Vichy - Elegant Spa Town and Capital of Collaboration

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August 22nd 2011
Published: August 23rd 2011
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Le Puy to Vichy

Wednesday 6th July 2011

On today to the spa town of Vichy our route follows the RD906 north through the Parc Naturel Regional du Livradois Foret along the valley of the river Dore - a land of forestry and agriculture and a very pleasant drive.

Vichy lies on the banks of the Allier River ( as does our campsite ) whose source is in the nearby Massif Central plateau a few miles to the south. Volcanic activity in the area is the direct cause of the many thermal springs that exist in and around Vichy and these have played a great part in its history.

As early as 52 BC Roman settlers acknowledged the therapeutic value of the springs in the area. These were exploited in the centuries that followed such that by the end of the 16th century, the mineral baths had obtained a reputation for having quasi-miraculous curing powers and attracted patients from the noble and wealthy classes.

By the 19th century Vichy was a station à la mode, attended by many celebrities.
Napoleon III's visits in the 1860's caused a transformation of the city with newly laid out boulevards and streets, chalets and pavilions. A large casino was built and in 1903 the Opera House (l'Opéra), the Hall of Springs and a large bath designed in the eastern style were inaugurated. Vichy became the summertime music capital of France.

In 1900 Vichy welcomed 40,000 'curistes' a figure that rose to nearly 100,000 before the onset of the First World War in 1914.

After our journey we took advantage of the pool and waterslide and later enjoyed a 'clown reflection' mime show by the animation team.

Wednesday 7th July 2011

A walk into town across the river and a visit to the spa to 'take the waters'.
These generally got the thumbs down for taste even though they were free.
We also bought some Vichy Pastilles - allegedly good for their digestive properties and made with mineral salts extracted from the local spring water and sugar.
They are available flavoured with mint, lemon, or aniseed - we didn't buy a second packet.

Vichy's other claim to fame is that it was the de facto capital of France during the World War II Nazi German occupation ( 1940 to 1944 ) chosen due to its large hotel capacity and modern telephone exchange. The city's Opera ( see pix ) was the place where the French parliament granted full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain, thereby terminating the republican regime and inaugurating Vichy France. The Vichy leaders collaborated with the Nazis ordering the French police and the local militia to capture Jews and other minorities considered "undesirables" by Germany.

In the gardens close to the Opera we saw a monument to the Jews who were rounded up and held there before being deported. More than 40,000 refugee Jews were held in concentration camps under French control, and 3,000 died of poor treatment during the winters of 1940 & 41. The first deportation train provided by French state railways left for Germany under French guard on 12 March 1942. It has been documented that out of a total of 75,721 deportees fewer than 2,000 survived. For their crimes most of the Vichy regime's leaders were subsequently tried and a number of them were executed.

Strangely (?) the city does not have a museum that covers this period although the tourist office did suggest we could join a French language tour that is run weekly if we needed to learn about it .....

Instead and as it was raining heavily we decided to have lunch in a local brasserie which turned out to have prime Charolet beef on the menu excellent - let it rain !

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