Mont Dore is a charming resort for the tourist, the holiday-maker, the rest-seeker who wishes for lovely scenery, mountain air, and all the light-mindedness and amusement of an exclusively French watering-place. The antiquarian can combine business with pleasure; for while he sits in the shade at one of the little white-topped tables outside the Café du Casino sipping his mazagran or his liqueur glass of the excellent Elixir du Mont Dore, he may examine the carvings on a pile of Roman altars, pillars, and what not behind his chair.
-Rose Georgina Kingsley
In the sixteenth century and afterwards, chroniclers perpetuated the legend of an elusive “Fountain of Youth”. A few contended that it was located in the far-off West Indies. Yet no one ever realised that the secret to eternal youth was actually right beneath their noses in the French mountain village of Mont-Dore (also known as “Le Mont-Dore”). Unlike other lesser-known Auvergne destinations, Mont-Dore has been a wellness capital for millennia. Its thermal springs — rich in silica, bicarbonates, iron, and other vitalising minerals — were well-known to the ancient Gallo-Romans. Their engineers constructed solemn, temple-like complexes around the seemingly magical springs. Some of the ruins of these structures can still be seen to this day.
It was not until the 1800s, however, that Mont-Dore experienced a kind of Renaissance. Spurred on by the scientific work of Michel Bertrand, whose discoveries brought to light the extensive curative properties of the thermes, Mont-Dore’s renovators took inspiration from both Classical architecture and local Romanesque styles. In no time, the village garnered an international reputation as an idyllic destination where one could renew both the body and the mind. Mont-Dore soon had it all: ritzy hotels, ballrooms, a theatre, a grand casino, a public park, and many other luxurious attractions. Author Fannie Edgar Thomas, writing in 1897, summed up the town’s appeal this way:
“Entertainment is varied enough–climbing peaks, horse and donkey riding, riding in carts and landeaus, long excursions, promenades, open air sports and games, quiet reading or visiting in pine summer houses, visiting with the droll shepherds or rolling down hill on the soft, sunny grass…”
Contemporary Mont-Dore, I would argue, is still a place where the Fountain of Youth can be found. Why? The elixir is Mont-Dore itself. Any weary or burnt-out traveller who drinks deeply of its sights and sounds will be rejuvenated. Nowadays the thermal baths, which are open between April and November, offer a dizzying amount of hydrotherapy options. Mont-Dore is also the ideal setting to take the air and flaneur. Among the many sights and things to explore are the Funicular of Capucin (an electric cable-car — the oldest of its kind in France) and the Mont-Dore ski resort , as well as a pleasant mélange of restaurants and artisanal shops.
For more tips on must-see attractions in Auvergne, click “Trip Ideas” below.