Just 15km north of Clermont-Ferrand, RIOM is sedate and provincial. One-time capital of the entire Auvergne, its Renaissance architecture, fashioned out of the local black volcanic stone, now secures the town's status as a highlight of the northern Massif. In 1942, just before the first trains of Jewish deportees were shipped to Nazi Germany, Léon Blum, Jewish prime minister and architect of the Socialist Popular Front government, was put on trial in Riom by Marshal Pétain, France's collaborationist ruler, in an attempt to blame the country's defeat in 1940 on the Left. Defending himself, Blum turned the trial into an indictment of collaboration and Nazism. Under pressure from Hitler, Pétain called it off, but nonetheless deported Blum to Germany, an experience which he survived, to give evidence against Pétain himself after the war.
You may only want to spend a morning here, but Riom does provide a worthwhile stopover for lunch if you're on the way up to Vichy. It's an aloof, old-world kind of place, still Auvergne's judicial capital, with a nineteenth-century Palais de Justice that stands on the site of a grand palace built when the dukes of Berry controlled this region in the fourteenth century. Only the Gothic Ste-Chapelle survives of the original palace, with fine stained-glass windows taking up almost the entirety of three of the walls (guided visits only, every 30min: May Wed 35pm; June & Sept MonFri 35pm; July & Aug MonFri 10amnoon & 2.305.30pm; €0.50).
The best way to admire the town's impressive ensemble of basalt-stone houses, with their red-tiled roofs, is to climb up to the viewing platform of the sixteenth-century clock tower, at 5 rue de l'Horloge, off the main street, rue du Commerce (May, June & Sept Mon & Sun 26pm, TuesSat 10amnoon & 26pm; July & Aug daily 10amnoon & 26pm; €0.50). There's an interesting museum on the region's folk traditions at 10bis rue Delille, the Musée Régional d'Auvergne (daily except Tues JuneSept 10amnoon & 2.306pm; OctMay 10amnoon & 2.305.30pm; €4.10, or €5.60 joint ticket with the Musée Mandet; free on Wed), with the Musée Mandet's displays of Roman finds and unexciting paintings not far away at 4 rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville (same hours; €4.10, free on Wed). At 44 rue du Commerce, the church of Notre-Dame-du-Marthuret holds Riom's most valued treasures, two statues of the Virgin and Child one a Black Madonna, the other, the so-called Vierge à l'Oiseau, a touchingly realistic piece of carving that portrays the young Christ with a bird fluttering in his hands. A copy stands in the entrance hall of the church (its original site), where you can see it with the advantage of daylight.
Riom's tourist office is at 16 rue du Commerce (July & Aug MonSat 9.30am12.30pm & 26.30pm, Sun 10amnoon & 2.304pm; SeptJune MonSat 9.30am12.30pm & 26pm; tel 04.73.38.59.45). If you decide to stay, the town's basic cheapie is Hôtel le Square, 26 bd Desaix (tel 04.73.86.02.71, fax 04.73.86.18.80; under €30), which runs a decent restaurant (crêpes and omelettes for around €10). For dinner or lunch, follow the locals to Au Bon Croûton, on the corner of rue Gomot and rue Fleurs, where the speciality is fondue (menus from €15), or the nearby Ane Gris (closed Mon lunch and Sun), which serves truffade (€12) and aligot (€10.50).
Pages in section ‘Riom’: Around Riom, Volvic to Laschamp walk.