From Salers there is a superb drive to Puy Mary, a volcanic cone which dominates the surrounding area.
The road runs along the side of the hill with superb views down into Maronne valley. This is very fertile pasture land with wooded slopes. There is a parking area above Maison du Fromage de la Vache et de la Gentiane which is a good place to stop to take photographs. The fields are dotted with old stone field barns called Burons. These were used during the summer months when the cows grazed the high pastures, to make and store cheese.
Crossing the Col de Neronne, the road begins to drop down through the trees to the Mars Valley. There are glimpses of the valley through the trees, but nowhere to pull off and park. There is quite a bit of settlement along the top end of the valley bottom. This has very steep wooded sides with bare rocks. The road is very narrow with few passing places. We were in a convoy of a bus, us, two cars, a camper van and more cars. It is just as well we didn’t meet anything coming the other way.
As we approached Pas de Peyrol, we lost the trees and the road runs across the open hilltops. This is very poor land and only suitable for rough grazing. Vegetation is heather, broom and rough grasses with the remains of the flower heads of the yellow gentian.
There are parking areas on both sides of the road near the top. Even at 6pm it was still busy. There is a cafe, visitor centre, toilets. Pressure of visitor numbers and damage to the fraglile landscape now means there is a made footway to the top of Puy Mary. At 1787m, this is the largest volcanic cone in Europe, covered with scree and rocks. Pas de Peyrol at 1,589m is the highest road pass in the Massif Central.
There are superb views down into the Mars Valley and along the D17 which swings round the head of the valleys before dropping down into Jordanne Valley. Across the road, there are views to the the north before the road drops steeply down to the Col de Serre.
We looked at the start of the path. It climbs 199m on a well made path and the books estimate 60 minutes for the return trip. It was getting late, the sun was beginning to go down and there was a cold wind. We regretfully decided it was time to head back to our gîte.