Vichy is a city of Auvergne located at about forty kilometers of Clermont-Ferrand. On the right bank of the Allier, the main tributary of the Loire, it has a rich and ancient history that attracts many visitors. It is above all its sources, with the therapeutic virtues recognized since the Gallo-Roman period that seduce the tourists of passage. The station, which attracted in its time such illustrious figures as Napoleon III or Madame de Sévigné, is not lacking, still today, of splendor and beautiful architecture. You can discover one of the largest spas in Europe, with a hot tub or a thermal water pool.
Vichy also remains in the collective memory for darker events, the city being chosen as the seat of the State under the Second World War, in 1940. This pleasant city with human size and the appreciable quietude knew however to forget These dark hours of history thanks to the charm of its attractions and its architecture.
Speaking of thermalism at Vichy is almost a pleonasm since the city has practically its existence at the sources. Since ancient times, men have regularly dressed their inner wounds with warm, bicarbonated and sodium waters and acquired between tertiary sediments and granitic faults and the mountains of Auvergne.
In the Middle Ages, the Dukes of Bourbon appropriated the waters but for a very short time: their property was confiscated by Francis I. Consequently, the State itself ensures the exploitation of the sources or delegates it in the form of rent. It was only in the 18th century that the Vichyssoise waters became the object of infatuation, as evidenced by the correspondence of Mme de Sévigné, a first-time curator with her daughter.
In 1853, two Parisian entrepreneurs (Lebobe and Callou) joined forces to create the Vichy Farmers' Company (CFV), which over the years became all-powerful. It will manage the sources, exploitation of mineral waters and thermal establishments. Omnipresent, the Company will find a resistance in the person of Nicolas Larbaud, father of the poet. This Vichyssois pharmacist brought a lawsuit against her for the purpose of exploiting the sources he held on one of these grounds in Saint-Yorre, a trial that lasted 13 years. He will be the first to have had the idea of drinking mineral water at home: the first bottles will also bear the mention "sources Larbaud - Saint-Yorre".
Vichy has a notoriety under the Second Empire. Indeed, Napoleon III, suffering from the disease of the stone, is prescribed by mistake a cure to Vichy (these waters do not have the property of relieving kidney stones). Imperial stays drain the crowds and create a fashion phenomenon around the cures at Vichy. We meet under the big chestnut trees or in the alley of the plane trees. We go every Saturday to the ball of the casino, we change toilets three to four times a day. The whole thing is to be seen and seen.
The cult of the body will flourish in this atmosphere like a flower in the sun: the Farmers Company understands as soon as it could benefit from this situation. At the beginning of the 20th century, it began to develop a range of ancillary services, essentially products of calls. Doctors will develop therapies parallel to the cure, using new techniques such as radiotherapy or electrotherapy. Vichy will be one of the first spas to install fitness rooms. Vichy likes the beautiful and provides all the necessary means for its maintenance. Vichy is always in fashion, looking for the latest technology and passes through the years with a brand image that likens it to the city of thermalism par excellence, despite the two world wars that have culminated, each time, On the requisition of its hotel park. Even today, the idea of a cure refers to the Bourbonnais city, even though attendance has declined steadily since the early 1960s.
In 1958, nearly 30,000 spa visitors went to the banks of the Allier, 40 years later, only some 12,000 stays were registered. Decolonization, the advances in medicine and especially surgery (the latter have erased scalpel digestive problems), are responsible for this disaffection. Stays that were too long (21 days), unsuitable for the current rhythm of life, the vigilance of the Social Security also contributed to this decline in attendance.
For a few years now, however, the spa town has been turning its back on this dark period to borrow the turn of modernity. The first visible change was the construction of the Callou baths in 1990. The asepsis of showers and mud applications in this glass and steel building is no different from those of the best performing operating theaters. Computerization makes it possible to calculate the time to fill a bathtub, to number everything, to list, to record, which paradoxically reinforces the relational aspect of the cure: each year, the curist is sure to find his favorite assistant, Preferred gym and especially its proper treatment.
The farming company of Vichy, owner of the Thermes (and not the sources!) Did not hesitate to question the effectiveness of the cures. In 1992, she joined the Rheumatology Clinic in Cochin to conduct a study that ultimately proves the effectiveness of Vichy bone in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Finally, Vichy is renewing its "ancillary services" with renewed concern for physical well-being. Moreover, it has relied on short-term fitness stays. In the center of the Domes, there are ranges of treatments ranging from massages under the water to the solarium, through the applications of mud. Strangely, the Vichyssois dared to push the doors of the Baths to go to the new sports halls and care while until then, the cure had created a world apart, parallel to the daily life of the inhabitants of the city. This interest has encouraged the opening of the Célestins center, which offers balneotherapy stays in an upscale setting (the center includes a four-star hotel).
The first casino ever created in France was built at Vichy, in 1865, by architect Charles Badger. In addition to the games rooms, a room is reserved for shows, operas, concerts... But the affluence of the curists is such that in 1897, a larger opera room is built in the purest Art Nouveau style, According to the plans of Charles Lecoeur. Saint-Saëns, Chaliapine, the divas of the Scala of Milan, the stars of the Russian ballet, the greatest headliners of theater, opera, dance, hurried down the Vichy Early 60s. The building is gradually degrading, some parts are inscribed in the supplementary inventory of Historic Monuments in 1975 but it was not until the end of the 80s that a real restoration was undertaken. The casino-opera becomes the opera-congress. The gildings of the theater have recovered the chandelier of yesteryear. The congress rooms have been designed with the utmost respect for the original architecture, while integrating contemporary elements, such as the wall of light by the sculptor Mickael Prentice. On the show side, the program is voluntarily eclectic (classical music, lyrics, variety, dance).
Those who prefer to be carried away by the musicality of the verses, will then be able to visit the personal library of Valéry Larbaud, the poet of Vichy, reconstituted in the media library that bears his name. The Larbaud collection contains 14000 books, 170 manuscripts, 8800 letters.
In addition to the cultural activities, there is a wide range of sports: the 18-hole golf course (one of the oldest in France) and especially tennis, have long held the spotlight. Obviously, the water share is important in Vichy, where one finds among others, a nautical base, an artificial river intended for the practice of the kayak and a club of rowing. But Vichy is also known for its horse races. At the height of the season, thousands of spectators tread the lawns of the hippodrome, a success reinforced by the introduction of night races.
Spa town par excellence, and ancient city, Vichy has no shortage of heritage and architectural attractions to seduce tourists passing through or spa guests looking for well-being.
What stands out the most in Vichy is surely the remains of its 19th century spa centre. You can still admire an eclectic and impressive architectural ensemble like the Parc d'Allier Napoléon III, a covered metal gallery in the Parc des Sources, with its chestnut and plane trees, or the thermal center of the Domes. The Palais des Congrès-Opéra, from 1865, is also a must in the city. This former large casino with Art Nouveau decor by the painter Rudnicki has been enhanced with a performance hall, lounges and a ballroom.
The springs that have made Vichy famous can be discovered, like the Chomel spring, that of the Hospital or that of the Célestins, in the hall of springs, all in glass and in metal.
Revered by curists in need of recovery, the Black Madonna of the Church of Saint-Blaise, Notre-Dame-des-Malades, takes its place in the midst of beautiful stained glass windows and mosaics in a very modern style.
On the banks of the Allier, the largest confluence of the Loire, there is no shortage of parks and other green spaces. On both sides of the Bellerive bridge, English gardens are an opportunity to stroll and enjoy the good weather, while the walks on the right bank allow you to picnic, cycle on the slopes cycle paths or to relax. In summer, games are installed for the youngest.
Some museums adorn the city of Vichy, such as the Museum of African and Asian Arts, with a collection of 4,000 objects brought together by missionaries or individuals, or the Valéry-Larbaud museum space, with its manuscripts or documents from the hand of the famous writer. The Opera Museum, on the other hand, keeps the archives of the old opera house of Vichy. The latter, but also costumes, scores and other artistic objects, are presented during temporary exhibitions.
In the streets of Vichy, the Vichyssois palaces, whose exuberant architecture testifies to the great era of hydrotherapy, strike the eye, as does the neo-Moorish style of the Dômes thermal center, or the many chalets and villas of the spa town. These mix Swiss and colonial styles and were built in 1862 to accommodate Napoleon III.
Like a Proust questionnaire which, in a few questions, paints the portrait of those who lend themselves to it, the circuit of the 12 unmissable places of Vichy draws succinctly but faithfully the image of this city with charms and multiple influences and leads you in search of lost time...
1. The Palais des Congrès-Opéra: Jewel of the city's architectural heritage, the Palais des Congrès-Opéra is made up the former Grand Casino (which became the Palais des Congrès in 1995) and the Opera modernized by Jean Guilhem de Castelbajac. The original building (Casino-Théâtre) built by the architect Charles Badger in 1865, at the request of Napoleon III, combined a ballroom, a theatre, games and pleasure lounges. But the notoriety of Vichy is such that in 1900, the architect Charles Lecœur is responsible for extending the building to the west: the new Art Nouveau theater is the culmination with its 1,486 seats. The Opera is the only Art Nouveau hall in gold and ivory colors in France.
2. The passages and pedestrian streets: Lively district of cafés and brasseries, the 4 Paths and the pedestrian streets offer large terraces ideal for a break after a shopping spree in the shops open every Sunday and public holidays throughout the year.
3. The Hall des Sources and the covered gallery: Built in 1903, the Hall des Sources currently houses the refreshment bars of the five springs used for drinking cures: Célestins, Lucas, Hôpital, Chomel and Grande Grille. Inspired by the "trinkalle" of German or Austro-Hungarian spas, this vessel of glass and cast iron is designed to be in harmony with the Parc des Sources. On each side of the park, a 700 m long covered gallery leads to the Palais des Congrès - Opéra.
4. The large thermal establishment: Built between 1899 and 1903, this former 1st class thermal establishment, enlarged in the 1930s, surprises with its neo-Moorish style. The wing of the building overlooking the Boulevard des Etats-Unis now constitutes the Thermal Center of the Domes. A stone's throw away, the Callou thermal baths also host traditional cures.
5. The Napoleon III chalets: These Swiss or English colonial style chalets, built in 1863 and 1864 at the request of Napoleon III, welcomed the Emperor and his imperial suite during his stays at Vichy. In the immediate vicinity, rue Alquié, the series of English-style houses and their characteristic bow windows, housed the officers of the Imperial Guard.
6. The cobblestones of remarkable streets: In neo-Venetian, Flemish, Gothic, Classical or Art Nouveau style, the villas in these streets were mostly built at the turn of the 20th century. They testify to the know-how and imagination of the builders of the time. The common point of these residences: to seduce to be rented to seasonal inhabitants who come to take the waters or to be a calling card for their sponsors...
7. The Napoleon III and Kennedy parks: The parks of Allier, created under Napoleon III as well as the squares, gardens and green spaces represent 1/6th of the total area of the city. Particularly remarkable, the Napoleon III park, with an area of 7.8 hectares, has 138 species. Below the dike, the Célestins beach, the guinguettes and the mini-golf courses welcome you.
8. The walks and beaches of Lake Allier: On the edge of Lake Allier, walk along the boards of the walk: Napoleon III parks, banks, guinguettes and leisure activities... 1.5 km from stroll between the Rotonde and the Célestins beach.
9. The Célestins spring: Natural source of the most famous of the Vichy waters and the only one to be bottled. The source takes its name from a 15th century religious convent, built on the rock, of which only a section of the wall remains today. The water springs from the faults of an aragonite rock. The pavilion of the source, in neo-Louis XVI style, was built in 1908. Free tasting.
10. The Lardy spring: Although not exploited today, the spring and its gallery pavilion were restored identically during the transformation of the Lardy baths, former third-class bathing establishments, into University pole in 2001. From the Lardy source it was said at the time that it "produced in women in particular, the same phenomena as champagne wine".
11. Saint-Blaise Notre-Dame-des-Malades church: It was built in 1714 on the former chapel of the Dukes of Bourbon dating from the 12th century. Her black Madonna is venerated in Vichy of long tradition for her miracles. The new Art Deco-style Notre-Dame-des-Malades church was built between 1925 and 1933. Inside, light marble, lapis lazuli and onyx dominate and contrast with the austerity of the exterior.
12. The kiosk and the horseshoe: This kiosk was built by the architect Charles Lecœur in 1902. Emile Robert made the thistles and the wrought iron musical staves of the balustrades. It hosts free outdoor concerts from May to September. The seven bandstands that Vichy counted at the beginning of the century testified to the importance of music in "the Queen of spa towns".
A "horseshoe" shopping gallery surrounds the kiosk and extends the covered gallery around the source of the Hospital.