You Aveyron seen nothing yet! Why you should buy a home in this bit of France
- Credit: Archant
With its dramatic landscape, beautiful villages and average house price of just €102,000, it’s amazing more househunters don’t know about Aveyron. Ruth Wood shares nine reasons to buy property here
1. It's a crinkle-cut country
Aveyron is a dramatic department. Unlike the vast flat plains of Poitou-Charentes and Landes or the gentle undulations of Morbihan and Dordogne, this southern patch of Massif Central is crinkled, sinuous and very exciting! So whether you buy a home on the volcanic Aubrac plateau (higher than Ben Nevis),the limestone flanks of the Grands Causses regional park or in the deep gorges of the Tarn, Lot and Truyère rivers, you are likely to enjoy fine views, perhaps even from your own balcony or terrace on which to have your morning croissants and evening wine.
2. It is awash with pretty villages
Did you think Dordogne was the pretty villages? Well, Aveyron has just as many, and that's official. The department has no fewer than 10 communities on the list of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, putting in joint first place with Dordogne. Check out Belcastel, Brousse-le-Château, Conques, La Couvertoirade, Estaing, Najac, Peyre (commune of Comprégnac), St-Côme-d'Olt, Ste-Eulalie-d'Olt and Sauveterre-de-Rouergue.
3. It's got the world's highest bridge
The cable-stayed Millau Viaduct, which spans the Tarn valley in southern Aveyron, is the tallest bridge in the world and an awe-inspiring tourist attraction, not to mention a useful stretch of motorway.
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4. It's on a major pilgrimage route
Many people discover Aveyron for the first time while walking the St-Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage route. The Via Podiensis crosses the dramatic Aubrac plateau before descending into the Lot Valley and passing through the pretty villages of St-Côme d'Olt, Estaing and Ste-Eulalie. A major highlight is the medieval village of Conques where the Romanesque abbey church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
5. It has stunning rivers
Aveyron is at the tail end of the magnificent Gorges du Tarn, a canyon that cuts through mighty limestone plateaux in the Grands Causses natural regional park. The river rises to the east in the Cévennes mountains and passes under the Millau viaduct on its way to the Garonne and the sea. Its tributary, the Aveyron, passes thorugh the capital Rodez. Meanwhile, the Lot, which also rises in the Cévennes, snakes north and west through the department, passing through beautiful villages on its circuitous journey to the Garonne and the Atlantic. At the charming little town of Entraygues-sur-Truyère, it is joined by the River Truyère, which flows into it from the north. These rivers form an outdoor paradise, rich in wildlife and opportunities for hiking, kayaking, canoeing, caving ad climbing. Look out too for the stunning Salles des Sources waterfall, just north of Rodez.
6. It's into the dark arts
The small but pretty city of Rodez is in the heart of the department and has a towering Gothic cathedral dominating the old town. Founded in the 5th century BC by the Celts, Rodez has attracted much attention since the opening of the Soulages museum in May 2014. The museum is dedicated to its famous son Pierre Soulages, known as 'the painter of black' due to his extensive use of the colour/non-colour and described by former president François Hollande as the world's greatest living artist.
7. It has hot summers but you can easily cool off
Being in the south of France and a long way from the coast, Aveyron tends to have hot summers, with average maximum July temperatures over 25oC. But you can escape the heat by driving up onto the Aubrac plateau. Shaped over millions of years by volcanic lava and glaciers, it's a vast upland of pasture, forest and glacial lakes stretching into neighbouring Cantal and Lozère. Although cows outnumber human inhabitants, the plateau is criss-crossed with bridleways and bike tracks and hiking trails, not least the GR65 pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostelle. The climate up here, at 1,000-1,400m, is noticeable cooler and indeed there are a handful of ski resorts, most notably at Laguiole which offers 15 alpine pistes, 50km of cross-country skiing and 34km of snowshoeing trails. Visitors also come to the Aubrac to admire the carpets of spring flowers and to photograph the 'burons' - little stone shelters for the cowherds that once lived here during the warmer months. They made cheese on site and matured it in the buron cellars. Today AOP Laguiole cheese, made from the Aubrac cows' milk, is a highly prized, though perhaps not quite as much as Laguiole's other famous product - traditional hand-crafted knives and pocket knives.
8. It has an enormous hole!
The small town of Bozouls, south of Espalion sits dramatically (and photogenically) on the edge of a gargantuan abyss known as The Hole of Bozouls. Le trou is actually a horseshoe-shaped canyon carved into the limestone over many millennia by the meandering Dourdou, which is today little more than a stream. Aside from a jawdropping view from the square outside the mairie, the town of some 2,800 residents has all the main amenities including a big supermarket.
9. It doesn't show off
If anything sums up the unassuming awesomeness of Aveyron, it is the story of Sébastien Bras, a chef based near Laguiole on the Aubrac plateau. Two years ago, he begged the authors of the Michelin Guide to drop his restaurant, Le Suquet, from the elite roster of three-star establishments because the pressure was too much. "Maybe I will be less famous, but I accept that," said the 45-year-old at the time. "I just want to live more serenely."
The guide authors acquiesced, but only for a year. This year, Le Suquet is back in the Michelin Guide, albeit with a mere two stars this time. And if the world's legendary taste testers aren't prepared to keep Aveyron a secret, why should we?
How to get there
By air: Fly into Rodez, Brive, Toulouse or Montpellier
By rail: Eurostar to Paris, TGV to Toulouse, local services to Rodez
By road: Rodez is 944km from Calais