rock is one of the most remarkable and surprising volcanic sites in France. The rock is 82 metres high, and the Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel is an exceptional piece of architecture.
The chapel was built in the year 961. This remarkable technical and human achievement was begun by Bishop Gothescalk, who decided to erect the chapel after returning from a pilgrimage on the Way of St James. During restoration work on the altar in 1955, the chapel treasure was discovered, consisting of relics dating from the building’s construction. Some remarkable murals have also been restored.
Our tip: the 3 Monuments Pass!
The 3 Monuments Pass is a combined ticket giving visitors admission to 3 monuments with similar features at a discount price:
– Saint-Michel rock and chapel
– Polignac fortress
– Our Lady of France statue
On sale from the Tourist Office and from each site:
€5.50/ children aged 6 to 18
Free for children under 6
Visit the cloister and the treasures of the Cathedral
The cloister was built in the 11th and 12th centuries and is one of the finest works of Romanesque architecture in Europe.
The semi-circular arcades are crowned by a mosaic of white, red and black diamond shapes. The chapter room is decorated with a mural of the Crucifixion.
The cloister also has a remarkable series of illustrated chapters dating from the 12th century, showing the four Evangelists, a centaur race, and an abbot and an abbess fighting over a crozier. In the Cathedral’s treasure there is an outstanding collection of liturgical ornaments and devotional pictures that were embroidered between the 15th and the 20th century, and collected over a period of more than thirty years.
The Way of St James,
the prelude in Le Puy-en-Velay (PR673)
As a prologue for hikers setting off to Conques and Santiago de Compostella, this short urban trail (PR) follows Rue St Jacques, taking the same route as hikers beginning the GR65 towards Saint-Privat d’Allier.
The 6.8 km trail leaves from the Tourist Office and is accessible to all. It features some rich heritage, the upper town, the museums in the Hôtel-Dieu and the Camino, the banks of the River Borne, the superb Henri Vinay Garden and the town centre shops. Ideal for a stroll and a visit to see Le Puy-en-Velay differently!
Little sightseeing train
Visit Le Puy-en-Velay on the little sightseeing train!
The Puy-en-Velay Sightseeing Train was opened in 1987. Its aim is to promote the region and to give visitors an original introduction to an exceptional area, where mankind and nature are in perfect harmony. The train is a chance to see numerous outstanding sites: the Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel, the Cathedral with the 12th century cloister and the Hôtel Dieu (listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites as part of the Way of St James), the Corneille rock and the Statue of Our Lady of France…
In 45 minutes, you will experience a picturesque tour of all the monuments. An original and comfortable visit with a commentary available in several languages. Capacity – 60 places.
The Hôtel Dieu is linked to pilgrimages and to the sanctuary of the Virgin Mary. It was founded in the 12th century as a hospice for the poor. Today, the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte is in charge of a vast renovation project, aiming to show this major landmark in the town’s history in a new light. Interactive models, sound showers, projections, puzzles and games for all the senses… You will travel through space and time in a monument that is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site as part of the Way of St James.
Thanks to this interactive museum, you will have all the keys you need to understand the heritage of Velay and Haute-Loire. You can also see the hospital pharmacy, an exceptional testimony to the site’s history.
Since 2014, a monumental work, “The Heart of the Hôtel-Dieu”, by Jean-Michel Othoniel, has been set up in the gardens.
Departmental Hotel building
The Haute-Loire Departmental Hotel combines history and modernism. It has been renovated by the architect, Jean-Michel Wilmotte, and is now a unique site for events, congresses, seminars and exhibitions. On the ground floor, the sessions room has an exceptional view over the Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Rock. The exhibition gallery is open all the year round and gives visitors the chance to see high-quality works by local artists.
The inner courtyard is not to be missed. This is where the Saint-Alexis Chapel is located, a major part of the Puy de Lumières sound and light show.
Bobbin Lace Learning Centre
The Bobbin Lace Learning Centre was set up in 1974 with two main tasks: to maintain the tradition and practice of lace-making through teaching and to preserve the lace-making heritage. Over the years, the Centre has acquired an international reputation. Its correspondence courses are followed all over the world, making it a reference in lace-making skills. The exhibition rooms host themed exhibitions each year.
The National Lace Conservatory Workshop is administered by the French Mobilier National agency, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. Its mission is to preserve the techniques of bobbin lace: drafting, finishing and mounting. Lace-makers are keeping alive traditional skills by creating unique, high-quality works based on drawings by contemporary international artists. The pieces are shown to the public at exhibitions in France and abroad.
Follow the pathway to the stars and see the stages leading all the way to Santiago de Compostella. In a very modern staging, visitors are immediately immersed in the Way of St James. From its appearance in the Middle Ages to its contemporary forms, all aspects of the “Camino” are on display. This is an invitation to share an experience, a place to welcome and advise visitors, and a chance to meet fellow hikers. It is also one of the cultural sites not to be missed in Le Puy-en-Velay.
The pilgrims’ cafe and the wonderful garden are a relaxing spot close by the Cathedral.
Sanctuary of St Joseph of Good Hope
Near Le Puy-en-Velay, at the heart of the Borne valley, the Saint Joseph of Good Hope Basilica in Espaly, which was completed in 1918, stands on the site of an older castle chapel. The monumental statue is 22.4 metres high and seems to echo Our Lady of France, on the Corneille rock in Le Puy-en-Velay.
The statue was designed by Brother André Besqueut and is made of reinforced concrete. The work was approved by Pope Pius X. The inauguration and benediction took place on 11 April 1910. During your visit, you will see how the chapel seems to nestle in the rock. Around the sanctuary, a few narrow, picturesque streets mark out the old Espaly.
Le Puy-en-Velay, a sanctuary
A sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary was built in Le Puy-en-Velay in the very early Middle Ages. It soon gained a national and European reputation. It stands at the starting point of the Way of St James, and since the 10th century a visit to the venerable and mysterious statue of the Black Virgin has been a key part of the experience.
The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, on 15 August, is celebrated by carrying the statue of the Black Virgin in a procession through the streets of the town.