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Prefecture building of the Cantal department, in Aurillac
Prefecture building of the Cantal department, in Aurillac
Flag of Cantal
Coat of arms of Cantal
Coat of arms
Location of Cantal in France
Location of Cantal in France
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Country France
Region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
Prefecture Aurillac
Subprefectures Mauriac
 • President of the General Council Vincent Descoeur (UMP)
 • Total 5,726 km2 (2,211 sq mi)
Population (1999)
 • Total 150,778
 • Rank 92nd
 • Density 26/km2 (68/sq mi)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 • Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Department number 15
Arrondissements 3
Cantons 15
Communes 260
^1 French Land Register data, which exclude estuaries, and lakes, ponds, and glaciers larger than 1 km2
Aubrac Cows on the Plomb du Cantal
Truyère river

Cantal (French pronunciation: ​[kɑ̃.tal]; Occitan: Cantal, Cantau, Chantal, Chantau) is a department in south-central France. It is named after the Cantal mountain range, a group of extinct, eroded volcanic peaks, which covers much of the department. Residents are known as Cantaliens or Cantalous (Occitan language).

Cantal is part of the current region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. It borders the departments of Puy-de-Dôme, Haute-Loire, Aveyron, Lot, Lozère, and Corrèze. Its principal towns are Aurillac, Saint-Flour, and Mauriac. The highest point in Cantal is Le Plomb du Cantal at 1858 metres.

Cantal remains, with Lozère and Creuse, one of the most sparsely populated and geographically isolated French departments. Aurillac is the farthest removed departmental capital from a major motorway.


Cantal is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. It was created from a part of the former province of Auvergne, called Haute-Auvergne.
The Occitan language was historically dominant in Cantal.


The Cantal department has different types of climates according to the geographical position.

The west is well watered, thanks to abundant precipitations coming from the Atlantic. The temperatures are generally even; the east is much drier and cooler.

There is abundant precipitation on the central area. To this fact, it is necessary to add the effect of the altitude: the climate is quite cold in winter (it snows almost every winter) but it can be very hot during the summer, especially in the southern part of the department with borders with Aveyron and Lot.

In the central part of the department, i.e. on the highest ground, the altitude surpasses 1,000m and It can be very cold. There is abundant snowfall which can remain up to six months on the tops. Winter temperatures can fall to below −15 °C (5 °F), whereas in summer 25 °C (77 °F) is often reached.

The television weather forecasts often indicate Aurillac as the coldest city of France in the mornings. The temperatures observed by Météo France are explained by the following:

  • The scientific weather station of Aurillac is at an altitude of 640 m.
  • The temperature diminishes by 1 °C (1.8 °F) for each 150 m of elevation gain.
  • Météo France puts an index of only 30 cities on the map, and Aurillac is by far the one with the highest altitude.

Fog is rare and disappears quickly. There is sunshine throughout year and the wind is not usually strong. The annual sunshine hours reflect Cantal's southerly latitude (the same as Bordeaux's). Average number of hours of sunshine from 1991 to 2000:

Nîmes: 2590 h – Millau : 2120 h – Aurillac: 2080 h – Toulouse: 2010 h – Bordeaux: 1990 h – Lyon: 1930 h – Limoges: 1870 h – Tours: 1800 h – Nantes: 1690 h – Paris: 1630 h.

The Cantal is a mountainous department whose altitude varies between 250 m in the valley of the River Lot and 1855 m in the top of Plomb du Cantal. The temperature variations can be very high from one place to another. It is not colder in the Cantal than in other mountainous regions like the Vosges or Jura. The prevailing winds and the relief divide the Cantal into four climatic zones:

  • The west is subject to oceanic winds which bring rains.
  • The mountains of the Cantal and the Cézallier create a rain shadow: it rains and snows quite often.
  • The Planèze of Saint-Flour and the region of Massiac receive less precipitation, owing to winds coming from the north and south.
  • The plateaux of the Margeride and the Aubrac have harsh winters and pleasant summers.

Cantal frequently experiences violent summer storms. According to specialists, the lightning flashes in this department are among the most spectacular in France.


In Cantal, the farmers practise mountain pasture, with the herd passing summer at altitude in the mountains. The milk is traditionally used to produce Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) cheese such as Cantal, Salers cheese and Bleu d'Auvergne. Cantal is the only French departement to be home to no fewer than five Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée cheeses[1]

  • Craft industry is still very prevalent: Joinery, restoration of dwellings, small manufacturing and maintenance of private gardens.
  • Family, festival, rural and winter tourism.


The official population count for 2013 was 147,000.[2] The population peaked at 262,117 in 1836. It has been below 200,000 for the last 90 years. The department has experienced a particularly drastic level of depopulation, although the phenomenon was a feature of many of the country's rural departments throughout the twentieth century, as agricultural wages failed to keep pace with those available in the industrialising regions outside the department.



The department counts several remarkable buildings. Among them, the Romanesque religious buildings like the churches of Cheylade (eleventh century), Dieno or Massiac. Some churches are in the Gothic style like the Cathedral of St Pierre de Saint-Flour (fifteenth century).


  • International Festival of Street Theatre, Aurillac.
  • World Music Festival, Murat
  • 36 hours : Various little scenes with dances


The characteristic folk dance in Cantal is La Bourée. In the countryside it would be danced in folk costumes with accompaniment by accordion. The dance form was long ago adapted for use in courtly music and features prominently in the Baroque dance suites of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Prominent museums in Cantal include:

  • Museum of Art and Arqueologia, Aurillac (34,100 visitors/year)
  • The House of Fauna, Murat (23,500 visitors/year)
  • Museum of the Géothermia, Calores-Agudo (20,600 visitors/year)
  • Museum of the Volcanos, Aurillac (20,100 visitors/year)
  • Museum of the ray, Marcenat (11,500 visitors/year)
  • Museum of the "Haute Auvergne", Saint-Flour (11,100 visitors/year)
  • The House of the Chestnut Mourjou (5,200 visitors/year)
  • Museum of Georges Pompidou, Montboudif (3,500 visitors/year)
  • Museum of the Accordion in Siran
  • Museum of Agriculture in Auvernia, Coltines


Dishes of Cantal are made of basic recipes. In origin, they were designed to satisfy hill farmers who did very physical work: looking after cows, the manufacture of cheese, etc.

Thus, ham, cheese, vegetables are at the basis of the dishes in this department, such as:

  • The Aligot (also in Aveyron): Creamed potatoes, cheese (fresh tomme), butter, fresh cream and a little garlic.
  • The Truffade: Potatoes in slices with cheese (fresh tomme) and a little garlic.
  • The Pounti: A cake made with dough of wheat black flour, herbs, lard, prunes and Swiss chard.
  • The typical cheese Cantal, which can be chosen young, old or "entre-deux".

Outdoor activities

Located in the Parc Regional des Volcans d’Auvergne, the Cantal is a department with little urbanization. The main industry is tourism, especially rural tourism.

The most visited places are Puy Mary (1787 m) considered[by whom?] to be one of the prettiest panoramas in Europe, the Plomb du Cantal (1855 m), the village of Salers, and the gorges of the Truyère (with the Garabit viaduct, the castle of Alleuze, and the towns of Boisset, Pierrefort). The Parc Naturel des Volcans d’Auvergne features several inactive volcanoes. Cantal also has numerous castles. Puy Mary can be accessed by car easily. and is accessible to hikers. It is also possible to hike to the nearby Puy de Peyre-Arse(1806m). Le Lioran or Super-Lioran are the best places to start the hike. Le Lioran is accessible by rail or bus and Super-Lioran is just a kilometre away from Le Lioran. From Super-Lioran it is also possible to hike to Plomb du Cantal. There is also an option of taking the cable car to Plomb du Cantal from Super-Lioran. Super-Lioran tourist office has various hike routes in the region. There are also various adventure courses, dirt bikes, summer luges etc. that run in Super-Lioran.

Spring and summer

Among the various activities offered in this department, the "Massif Cantalien" can be discovered through walking, horseback riding or mountain biking excursions (tracks are especially designed for this). Aquatic sports are also popular, thanks to numerous lakes.

The department also offers more classical activities such as mountaineering, canoeing and fishing. The landscape also allows the practice of free flight: base jumpers frequent the sector around the Puy Mary and the Brezon valley.


Thanks to its terrain, Cantal can count on a good snow level, which allows winter sports. The station of Le Lioran, largest ski-resort of the Massif Central offers alpine skiing (with specific adaptations for snowboard) and ice-skating. Excursions in snow shoes are also possible. The department has several hundred kilometres of cross-country skiing tracks.


This staunchly Catholic department is an old stronghold of the French Right, and was the electoral base of the late president Georges Pompidou. Only the area around Aurillac, historically anti-clerical and Radical, has some left-wing support.

The current president of the general council is Vincent Descoeur of the Union for a Popular Movement, presently the main opposition party in France.

Paul Doumer, French president from May 1931 to May 1932, was born in Aurillac in this department.

Party seats
Union for a Popular Movement 13
Socialist Party 5
Miscellaneous Right 5
Miscellaneous Left 3
MoDem 1

See also


External links