A week to the beautiful Auvergne in France sounds good, right? This was my first holiday in France, but certainly not my last. When I think of France, I think of fresh croissants and delicious baguettes. But I found out there is more than just that. And I was very excited to find out how accessible the country is. On Saturday morning, 7th of September, we left Utrecht to start our journey to the Auvergne, a journey of about 900 kilometers. The trip lasted about 12 hours including the stops.
“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”
We stayed at Gites La Différence, a fully accessible house with a private swimming pool for a maximum of 8 people including up to 2 people who are wheelchair-bound. The house is quite spacious and has almost all the necessary, medical adaptions you can think of. There are four high low beds in the house, there are two accessible bathrooms and three electric patient lifts/hoists. In one of the bathrooms there is an electric folding shower stretcher. The private heated swimming pool is also accessible, with a full access ramp and railings on both sides.
Besides the fact that the house is accessible, it is also in the beautiful location with breathtaking views. The house is located in a village called ‘La Brousse’ and is part of the community of Augerolles. It is located in the region called ‘The Auvergne’. The Auvergne is also known as the lungs of France, and here are many landscapes to see such as: volcanoes, forests, mountains and valleys. The Auvergne gets its name from the Gallic people of Arverni, Veraingetorix was their King during the Roman invasion. The people who live in this area are called Auvergnats and Auvergnates.
We have done various activities, but I won’t mention all of these activities. In the area around La Brousse is a lot of nature, so a beautiful nature walk is definitely one of the things you can do. The forests are not easily accessible, but the roads are good to do in a wheelchair. Unless you like some adventure, then I would definitely go into the forests and see what you will find, for example a fallen tree.
Besides doing activities it is also very nice to stay around the house. To get a holiday feeling, it is not necessary to leave the house, because you have a beautiful view from the veranda. Also it seems to be possible to go fishing near the house, but we did not try this.
Lac d’Aubusson is just a 5 min drive. It’s a large recreational lake with a beach, where you can swim, hire canoes and paddle boats. There is a playground for children. Disabled people can easily access the lake and facilities, with designated parking spaces close by, graveled flat paths and even specially designed picnic benches for wheelchair users. After all these activities, you can grab a snack or have a glass to drink overlooking the lake. Every day of the week in the surrounding villages and towns there are the Auvergne morning markets. You can buy many local products such as: honey, cheese, sausages, woven baskets etc.
On Tuesday we went to the town of Vichy. Vichy is a spa town in central France and is famed as the home of the Vichy government during World War II. Vichy located in the middle of France in the region Allier of the Auvergne. With a population of 26,500 residents, it is not very touristic, but you can find enough things to do and see in the town itself and the surrounding area. Vichy’s spa waters are one of the major attractions, and you can find them at fountains throughout the town or at one of the spa hotels. The Vichy Spa Hotel ‘Les Celestins’ offers hydrotherapy treatments using local thermal water, osteopathy, physiotherapy and skin-care sessions.
After exploring Vichy we had dinner at an Indian, Pakistani restaurant called Le Ghandi in Vichy. We found this spot on TripAdvisor and it was marked as wheelchair-accessible. The restaurant was wheelchair accessible, but the toilets were upstairs. The food was great and so was the service.
Before visiting France, I had no idea what to expect concerning the accessibility. But I knew that the law requires that any building with public or community space needs to be accessible for people with disabilities. We also have the same law in the Netherlands.
“Getting around in French cities may be difficult at times. Many sidewalks are narrow and uneven, and cobblestone streets make access difficult, but the major tourist areas have better facilities. Although the Paris Metro is a very efficient method for traveling throughout central Paris, most stations are not readily accessible for people with disabilities. Very few stations have elevators and most have stairways and long corridors for changing trains or exiting to the street. However, many Parisian buses and tramways are equipped with lowering platforms for travelers with limited-mobility, or who are sight- or hearing-disabled. Taxis are also a good mode of transportation.” – Source
The highlight of the week was parapente, also known as paragliding. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever did in my entire life. Part of the excitement was that we did not know exactly when or even if the paragliding event would take place. This is dependent of the weather and more specific of the thermic. The initial planning was on Tuesday, but it finally took place on Thursday.
But what is parapente and how does it work? Parapente is also known as paragliding or screen flying, and it descends from parachuting. Unlike parachuting, parapente is about staying in the air for as long as possible. Often you fly over beautiful mountains and valleys. Parapente is simplest and natural form of flying, the wings float slowly and silently through the air. The screen consists only of textiles and lines, which makes the screen lightweight. Parapente originated from the dream of Icarus to get the ultimate sense of freedom.
The company that offers people with a disability to be able to do this amazing activity, is called Aeroparapente. The Aeroparapente instructors have mobilized around the ‘Heaven for All’ association with the objective of allowing people with reduced mobility to access paragliding flights at the top of the Puy de Dôme.
Before arriving at the Puy de Dôme, you’ll have to take the train to get up on the volcano. The train is wheelchair-accessible and takes off around every 20 minutes during the summer. On top of the volcano your instructor (moniteur) will be waiting for you, if needed with a special wheelchair. At the top of the Puy de Dôme, there are 7 places where you can take off, all around the volcano. The flight area of the moment is the one facing the wind. Once found, the monitor will equip himself and you for the experience. He will then check all security and hooking points. And then it’s time to ‘sail’ away and enjoy your ride. Gliding around the volcano and slowly descending towards the valley was a memorable experience.
So, this is a little impression of the chair and how it worked. Believe me, it was more comfortable than it looks like. The chair does not have any head support, so we had to make one with duct tape and a neck brace. Everything is possible, as long as you believe in yourself.