The Aveyron region in the south of France is just a bit different. Although the biggest, it’s probably the least-explored department in France, and it’s certainly the most sparsely populated. Visit the region and you might easily get the feeling that you’ve stepped back in time – it’s sleepy and peaceful here, without the hordes of tourists who descend on so many other parts of the country. If you’re hankering after a truly idyllic escape in France, Aveyron is a dream destination – but if you’re still not convinced, here are 9 great reasons to see it for yourself.
The Aveyron region of France is a bit of a foodie mecca – if you love French cuisine, you’ll be bowled over by the produce of the Aveyron; beautiful cheeses, truffles, fine French wines, meat and pastries, and more than a few local specialties for you to try. Probably one of the world’s most delicious and comforting comfort foods hails from this little corner of France too – Aligot is a dish of mashed potatoes blended up with cheese and garlic, and it might just change your life. It’s hot and thick, and a bit stretchy and stringy (on account of all the melted cheese), and very more-ish. Don’t visit the region without trying it at least once! For a serious foodie experience, there is some Michelin star munching to be done in the region too – Michel Bras’ three-starred restaurant overlooks the town of Laguiole – just an hours’ drive from Rodez.
Aveyron is made up of loads of beautiful open countryside – wide open plains, mountains and lush valleys, rivers and lakes – and in addition to being beautiful, those great outdoors mean there is a huge choice of different outdoors adventures you can enjoy during your trip. The region has almost 100km of long-distance footpaths, superb trails for mountain biking, three different Via Ferrata that offer four different mountain routes, white water rafting, and lots of hang gliding and paragliding (if you’re brave enough for it). For something gentle but spectacular, a kayaking trip down the Gorges du Tarn is breath-taking, or even a day spent fishing or swimming at Pareloup Lake. If you want a little action and adventure on your holiday, Aveyron will be one giant playground for you.
If you’re a lover of art, culture and all those finer things in life, Aveyron has a lot to keep you entertained. One of the area’s newest cultural attractions is the Musee Soulages in Rodez. Pierre Soulages is one of France’s most famous contemporary artists, and at this museum in Rodez you can see a superb collection of his work. It’s strange and very beautiful, and much of it is black – but it’s really incredible to see how he uses light and texture to turn ‘black’ into art. The museum is well worth a visit.
Here’s the thing about France – it’s a beautiful country. This means that a lot of people want to spend time there; in fact it’s the number 1 destination in the world when it comes to international visitors. This in turn means that generally you will find plenty of tourists, hustle and bustle wherever you go in France. That atmosphere can be nice, but if you want peace and quiet – to feel like you’ve really gotten away from it all – and to have seen a quiet and relatively undiscovered part of France that not everyone else has seen? Aveyron is the place to go.
The GR65 – unromantic as the name is – is a beautiful long distance walking route that stretches through the countryside, from the Prealps all the way across south-central France and then through the Pyrenees. It’s part of the famous Camino de Santiago (although it’s called the Chemin de Saint-Jacques in France), and Rodez makes a great jumping off point for anyone who wants to fly to France and walk this particular stretch of The Way.
The villages of the Aveyron are renowned for being unspoiled, untouched, and unbelievably pretty. In fact, ten of France’s ‘Most Beautiful Villages’ are in Aveyron; a higher concentration than anywhere else in the country. If you go village-hopping in Aveyron, don’t miss the stunning chateau at Belcastel, the famous Romanesque Abbey in Conques, and the golden troglodyte buildings of Peyre – and don’t forget your camera because really, these little villages look like they’ve been lifted straight out of a fairy tale and you’ll want to remember them!
Or what you and I might call ‘artisanal produce’. This part of France is famous for it; from the long-held tradition of knife-making in Laguiole to a history of leather tanning and glove-making in Millau, you’ll find small operations making high quality artisanal products throughout the region. Wood turning, pottery and jewellery making are all practiced in the region too with workshops and small factories often open to tourists and visitors. Artisanal food production in Aveyron is of superb quality too, with cheese cooperatives, truffle farmers and wine-makers in the area making stuff that will keep any visiting foodie happy.
Aveyron’s markets are the perfect place to experience both the region’s food and other artisanal produce at the same time, and they’re just a really lovely way to get familiar with Aveyron’s people and culture. It’s said that every day is market day here, and you’ll never have to go far to find one, so make sure do! Taste the produce, buy some souvenirs, but most of all, soak up the atmosphere at the markets –talk to the stallholders (a little French will go a long way for this). If you get peckish, find a stall that serves ‘gateau a la broche’
The Millau Viaduct is the world’s tallest bridge, stretching for some two and a half kilometres across the valley of the River Tarn near Millau in Aveyron. The bridge itself is really impressive feat of engineering – but it’s the view that you’ll be rewarded with after climbing to the belvedere viewing platform, of the bridge and lush landscape that surrounds it, that will really blow you away. Head to the official visitor centre at the base of the bridge too, to get a full appreciation for the height of the bridge, and how tiny you are beside it.