Vallée des Saints in Boudes, a natural site known as Colorado Auvergnat
Vallée of Saints, a land of red earth
The Vallée des Saints is not an ancient sacred place, as its name might suggest!
It could, though, as it lies in the heart of the land of the Arverni, one of the most powerful Gaulish federations.
But this valley, located in the commune of Boudes, at the southern tip of the vast Plain of Limagne, simply owes its name to its geological richness!
This geographical enclave, known as Lembron, is an area of red earth dotted with astonishing geological formations such as circuses, cliffs and hoodoos.
The latter obviously triggered the fertile imagination of a geologist who studied them in the 19th century, as he indeed compared them to a procession of hooded monks.
The Saints went marching in the valley...
The site’s geological richness and the natural environment it produced enabled La Vallée des Saints to be recognized as a natural sensitive area (ENS) by the General Council of Puy-de-Dôme.
The site includes the Vallon des Fosses, Cirque des Mottes and a mineral spring, known as Source de Bard.
There might not be any holy presence in the valley, however, you could easily believe that the gods contributed to its creation!
Indeed, its fertile red soil favours viticulture and produces one of the best wines of Auvergne (and oldest wine of France!) the Côte d'Auvergne Boudes!
A little bit of geology
However, this is where the divine stops and geology takes over...
I won’t go into complex explanations, but this is basically what happened.
The formation of the Vallée des Saints doesn’t go back quite to the dawn of time, however, we still have to go back 70 to 40 million years back.
Central France then enjoyed a warm and humid equatorial climate which evolved in a dry and hot tropical climate.
This gradual change triggered the formation of clay soils, rich in iron oxide and aluminum.
Then, between 40 and 8 million years ago, the region of Limagne collapsed.
The vast depression it created (Plaine de la Limagne), filled with water.
Sediments of marl, limestone and sandstone accumulated over the millennia.
They were then covered by basalt streams during the eruption of the volcanoes of Auvergne.
Wind, rain and frost eroded these rocks of various densities, thus creating amazing geological formations.
Among those are the hoodoos, columns of tender rock crowned by a hard rock!
The oxidation and alteration of the various minerals, which these columns contained, produced an incredible array of colours.
Clay mixed with iron oxide created red and purple; hydroxide iron yellow; chlorite green and kaolin creamy-white.
The 23 hoodoos in the Vallée des Saints range from 10m to 30m of height and are quite spectacular.
The valley is naturally compared to the Grand Canyon, and is called Colorado Auvergnat.
That said, the site is very fragile as erosion constantly weakens it.
Source de Bard
The Source de Bard is located in the heart of the Vallée des Saints.
Ancient legends referred to a source buried under a landslide.
The earth allowed only a thin stream of water to resurface in the open air.
In 1882, the site was then planted with a vineyard.
The owner, Mr. Augier, dug at a depth of 1.3m and found an antique stone basin of red gneiss that collected the water.
The minerals had calcified the edges, but it was intact.
However, the discovery didn’t stop there!
Indeed, 67 Roman coins bearing the effigies of the Roman emperors from the 1st to the 2nd century AD, laid at the bottom of the basin and allowed the source to be dated!
This source is still the property of the Augier family who joined the Regional Conservatory for the protection of the natural and cultural heritage of the Vallée of Saints.
And if you wonder: the name Bard has nothing to do with the site; it’s simply the name of the nearby hamlet!
Happy hikers, here's a site that proposes you a marked itinerary to discover the Vallée des Saints at your pace.
Finally, here's another of Mother Nature's geological marvels: Luberon’s ocher quarries in the village of Roussillon in Provence
Directions: Boudes - Puy-de-Dôme Department - Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region
Coordinates: Lat 45.454507 - Long 3.170176
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