15 things to do in Montluçon (France)

The second largest town in the Auvergne region is a lovely medieval settlement on the banks of the Cher. Overlooking Montluçon from the top of the hill is the regal Château des Ducs de Bourbon, which has been the residence of the Dukes of Bourbon for hundreds of years. This set the tone for the medieval center of timber-framed houses, Romanesque churches and vaulted passages.

The highlight of Montluçon has to be MuPop, which chronicles the history of popular music and has the largest collection of instruments in France. For a few days, vast oak forests, medieval castles and lovely old villages are all within easy reach.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Monlucon:

1. Castle of the Dukes of Bourbon

Castle of the Dukes of Bourbon

Located on the terrace of the highest point in Montluçon, the Castle of the Dukes of Bourbon is an old 15th-century fortress and mansion.

The panoramic photos of the Esplanade are well worth taking, unfolding over the Cher Valley and taking in Massif Central to the south.

Construction of the castle began in the 1400s by Louis II de Bourbon during the 100 Years War, and later, in more peaceful times, the decorative elements you see now were added: there is a beautiful of timber-framed galleries, an elegant turret and Gothic skylights.

The interior is now the archives of the MuPop Museum, but you can go inside and take a look.

2. MuPop

Pop music

This excellent pop music museum used to be located in the Duke of Bourbon castle, but moved into a new swish home in 2013. It combines two historic mansions in the old town, one of which has retained its historic identity and the other has been remodeled with modern design.

Best of all are the various musical instruments, totaling over 35,000 pieces, the oldest being the mid-18th century.

This is the largest single collection in France, with everything from accordions to electric guitars.

You’ll see how the studio made ancient folk instruments and travel down memory lanes on the large wall of record covers.

3. St. Pierre Church

St Pierre church

Built in the 1700s, the church’s understated exterior doesn’t prepare you for the history that awaits inside.

The interior is Romanesque from the 1100s and has special features such as the small passages connecting the nave and each transept on either side.

The interior is also filled with artwork from hundreds of years ago.

Be sure to check out the stone pietà (Mary holding the dead Jesus), which was carved in the 1400s and is an official French Historic Monument.

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There is also an octagonal baptistery from the 1400s and an even older stone cross behind the altar, dating from the 1300s.

4. Old Montluçon

Multi-delay inner channel

If there was ever a town that could be seen with two feet, it was old Montluçon.

Winding the hills are steep, narrow streets, and every few meters a historic building catches your eye.

The main street, Grand Rue, swoops below the castle, with timber-framed houses from the 1400s and 1500s.

Then there’s an occasional opening and you’ll see the Castle of the Dukes of Bourbon just above the ramparts.

A very lovely corner is the Passage du Doyenné with its 13th century cross-ribbed vault and a small flower market on Saturdays.

5. President Wilson Gardens

Wilson Presidential Garden

In the city center, take a break in this charming little park.

The upper terrace is a French garden with square carpet beds and lawns surrounded by low boxwood hedges.

There are also yew trees trimmed into tall cones and cylinders, and a statue of André Messerger, a composer born in Montluçon.

When you go, you’ll also see a lot of old stone carvings that belonged to the original façade of the Duke of Bourbon’s castle.

On the lower terrace, the square features a large circular fountain surrounded by overhanging plane trees.

6. Parc du Château de la Louvière

Louvière Castle

Perched on the hillside east of the town is a stately castle that looks much older than it actually is.

Louvière Castle was actually built in the first half of the 20th century by the industrialist François-Joseph Troubart.

Modeled after Louis XV’s Petit Trianon at Versailles, it is nestled in lovely gardens adapted to the slopes.

The building is only open in summer, but the gardens are free to enter all year round and are worth viewing, sculpting and landscaping.

7. Église Notre-Dame

Église Notre-Dame

Another Montluçon catalogue of historic monuments, this church combines 15th-century Gothic and 12th-century Romanesque architecture.

Later redesigns were ordered by Louis II, who also expanded the castle on the top of the hill.

But the lack of funding meant the church was never finished: it had an irregular layout with two parallel naves.

This only adds to its personality, and there’s another treasure trove of decor inside.

Check out Renaissance stained glass windows from the 1500s, another sensational Pieta sculpture and a stone Christ dating from the 1400s.

8. Berry Canal Museum

Berry Canal Museum

From 1840 to 1955, the Berry Canal was more than 260 kilometers of waterways and locks, connecting the Loire and Cher rivers, while also providing a tributary to Montluçon.

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Housed in an old lime kiln a few kilometers north of town, the museum reopens a forgotten chapter of the area’s past.

Inside, among the antique tools, models, paintings and documents, there are some old locked doors with instructions on how they work.

Moored at the front are two real barges that actually sailed the canal and were preserved from the scrapyard when the museum opened in the 70s.

9. Neris-les-Bains

Neris-les-Bains

Just a few minutes from Montluçon, Néris-les-Bains is a spa town at the foot of the early Massif Central.

The hot springs were discovered in Gaul and developed by the Romans, who built two palace-style baths here.

Then, after centuries of neglect, the town returned to popularity in the 1800s, when spas, casinos and theaters were built, attracting high-profile guests such as Chateaubriand and Queen Eugenie.

This luxurious legacy is still visible, and Néris-les-Bains has preserved this aristocratic atmosphere.

Visit the palatial architecture, perhaps book a massage or soak in the warm spring water at the Les Nériades Spa.

10. Vallon-en-Sully

Vallon-en-Sully

If you want to experience the Canal du Berry for yourself, the best location is the picturesque village of Vallon-en-Sully.

Here, a section of the canal is navigable again.

So in July and August, you can rent a pedal boat or a 4, 5, 6 or 8-seater electric boat for a short cruise in the Allier countryside.

These crafts are easy to operate and you don’t need a license.

For those hiking, there is a specially arranged interpretive trail on the tow road to help you imagine the kind of traffic that once sailed along this waterway.

11. Forêt de Tronçais

Tronce Forest

If you want to stretch your legs, look no further than this 10,600-hectare mature forest just a short drive north of town.

Most of the trees in Forêt de Tronçais are sessile oaks, from crops planted on the orders of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finance under Louis XIV. He wanted to build a large hardwood inventory for the Navy, one of many forests chosen for the job.

There are large numbers of deer and wild boars, and there are 130 hectares of ponds deep in the woodlands.

Routes are also planned for the Viljot spring, the most famous of the 40 natural resources in the forest.

12. Harrison

Harrison

On a loop of the Aumanche River is the medieval village of Hérisson, dominated by a crumbling castle but still protected by most of its historic walls.

The streets have houses dating back to the 1400s and traces of old fortified city gates like the Porte de Varenne.

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The best place to start the tour is on the bridge across the Aumanche River, with the village in front of you and the tower of the castle rising behind you.

This magnificent building dates back to the 1300s and was also built by the Dukes of Bourbon, but has been in ruins since the 17th century.

13. Château d’Ainay-le-Vieil

Château d'Ainay-le-Vieil

At the western tip of the forest is this very romantic 14th century castle.

At the turn of the 16th century it was transformed from a defensive fortress to a luxurious residence in the Louis XII style.

It incorporates medieval icons such as jagged walls, spiral staircases, drawbridges and arrow rings, as well as more intricate elements such as old windows and ornate stonework. The curtains of the walls and towers earned it the nickname “Little Carcassonne”! The castle has belonged to the same family since 1467, and Jean-Baptiste Colbert is one of its ancestors.

Be sure to stay on the grounds for as long as possible, it’s an “amazing garden” with rare roses, cloisters and manicured orchards.

14. Donjon de la Toque

don jon de la Toque

This beautiful tower in the village of Huriel is the last remnant of a castle built in the 1100s.

It was passed down by a series of lords and subsequent Barons of Huriel, whose stories are told inside the museum.

You’ll see changes to Romanesque towers in more peaceful times, adding more luxury in the form of enlarged fireplaces and mullioned windows.

There is also an exhibit on the once healthy local wine industry, which was hit by blight at the turn of the 20th century and is now limited to 10 hectares.

Climb up to the terrace to see the village surrounded by soft green hills.

15. Local Food

pâté aux pommes de terre

In rural destinations like Montluçon, there is a directory of local producers and farms with shops.

Just in town, you can visit the Brasserie Blondel, which opened in 2011 and brews gold, white and amber ales.

There are bee farms, snail farms and many dairy farms to visit.

And for gourmet food, it’s often meaty and hunger-quenching: the traditional preparation is pâté aux pommes de terre, literally pâté in a puff pastry made with whipped cream and potato chips.

Beef (Charolais), poultry and lamb are great.

Like andouillettes, traditional chorizo ​​sausages with mustard and sautéed potatoes.

Where to Stay: The best hotels in Montlucon, France
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