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The Colettes Forest
This state-owned forest is found in the southern most area of the Allier department, near le Puy-de-Dôme, and extends through various towns, including Coutansouze.
The forest, covering over 5,000 acres, is considered to be one of the most beautiful beech wood forests in Europe. While visiting the forest, visitors can enjoy a myriad of outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, horseback riding, treetop adventure courses, hiking or guided tours. The forest is also a wildlife refuge for flora and fauna.
In the heart of this forest, you will find many sites that are a historical testimony of activities that once took place there. For example, the Wolframines museum space showcases the forests’ past mining life. Additionally, nine historic wash houses, maintained by the local historical society, can be found dispersed throughout the deepest corners of the forest.
The railway crosses the forest via spectacular viaducts, including the Bélon and Perrière viaducts situated in Coutansouze.
Thanks to the unique geology, altitude, and wildlife of the forest , hikers will discover a part of nature that has yet to be tamed. Once having reached the highest point of the forest, hikers can also enjoy a magnificent view of la Chaîne des Puys, a UNESCO world heritage site, in all its beauty.
La Bosse is a mineralogical rich area of the forest, showcasing rare minerals containing beryllium, lithium, tantalum, niobium and pewter. Two minerals, wolfram and kaolin, have been exploited here. Wolfram was exploited until 1962 in the Montmins mine, and Kaloin is still being exploited today and is used to producte porcelain in Echassières.
A little bit of history ...
In the Middle Ages, the forest was property of the Dukes of Bourbon until the property was seized by the State.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the forest was populated by woodworkers, lumberjacks, woodsplitters, and clogmakers. The forest also served as a refuge for military deserters, vagrants, thieves, and “faux-saunier” (or salt-smugglers).
Because the forest is located between Auvergne, a “pay de gabelle” where the salt was not subjected to tax, and the Duchy of Bourbonnais, an area where salt was taxed, it quickly became a hot-spot for contraband.
Jean-Baptise Colbert, Minister of Finance under Louis XIV, initiated the forestry management system (from sowing the seeds to planting) in order to meet the need for large pieces of wood needed by the navy. The 1855 law granted the Baron de Veauce a license to extract kaolin. Fifteen quarries were required in order to exploit the kaolin. Today, the Beauvoir site is the only quarry still in operation. At the edge of the forest, the process of deep mineralization also created quantities of granite, from with tungsten ore and wolfram were extracted. In 1944, the forest housed various “Maquis” camps (rural guerilla bands of French resistance fighters during WWII), including the “Francs-tireurs and partisans (FTP) Gabriel Dionnet” Camp. Following a large-scale operation launched by the Schutzstaffel (better known by the acronym “SS”) 25 guerrilla fighters were reportedly killed. A plaque can be found in the forest town of Veauce, commemorating the memory of the 11 “FTP” that were killed.
Flora and Fauna
While hiking you can see a great number of plant and animal species.
The lowest point of the Colettes Forest is 350 meters (1,148 ft) and the highest point is 730 meters (2,395 ft), totaling in 380 meters of difference in elevation. Depending on the altitude, different tree species dominate. Up to an altitude of 550 meters, Sessile Oak prevails. Oftentimes the trees are over 100 years old. At 550 meters and above, Beech trees reigns supreme. Finally, at the highest point of the forest, Conifers were planted in the land left vacant at the end of the quarrying era.
Deer, wild boars, foxes and hares frolic in the forest, nicknamed the “green lungs” of the Val de Sioule. You may even catch a glimpse of a wild cat or gray dormouse. The latter adores beech trees.
Many birds can also be seen in the Colettes Forest. Raptors (Buzzards, European Honey Buzzards, Wood Pigeons, Woodpecked Eagles, Tawny Owls) and smaller species (Wood Turtle Dove, Red Crossbills, Large Crows, Nightjar, Woodcock) take advantage of the peace of the forest.
In the small streams that crisscross the forest, you may spot a few trout, or even the very rare white-legged crayfish. Two interesting amphibian species hide along the rivers; the Yellow-Bellied Ringing Toad and the Crested Newt.
Finally, the forest shelters, in the heart of its Beech forest, a remarkable beetle, the Rosalie Alpine. This insect is particularly fond of old Beech trees and uses them lay eggs, grow, feed and hide. Found only in specific spots, it is a rare and protected species, currently known to be found only in the region of Auvergne. It is therefore our duty to protect it and its habitat, as it is an exceptional ecological treasure. This is why part of the forest (over 1,800 acres) Natura 2000 classified site, a European directive aiming to preserve biodiversity. The Natura 2000 site is divided into two very distinct zones: the first is a wooded area, the Holly Beech forest, and the second is an old kaolin quarry sheltering a biotope and very specific species (thanks to the formation humid areas).
It is important to underline that an association “Les amis de la Forêt des Colettes” (Friends of the Collettes Forest) was created to ensure the safeguard and promotion of the forest heritage and nature of the “Massif des Colettes”.
Because certain areas of the forest are considered to be private property, it is up to everyone to respect these properties, as well as the rules and regulations put in place.
The village of Coutansouze is located in the department of Allier, about 50 km (30 miles) north-west of Vichy. It consists of one main village center and two main hamlets, Fayes and Villard-les Bois. The village covers 13.4 km² (8.3m²) of land and has a population of just over 150. The lowest elevation point is 379 meters (1,243 ft) and the highest point is 671 meters (2,201 ft). Two streams, the Bélon and the Perrière, cross the village.
The history of the town is linked to the Colettes Forest and its clogmakers. Up until the 10th century, the shoe industry was flourishing. Today, the main industry is agricultural, mainly cattle breeding.
The town has many beautiful monuments. The Church of Saint-Gervais Saint-Protais, built in 1861, is protected by the Coutansouze’s historical society. This association also protects the nine washhouses scattered in the heart of the forest: the washhouse of la Plaine, the washhouse of la Perrière, and the two washhouses of Villards (it should be noted that these washhouses were used by the inhabitants of the hamlet but that one is actually located in the municipality of Bellenaves), the two washhouses in the hamlet of Fayes, the two washhouses in the Croix des Bois and the washhouse in the SNCF maisonette. There are also two monumental works, the Bélon and Perrière viaducts.
The Bélon viaduct straddles the municipalities of Louroux de Bouble and Coutansouze, allowing the Commentry/Gannat railway line to cross the Bélon Valley. It was built in 1869 by engineer Félix Moreaux according to chief engineer of the “Compagnie du Paris-Orléans”, Wilhelm Nordling, and was put into service in June of 1871. It was listed as a historic monument in 2009. It consists of three distinct parts. In the center, a metal truss bridge with a length of 128 meters rests on two metal pillars inserted in the Bélon Valley. The other two parts were constructed with brick and mortar and connect the metal to the mainland. The viaduct is 231.40 meters (757 ft) long and 48.55 meters (159 ft) high.
The Perrière viaduct is a brick and mortar structure built and designed in a curve, with eight 12-meter (39 ft) high arches. Construction was completed in 1869. The viaduct is 124 meters (406 ft) long and 34 meters (111.5 ft) high.
By foot, by bike, by horse ..
The itineraries offered by Les Balad'Sioule, Rando'Train, Rando-Canoë, l'Equi'Sioule, Ça roule de source cyclo or VTT circuit, l'Allier à vélo, and geocaching will all allow you to find your happiness!
Many brochures are available at the counter, in addition to those found at the Val de Sioule Tourist Office, located in Saint-Pourcain-Sur-Sioule.
What to see/to do
The Colettes Forest :
Many green activities: mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking (marked trails including a long-distance trail GR463), an educational forest trail from Petit Salbrune to Bellenaves, tree climbing (see “Activities and leisure”), orienteering courses (downloadable course on the tourist office website), and guided tours.
The Sioule Gorges :
With its incomparable charm, you can partake in multiple activities at the gorges, such as hiking, canoeing, fishing, swimming, and cultural tours (see the fortress or church ...)
Environmentally Sensitive Areas :
The county council of Allier, alongside various local authorities, have designated “environmentally sensitive areas”, grouping together seven sites in order to highlight the exceptional nature found there.
– The Lawns of Diagots situated in Mazerier, Jenzat and Saulzet
– The Chapel Hills on the Gannat/Orchid trail
– Mount Libre Gannat
– The trail from Chazoux to Gannat
– The Hills of St Foy and Bagnettes in Ebreuil
– The Bouble Gorges in Chantelle
– The Moors of Péraclos in Chouvigny
Val d'Allier Nature Reserve :
Over 3,800 acres protected showcasing incredible biodiversity: plants, birds, mammals, fish, butterflies, beetles, mollusks and dragonflies.
The Sioule and Bouble Viaducts :
Five iron and stone giants to see: Viaduc de la Bouble, Viaduc du Bélon, Viaduc de la Perrière, Viaduc de Rouzat and Viaduc de Neuvial.
Fishing sites :
Many sites are accessible, but a fishing license is required: Etang de Bellenaves, Plan d'eau des bignars in Bègues, Gorges de la Bouble, Plan d'eau d'Ebreuil sur la Sioule, Gorge de la Sioule, Etang de Gouzolles in Bayet, Etang de Villemouze in Paray -sous-Briailles, Edges of Sioule in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule, Lake Lapeyrouse ...
Must-see towns and villages :
Bellenaves, Chantelle, Charroux, Ebreuil, Gannat, Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule, Verneuil-en-Bourbonnais… Visit any of these places in order to see castles, churches, abbeys, museum, historic towns. Enjoy the architecture and the hidden alleys..
Games and treasure hunts :
Discover the surrounding villages in a fun, unique way; Ogaia, a mysterious treasure hunt, and PéPIT, an interactive treasure hunt you can download on your cellphone.
Activities and Leisure :
“Accro'sioule” (tree climbing / orienteering / treasure hunts / educational trails) in Echassière
The adventure park “Les perchés” (tree climbing / paddle) in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
“Secret de plantes” (botanical outing with cooking and cosmetics workshop) in Saulcet
Disc Golf Course in the city of Target
“Les Rocs de la Serre” (Horseback riding) in Bègues
“Hippos” (Horseback riding) in Ebreuil
“Vulcania” (Amusement and entertainment park focused on the discovery of volcanoes and the planet Earth) in Saint-Ours-les-Roches
The “PAL” (Amusement Park and Zoological Park) in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Besbre
The “Jenzat Mare” (Horseback) in Jenzat
Vichy Saint-Didier-la-Forêt Equestrian Center “EYWA” (Horseback riding) in Saint-Didier-la-Forêt
“L’éperon de Verneuil” (Horseback riding / Educational farm) in Verneuil-en-Bourbonnais
Association Ciel mon ami (Astronomy Initiation / Training) in Charmes
“Promenade en Rosalie” on Île de la ronde in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
“Mini-karting” in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
“Île de la ronde” (borders the Sioule and offers various activities) in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
Garden of medicinal plants (Discovery path lined with aromatic and medicinal plants) in Saint Bonnet-de-Rochefort
“Jardin de Némusiens” (city garden that hosts many events) in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
Activity Center at Lake Lapeyrouse in Lapeyrouse
“Aloha Parc” (water park) in Paray-sous-Briailles
Nautical stadium in Gannat
Municipal swimming pool in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
“Envol en pays Saint-Pourcinois” (Hot air balloon trip) in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
Paramotor flying in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
“ULM” (vineyard and castle) in Verneuil-en-Bourbonnais
Tennis court in Bellenaves
Minigolf in Chantelle
Tennis court in Chantelle
Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule/ Brailles Golf Course in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
Minigolf in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
Aqua canoeing (canoe / bike / pedal boat / paddle board / rafting) in Ebreuil
Natural wake park (water skiing / wakeboarding / multi-sport terraine) in Paray-sous-Brailles
“Archers de Verneuil” (introduction to archery) in Verneuil-en-Bourbonnais
“Le Vert Plateau” (vacation village with mountain biking base) in Bellenaves
“Vélorail” de la Sioeule at Le Mayet-d'école
“Vélorail” des Combrailles in Lapeyrouse
“Un vélo à la campagne” (bicycle rentals) in Louroux-de-Bouble
“Terre de Roa” (certified organic family estate) in Monétay-sur-Allier
We have the priviledge of working with and recommending this winery as share the same values of our company. However, it is also possible to visit other estates in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule and its surroundings. They will be delighted to welcome you and share their passionate for what they do. Botanical conservatory for old grape varieties in Chareil-Cintrat
The Château de Bellenaves (Former feudal house of the Bourbonnais Duchy)
The Château de Chareil-Cintrat (Former medieval fortress of the house of Bourbon)
The Moulin Neuf tower (Defense tower) in Chatel-de-Neuvre
The Château de Chouvigny (13th century fortress dominating the Sioule Gorges)
The Château des Granges in Escurolles
Fontariol Castle in Le Theil
Château de Veauce (Feudal Fortress)
The Manoir de Fontorte in Monteignet-sur-l'Andelot
The Château de Rochefort in Saint-Bonnet de Rochefort
The Château de la Mothe (medieval castle) in Vicq
Chantelle Abbey (Saint-Vincent Abbey)
The route of the painted churches of Bourbonnais (15 churches with murals)
The Automobile Museum (collection of more than 50 vehicles from the years 1910 to 1980) in Bellenaves
The Museum of Charroux and its “canton” (journey from the Gallo-Roman period to the 20th century)
The Wolframines Museum (house of minerals) in Echassières
Historial du Paysan Soldat (a history museum that favors a socio-cultural approach and aims at showing the participation of the rural world in the two world wars) in Fleuriel
Musée municipal Yves Machelon (museum of local history) in Gannat
“Paleopolis”, the dinosaur hill (theme park dedicated to paleontology) in Gannat
The Maison des Horloges (collection of around forty clock movements of buildings from the 16th to the 19th centuries) in Charroux
Weekly Markets :
Wednesdays, 8:00am-1:00pm in Bellenaves and Gannat
Thursdays, 8:00am-1:00pm in Ebreuil
Fridays, 5:00pm-7:00pm in Coutansouze
Saturdays, 8:00am-1:00pm in Gannat and Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
Many local events are also organized in the area throughout the year.
Flea markets, guided tours, festivals, concerts, markets, painting exhibitions ...
For more information :
Office de tourisme Val de Sioule
29 rue Marcellin Berthelot
Tél : +33(0)4 70 45 32 73