Close your eyes and dream of France: what you see is Aveyron.
This region in southern France is a mosaic of valleys and old towns where you can still smell food in a lively street market and enjoy a buttery croissant in a crowdy café; it is also home to the famous Roquefort cheese.
Aveyron is just one hour drive away from Montpellier. Here, the landscape and the quiet atmosphere encourage people to take it slowly, sip some wine on a terrace and enjoy the view on the hills. It is a land that was inhabited very early by man; Romanesque churches, castles and picturesque villages show the local respect for heritage.
Belcastel, Rodez, Villefranche-de-Rouergue and Conques are some of the unmissable landmarks in a tour of the region.
Belcastel is a picturesque village located on a hill that has been declared one of the most beautiful towns of France. The mayor (always the same since 1985) has contributed to the beauty of this town where only 200 inhabitants live.
The centre of the village twists and turns around the river Aveyron and the peculiar stone bridge.
Across the river, a little church houses the tomb and statue of Alzias de Sauhnac.
The wonderful Castle of Belcastel, built upon a rock, overlooks the town. It dated to the 11th century, but was sold stone by stone and left to ruin. Fortunately, in 1975 the French architect Fernand Poullion, inspired by the site, had it rebuilt in 8 years. A ghost is said to haunt it: it may be ‘la dame blanche‘, wife to a lord of the castle, who had an affair and was pushed out of a window.
Many rooms of the castle house a contemporary art gallery and medieval armors.
The castle is open every day from 1st April to the 11th November; it is open for tours or for a royal stay in the tower suite (prices from 145 euros per night)… if you’re not afraid of ghosts.
Rodez is the lively capital of the Aveyron department. Read this article to discover what to see and do in the city. And if you’re looking for special experiences, head to Château de Labro, a stunning abode in the countryside near Rodez: you can enjoy sleeping in a tree house or in an elegant castle.
Villefranche-de-Rouergue is a bastide town built around its main square and characterized by a striking architecture. It expanded as a very sophisticated town, and built upwards. All houses were detached, and, as families grew richer and richer, they started building upwards and onwards with wooden terraces.
The Collégiale Nôtre Dame, the spectacular church in the centre, was started in 1250 and dominates the town with its high gothic arches. It houses choir stalls decorated with different carvings of faces and plants, made by sculptor André Sulpice. In front of the Collégiale, every Thursday morning you can smell freshly baked pastries and taste local cheese at the rural market.
Another landmark in Villefranche is La Chartreuse, a Carthusian monastery of the 15th century that houses one of the largest cloisters in France, once used as a cemetery for the monks of this contemplative order.
To enjoy some local food, try the aligot (mashed potatoes and melted cheese) at Le Glacier or head to L’Epicurien to try some excellent reinterpretations of the French cuisine.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, choose Les Fleurines, a historic property decorated with contemporary design furniture.
The village of Conques lies in a peaceful territory among red soils and vineyards, and represents a major stop for pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela.
The Romanesque Abbey and its Treasure are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Abbey dates back to the 11th century and it is decorated with 104 stained glass windows designed by local artist Pierre Soulages.
The colour of the windows changes from pinkish to bluish according to the light, but the glass in itself has no colour: it changes according on its grain and on the light. At night they turn purple and yellow.
To fully appreciate the beauty of the Abbey and discover the details of the tympanum and the artwork from Pierre Soulages, book one of the 45 minutes guided tours organized by Tourisme Conques.
The Treasure is kept next to the Abbey. It was made of precious offers and was hidden in the woods during the French Revolution for 10 years, then put back inside the church. It contains precious stones and offers, and the golden statue of Saint Faith, decorated with gems and cameos.