Road trip: explore Aveyron in southern France
PUBLISHED: 11:46 21 June 2018 | UPDATED: 11:46 21 June 2018
Discover pretty villages, Roquefort cheese and the Millau Viaduct as you drive around Aveyron on our two-day road trip itinerary from Brousse-le-Château to Millau
Day one: Brousse-le-Château to Saint-Jean-d’Alcapiès
Our journey through Aveyron begins in the Plus Beau Village of Brousse-le-Château, which clings to the rock jutting skywards at the confluence of the Tarn and Alrance rivers. As we approach from the road that runs alongside the Tarn, my jaw drops as sharply as the promontory on which the old castle stands. In an area with a surfeit of beautiful places, Brousse-le-Château still stands out.
Wandering over the steep, cobbled bridge that leads to the church and castle, it feels as if nothing has changed in centuries. Imagine the feet that have trodden here before. Heading up towards the castle is not for anyone with a fear of heights, and France’s health and safety standards are not exactly strict, but the views are magnificent. My only disappointment is that the village store does not sell croissants. But having made a leisurely start and knowing that the French start serving lunch early at noon, I am not worrying too much.
From here, it is a 50-kilometre drive to Sylvanès, with a quick coffee stop en route in Saint-Izaire. Our stomachs are rumbling, but we already know that our destination has a great restaurant. The hamlet is known primarily for hosting a festival of sacred world music in its abbey every summer. So how on earth can the owner of Le Sylvanès, Christophe Sénégas, make a go of his business all year round?
Having eaten a wonderful nut and Roquefort cheese salad, followed by an enormous cut of succulent lamb, I understand why. People come from miles around for the food and warm welcome. The restaurant is full of rugby memorabilia, as Christophe is on the committee of the Challenge Vaquerin tournament that takes place in August in towns in the area. If you love the oval ball, it is a great way to see top French and English teams at close quarters.
My wife Louise and I could have chewed the fat all afternoon with Christophe and his team, but we have an appointment with cheese to keep. Going back on ourselves for a while, we take the scenic route along the D999 for 40 kilometres to arrive in the home of Roquefort, one of the world’s best-known blue cheeses. Only fromage that has been aged in the Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon has the right to bear the name. The village lies at the top of a long and winding road, and by the look of it, almost all commercial activity is driven by its gorgeous, strong cheese.
There are various producers, including Société and Papillon, selling Roquefort in shops and offering tours of the caves where the magic happens. My wife and I get the lowdown from Société during a visit. Staff offer us a tasting, and we discover that two helpings of Roquefort in one day definitely is not overdoing it.
Stop for lunch at... Le Sylvanès, a popular restaurant in Sylvanès.
Stay the night at... The five-star gîte Château Castel d’Alzac (apartments from €288 for two nights) in Saint-Jean-d’Alcapiès, a 10-minute drive away.
Day two: Saint-Jean-d’Alcapiès to Millau
Feeling suitably refreshed, we enjoy a leisurely start meandering the 27 kilometres of quiet country roads to Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon, first joining the D23 at Tournemire before wending our way to this gorgeous village. The place is small and quaint, dominated by 12th-century garrison buildings once used by the Knights Templar. We have organised a local guide to show us round and it is fascinating to hear tales of how these people lived so long ago.
Just five minutes out of town and up the hill lies the Vélorail du Larzac (fares from €12), an original idea that allows you to pedal on a trolley-like contraption across six viaducts and along 12 kilometres of disused railway line. I have done it before and loved the experience. But my wife breathes a sigh of relief when she realises the vélorail is open only from April to October – and we are out of season.
Louise is far more interested in our next stop, the town of Millau, just half an hour away, because of its reputation for leatherware, and gloves in particular. The Causse company was founded in Millau in 1892 and was bought by the Chanel fashion house in 2012. It is not hard to see why; the craftsmanship is exceptional. At Causse’s flash designer building in the town centre, you can watch artisans at work, see an exhibition detailing the company’s history and check out the wares in the shop.
Finally, we take a 15-minute drive to the biggest attraction in Aveyron, the Viaduc de Millau across the Gorges du Tarn, designed by the British architect Norman Foster and opened in 2004. We gaze in awe at the cable-stayed road bridge, which is 2.5 kilometres long and rises 343 metres above the ground. Spanning a region that has witnessed so much human history, it is somehow fitting that we end our day enjoying the incredible sight of a perfect product of modern man’s ingenuity.
Stop for lunch at... Grab a bite to eat at the pleasant Restaurant Capion (three-course lunch with wine, €16.50) in Millau.
Getting there: Flybe operates flights from Southampton to Rodez from June-Aug 2018; Brousse-le-Château is a 10hr drive from the northern ports.
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