I was in the Aveyron region last October and my tour started in Rodez, a lively city where art and history mingle.
I took a stroll to the market (the one on Wednesday morning is in Place du Bourg, but there are others on Saturday morning and on Friday evening), where I had some farçous, typical fritters with vegetables, and I tasted some Tomme de Rodez, a cheese similar to parmesan. I walked by some old mansions overlooking the square, like Maison d’Armagnac, and after that I headed to Musée Fenaille, an unmissable stop-over in the city.
Musée Fenaille presents the history and archaeology of the whole region of Aveyron, and hosts one of the most complete collections of menhir standing stones in France.
The collection starts with artefacts from the Prehistory and the Neanderthal. There are tools for hunting and farming, and some ceramic pieces from the first nonmigratory men. The most striking part of the collection, though, is the group of menhir standing stones dating back to 3300 years ago. It includes the famous Dame de Saint-Sernin, first example in history of a woman represented in a sexual way, with breasts and a necklace.
Rodez was home to more than 1000 dolmen (megalithic tombs) and part of this evidence is collected in this museum.
Musée Fenaille contains also a collection of artefacts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and hosts temporary exhibitions that last four months.
After a cultural morning, a great place for lunch is L’O12 in Rue Penavayre, a contemporary and colourful bistro behind the cathedral where food is excellent and unconventional, and the furniture is very… entertaining.
The tour of Rodez wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the impressive Cathedral. It was started in 1277, and finished after three centuries, and is characterized by a Gothic style.
If you visit it in the summer, you may listen to organ concerts, and you can reach the top of the late Gothic bell tower climbing 400 steps.
There are two portals (the Northern one and the Southern one) and a Renaissance-style chapel, made in the 16th century and dedicated to the relics. Unfortunately, during the French revolution many relics belonging to the Virgin Lady were lost, and many statues of the Cathedral were decapitated. What is still stunning is the series of modern stained glass windows from 2006.
After visiting the Cathedral, if you’re looking for some typical souvenirs, go to the former slaughterhouse Le Mazel: it hosts some really peculiar shops, and a well-provided cheese one.
The last stop in Rodez is a must-see: Musée Soulages, the museum dedicated to the famous Rodez-born artist Pierre Soulages, famous for the use of dark colors. It contains 500 works of art, and temporary exhibitions also of other artists.
Soulages uses brushes and scrapers and paints upwards and downwards to play with the light reflections and obtain paintings that go beyond black, towards the ultranoir. The museum itself is a work of art: it is a contemporary building entirely wrapped in Corten steel, a material whose colour shades from brown to rust-red.
The eating area next to the museum is the perfect place for lunch or for teatime (it closes at 7 pm): it is called Café Bras and was designed by the famous chef and culinary artist Michel Bras. The cuisine here has a contemporary feel.
The last stop for the day is the bistro Le Coq de la Place, next to the Cathedral in Place d’Armes, where you can find a lively atmosphere and some good local food.
If you’re not tired yet, finish your day taking a stroll to the cinema in the futuristic building near Musée Soulages, and enjoy the view from the hill of Rodez at night.