Enjoying Vichy, France
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Vichy, France, is a great getaway for those who are looking for an active and rejuvenating holiday. Nestled in the beautiful Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France, Vichy's healing mineral waters and natural beauty captured the attention of Emperor Napoleon III during his reign in the mid 1800s. He was responsible for the creation of the Allier Parks (which include Napoleon III Park and Kennedy Park), that are wonderful venues for running, cycling, playing, strolling or gazing at the collection of heritage trees. There are 30,000 trees representing 83 genres and 228 varieties contained in all of Vichy's parks.
A public bicycle rental program was recently rolled out in Vichy, where you just need your phone to rent bicycles at various docking stations. As of 2019, the first 30 minutes are free, and a rental for 3-12 hours is only 6 euro! Check out Vivélo's website for more details, and remember you'll need the Vivélo app before renting.
Note: The app locks and unlocks the bike (so you can lock the wheels when parked on the street shopping for some fresh and juicy peaches without the need for a manual lock). When you're done for the day and ready to return the bike, turn on the app (following instructions) then firmly push the front tire up into the docking station slot until it audibly clicks in to activate the return.
If you want some water adventure, there's Lake Allier (it more closely resembles a river, so don't be confused when you see it). Activities include kayaking, paddleboarding, wake boarding, water skiing, and the very practical baby-ski (where kids learn how to water ski while holding a bar along side a motor boat). I recommend talking to the kind (and multi-lingual) folks at Club Nautique near the Rotunda on Lake Allier.
If you want some swimming and beach time, stroll along the Esplanade du Lac d'Allier to Celestial beach, a small sandy beach with lifeguards, facilities and a simple cafe for your drinking and snacking pleasure. There are also a few mini-golf courses and plenty of cafes along the water to round out the options along the boardwalk.
After a day of play, there's plenty of delicious food to be had at the plethora of cafes and brasseries of Vichy. However, if you went to the Grande Marche in the central area of Vichy that morning, you already have all the provisions you need to enjoy a picnic or cook up something wonderful at your own place. Go early, and get the best products. I recommend any sheep's cheese or yogurt (look for an icon of a sheep, or the word brebis associated with the product). The jambon blanc is also quite superb.
When you need to focus on rejuvenation and recovery after days of epic activity and eating, visit Vichy Célestins Spa and Hotel. We chose the day pass, which gives you access to the mineral pool with massaging jets, the steam rooms, saunas, ice bath and icy foot pool. You can sip upon the herbal infusion concoction of the day at the bar, and, of course, there's Vichy mineral water. Is it a little overpriced? Maybe. But if you consider you have a whole half-day of therapy at your disposal, while being wrapped in a terry cloth robe, it's a steal.
Luckily you don't have to go to the spa to imbibe the healing mineral waters. You can fill up your own bottles (or they have a vending machine with cups and bottles) from the tap at the Source des Célestins. I like to mix Perrier 50/50 with the effervescent Vichy waters to make a refreshing and smooth beverage. Napoleon's physicians touted the therapeutic benefits of the mineral-rich waters, internally and externally, for healing the gut, improving the complexion, and strengthening the constitution.
Duck just off the well-trod tourist path and you can find gems like Le Mum's. In this small cafe we were treated to a very generous cheese plate, tasty table wine, free accompaniment salad, and a basket of gluten-free bread, in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. We were there at the beginning of lunch service, so the owners joined us for lovely conversation and gave us the rundown on the local cheeses we were falling in love with. My favorite was the peppercorn-infused sheep cheese. It's one of the great pleasures of traveling; to be able to break bread with locals, and share experiences and perspectives.
For a taste of history and culture, just take a walk and see what gems you find. The area of Old Vichy a good spot to start.
A celebrity art exhibit along the boardwalk of Lake Allier is shown below.
Vichy, France is the perfect place to visit if you're looking for a bit of French culture at a fraction of the price. There is the provincial feel of a small town, the bustle in city center of a big city, and wonderful experiences to be had. Not enough travel magazines write about Vichy, which could possibly be the best reason to visit.