Vichy in Wintertime

Travel log: February 23, 2017; France

3 Rue Hubert-Colombier 3
Rue Hubert-Colombier
7 Rivière Allier 2
Rivière Allier

For a city of its size, with a population of only 33,500 at its peak, Vichy has undergone interesting transformations. Famed for its thermal springs, the town has attracted cure-seekers since the Roman times, none of them leaving a larger imprint than Napoleon III. Later, during the Second World War, the city served briefly as the country’s capital. For many French people, its name now unfortunately calls to mind the then government’s collaboration with the Nazi regime.

Today, Vichy exists in other incarnations. There is Vichy Laboratories, the cosmetics and skincare brand, and pastilles de Vichy, a locally produced digestive candy—both a nod to the city’s reputation as a place of healing.

Located in the center of France, Vichy is easily accessible by car or train. Even in winter, visitors can enjoy a walk around the city’s historical districts and admire its impressive array of architectural styles.

Vichy
The Vichy tourism office suggests two walking routes: the blue Spa District trail and the gold Old Town trail.

In some places you can skip the tourism office, but not here. Their free, informative, downright indispensable map is one of the most well-made I’ve seen. Check out their gorgeous website too, which even offers interactive tours. Most importantly, take your time. Vichy is so small that even at a leisurely pace you can explore it in two hours.

CIRCUIT AZUR

From the tourism office, you can immediately start on the blue trail around the spa district. It’s organized around the Parc des Sources, located in the heart of the city.

Parc des Sources

Frequented by elderly couples and locals walking their dogs, this park commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte makes for a perfect mid-afternoon stroll. Its trees hang bare in late winter, but the grass shines green under the February sunlight. Late in the afternoon, the sky blends into cotton candy shades of pink and blue.

10 Parc des Sources 2

Grand établissement thermal

Built in 1903, this oriental-style bathhouse used to welcome only the well-heeled. Now a spa center, it offers a wider range of services, from the affordable to the less so.

1 Grand établissement thermal

Casino-Théâtre

Commissioned by Napoleon III, this sprawling building used to house all sorts of entertainment: music, theater, dances, and games. Once the place to be for French performers, it now leads a more staid existence as a convention center and opera house.

11 Casino-Théâtre

Kiosque à musique

Originally built as an homage to music, this kiosk has unfortunately deteriorated over time.

2 Kiosque à musique 1

Boulevard de Russie and Rue de Belgique

Outside the park, the Circuit Azur takes you out onto the architecturally interesting Boulevard de Russie and Rue de Belgique.

13 Boulevard de Russie 1
House on Boulevard de Russie
14 Rue de Belgique
Rue de Belgique

Église Saint-Louis

Toward the east stands St. Louis’ Church, constructed in the neo-Gothic style.

9 Église Saint-Louis

CIRCUIT OR

The gold trail picks up from where the Circuit Azur left off and winds its way around the historical district.

Rue Hubert-Colombier

One of the first stops is this charming street lined with houses of different architectural styles.

Église Saint-Blaise et Notre Dame des Malades

At the end of Rue Hubert-Colombier stands St. Blaise’s Church. Don’t be fooled by its austere exterior; inside are colorful stained glass windows.

5 Église Saint-Blaise et Notre Dame des Malades 1

Source des Célestins

Sheltered by a picturesque pavilion, this free-flowing fountain spouts the most famous of Vichy’s waters. Rich in minerals, the slightly salty water is supposedly good for both health and beauty.

8 Source des Célestins 1

Castel Franc

Built in the 15th century and later restored, this former bailiwick stands on the remains of Vichy’s ancient walls.

L’Allier

Hugging the curve of the city, this tributary of the Loire River brought trade to medieval Vichy—but also destructive floods. To protect itself, the city dammed the river and created parks along its eastern bank.

Where to eat

Dining in a chic place like Vichy can seem intimidating to those on a budget—like us. We ended up at the surprisingly affordable La Véranda, which we had initially approached only to gawk at what we’d assumed were exorbitant prices. We spent €27 for two, not bad considering the portions.

For a hotel restaurant, La Véranda has a pleasant, laidback ambience, if you don’t mind the outdated music. After a whole afternoon spent walking, it was just what we needed before the long drive back to Lyon.

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