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Travel to France and soak up quiet culture in the Aveyron

 

If you want to experience the “real” France away from mobbed touristy areas, then the Aveyron is the perfect location. Its diverse geography, from rolling hills and river valleys to the Aubrac mountains and the limestone plateaux of the Grand Causses, makes for some very scenic drives and some delicious regional specialties.

 

To Market, to Market
I just love the markets in France. All the fruit and vegetables look like they’ve just been picked from the stallholders’ gardens, and the colours are so inviting you’re tempted to buy everything in sight. Keep an eye out for green plums, white- and yellow-fleshed nectarines and peaches, heavenly-scented gariguette strawberries, huge red beef tomatoes, ratte (kipfler) potatoes, cherries, apricots, redcurrants, raspberries and little sweet Charentais melons. There is nothing GM about this produce and you’ll find all shapes and sizes. If you’re not sure if a fruit is ripe enough, just tell the stallholder when you intend to eat it and he or she will select the perfect fruit for you.

Markets are a great place to find regional specialties, too, and many stalls will let you have a little taste before you buy. If, like me, you love blue cheese, the Aveyron produces many, including the renowned Roquefort, Fourme d’Ambert and Bleu des Causses. Alternatively, you could try Laguiole cheese, made in the same place as the famous Laguiole knives, or Le Cabécou, a goat’s milk cheese. Being in southwest France, the Aveyron is duck and goose country so it’s easy to find smoked duck breast, foie gras and goose liver pâté at the charcuterie stalls in the markets. Sausages are popular too and go really well with aligot – a rich, fondue-like potato, butter and cheese concoction. The bakery stalls will all have little sticky walnut tarts, gateau à la broche (a tower-shaped cake made by pouring batter over a turning skewer over an open fire) and fouace (a dry, ring-shaped cake flavoured with orange flower water).

It’s easy to buy everything you need for a picnic lunch at the market, too; a crusty locally-made Régalou loaf, cheese, cured meat, lettuce and tomatoes or a mini-quiche. Round it off with some juicy peaches and a chausson aux pommes (apple turnover).

TIP: Visit the local tourist office for a list of market days in the area.

Local festivals
In the summer months, every little town and village holds its own festival. Keep an eye out for details on posters around town and do join in. One evening we experienced a re-enactment of the Route du Sel or Salt Route at Salmiech. In the Middle Ages, salt was used to preserve food. The Salt Route was a major commercial route for transporting salt inland to the Aveyron from the Mediterranean by convoys of mules and horses. Each year, since 1984, the villagers of Salmiech retrace the path the convoys took. While many travel on horseback or by horse and carriage, others go on foot or by mountain bike. At the end of the nine-day journey, the village holds a special welcome for the participants, many of whom dress up in medieval garb for the grand entrance into the village.

We also attended a food festival in Salmiech showcasing many regional specialties at very reasonable prices. A plate of pâté and cold meats or a duck breast salad were on offer for starters. For mains, we had farçous (sausage meat, Swiss chard and egg fritters), aligot and local sausages washed down with Marcillac, a robust red Aveyron wine, followed by pancakes and fouace.

 

Beautiful Villages
The Aveyron boasts ten of the 156 most beautiful villages in France. All these villages have a maximum population of 2,000 and have at least two protected sites or monuments.

The village of Brousse le Chateau, 50 kilometres south of Rodez, is dominated by a medieval fort on a rocky outcrop. A Gothic bridge spanning the Alrance River leads up to the flag-stoned streets of the old town, a 15th-century fortified church and the fort itself. Try lunch at Le Relays du Chasteau (+33 5 65 99 40 15).

At the foot of the Aubrac Mountains, not far from the gorges of the Lot and Truyère, is Estaing. The village bears the name of an illustrious family who lived at Estaing castle for nearly eight centuries. The keep and castle date back to the 12th and 15th centuries and are surrounded by shale stone houses with lauze stone-slab roofs. Many examples of the beautiful old town houses can still be seen. Well worth seeing is the village’s medieval festival, held on the second weekend in September. The Hôtel aux Armes d’Estaing by the river is a great lunch spot (+33 5 65 44 70 02).

In the heart of the Ségala region, 35 kilometres southwest of Rodez, the village of Sauveterre de Rouergue is an old royal bastide (fortified town) that has retained its original layout dating back to 1281. The main square is surrounded by 47 arcades and pretty half-timbered or Renaissance-style houses which house craft workshops and craft stores.

Bon Appétit

La Taverne, 23 rue de l’Embergue, Rodez
+33 5 65 42 14 51 | www.tavernerodez.com

La Gargouille, 1 place d’Estaing, Rodez
+33 5 65 68 87 16

Le Kiosque, avenue Victor Hugo, Rodez
+33 5 65 68 56 21 | www.lekiosque-rodez.fr

Le Rat Ta Touille, 14 avenue du Lac, Villefranche-de-Panat
+33 5 65 61 30 49

Even though I’ve been to the Aveyron three times, I still feel like I have only scratched the surface of everything there is to see and do there. Still on my to do list are the remaining seven “most beautiful villages”, a visit to a Roquefort cheese maker, the Tarn gorges, the Cévennes, the many chateaux… I could go on forever!

Getting There
Fly to Europe and get a connecting flight to Toulouse, a two-hour drive from Rodez. Alternatively you can fly to Rodez from Orly airport in Paris or from London Stansted.

Where to Stay
One of the best ways to live like the French while on holidays is to stay in a gîte (self-catering accommodation):

La Matherie Gîte, near Salmiech
Set in the countryside, this gîte sleeps five people and is owned by a French couple.
+33 5 65 74 20 45 | www.amivac.com/location-de-vacances-20846

La Caze Gîte, near Broquiès
Two gîtes with a pool, overlooking the Tarn valley. Run by a British couple.
+33 5 65 49 00 38 | www.lacazegites.com

Chateau de la Garinie, Lugan, near Montbazens
Owned by Irishmen, this beautifully restored 13th-century chateau is available from May to September and sleeps up to ten people.
+33 5 65 80 49 62 | www.facebook.com/pages/Chateau-La-Garinie-Medieval-Castle-South-of-France

If you prefer hotels or a guesthouse, then try:

Coeur de Bastié, Le Bastié, near Trémouilles
A two-bedroom guesthouse (chambre d’hôte) run by a French couple. Dinner available on request.
+33 5 65 46 47 31 | www.coeurdebastie.perso.sfr.fr

Auberge des Arcades, Canet-de-Salars
A small hotel run by a British couple and their family.
+33 5 65 46 85 13 | www.aubergedesarcades.com

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