Virtual Visits: Aveyron 1

First, thank you for your comments on last week’s post and for sharing your own fantastic experiences of the Auvergne. I enjoyed a spot of armchair travel with you. Next up: a much-needed celebration is in order. Today marks 23 years since we first saw our house in France. We were smitten at first sight and are still here. Virtual champagne all round.

Onto this week’s post. We’re travelling to Aveyron, a neighbouring département. It covers a large area, so we’ll do it in two bites. Speaking of bites, loosen your belts. It’s going to be a bit of an eatathon.

Roquefort

We start in southeast Aveyron, where the rugged landscape is quite different from the rolling hills of the western part near us. Roquefort-sur-Soulzon is the home of the famous Roquefort blue cheese, made from milk provided by ewes that graze on the surrounding causse. It goes through an elaborate and ancient process, including being seeded with powered, mould-impregnated bread and matured in caves.

Naturally, our visit includes une petite dégustation of this salty cheese, and we’ll buy some more for later.

Viaduc de Millau

Next stop is the Viaduc de Millau. We’ll have to leave for another time La Couvertoirade, a well-preserved former Templar fortress.

Ethereal but durable

We won’t travel on the motorway over the viaduct, since you see nothing of it. My photos were taken from the visitor centre on the north side. Instead, we’ll go underneath and see it in its full splendour from the village of Peyre, one of Aveyron’s 10 plus beaux villages.

Millau Bridge from the services’ viewpoint

This stupendous structure was built to avoid the equally stupendous traffic jams in and around the town of Millau. You won’t often hear me praise modern architecture, but this is a triumph of design, engineering and construction.

Transhumance in Aubrac

Next stop: the small town of Aubrac in the high plateau of the same name. This is late May, and the fields are studded with wild flowers after the harsh winter that is the norm up here. It might be spring, but it’s still cold. The temperature is only 1 C when we arrive. It’s going to snow tomorrow.

We’ve come for the transhumance, when the cattle are released into the fields, having spent the winter cooped up in their byres. Thousands of people turn up in Aubrac for this event.

The pretty Aubrac cows are decked with bells and garlands of flowers. The noise level is incredible, and excitement runs high – not least among the cows themselves. Scenting their liberty, they try to make a bid for freedom. Look out! They don’t take prisoners.  

Here is a short sound clip we made during our visit. Apologies for the French gros mot (swear word) if you can make it out amid the cacophony.

Lunch is obligatory, eaten with many others in a gigantic marquee and served by patient and smiling staff. We eat a rustic meal of charcuterie, local veal (reared under the mother, not milk-fed) with aligot, the robust potato, garlic and cheese dish of the region, Laguiole cheese and fouace, a local cake flavoured with orange flower water.  

Bournazel

We leave Aubrac and travel down to thankfully warmer climes. We are heading for the plus beau village of Belcastel, built down a hillside by the stripling River Aveyron.

Before that, though, we’ll take a short detour to the village of Bournazel. The imposing château has had a chaotic history, but the present owners saved it from possible oblivion. They are restoring it to its original grandeur and have filled it with Renaissance furniture and artworks. The owners have also reconstructed the formal gardens. We’ll have a stroll around those after visiting the château.

Belcastel

Since this is a virtual tour, no expense is spared. So I’ve booked the Hôtel du Vieux Pont, a well-appointed small hotel in a converted barn on the opposite site of the river from the Restaurant du Vieux Pont. Later, we’ll eat in the Michelin-starred restaurant. But first, we walk around Belcastel and enjoy the views of the château, the gentle splashing of the river and the bright spring green of the hillsides, clad with beech and chestnut.

Hotel in the barn to the left of the bridge

Our appetites suitably revived, we look forward to dinner, a short stroll across the bridge. Once seated at our table, we order glasses of champagne and peruse the menu. The cuisine is based on local seasonal produce with interesting combinations of ingredients. They have an excellent and very extensive wine list.

Le vieux pont

Tomorrow, we’ll wake up to a hearty breakfast of juice, patisserie, bread, homemade jam, eggs, cheese and coffee. We’ll need it since we will do a lot of walking during our next virtual tour: western Aveyron.

I’ve had to miss out Rodez and Conques. I’ve visited both but have no personal photos of either. They are on my list to revisit when we get out of house arrest.

As before, please do share with us your experiences of these places – and indeed the ones I had to leave out.

Read more about the places mentioned in this post:

Roquefort

Le Viaduc de Millau

A moo-ving experience: la fête de la transhumance

Every Château Tells a Story #17: Le Château de Bournazel

Belcastel Revisited

Copyright © Life on La Lune 2020. All rights reserved.

6 comments

  1. I loved the cow bells. We haven’t done a cattle transhumance but have walked the first day of the sheep one from rocamadour to luzech which usually takes place around the middle of April. We also took family to see off the sheep from espadaillac who walked to mandailles saint julian last year, a much longer expedition. The rocamadour sheep once arrived are used to graze on the low brush and thus limit the risk of fires on the causse. I loved watching the dogs working the sheep; four or five troupeau combined for the journey which must make the dog’s work harder. It’s possible to walk the whole journey with the sheep but we’ve only ever had enough energy for the first day!
    As for the Millau viaduct, although over three hours drive from here we have often taken visitors to see it as it always takes our breath away approaching from the north. We found Millau a pleasant town to explore as well. I look forward to your next virtual visit. Thank you for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Someone claimed they could hear the word “p*t**n” on the recording, hence the health warning! I can’t hear it myself. The sheep transhumance sounds lovely. I didn’t realise they took them so far. I would love to follow them all the way. The cattle version at Aubrac tends to be more widely publicised. There used to be sheep dog trials not far from us, but they were discontinued some years ago. The complicity between human and dog was a delight to watch. One year, though, the sheep got a bit fractious and it was impossible to herd them.

      A visit to the Viaduc is on the cards once we get out of solitary. My husband has never seen it in its completed state, whereas I have twice.

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      • Oh, you must. He will be impressed I’m sure. Try and pick market day in millau. There is a halle but also an open market in a very historic place. The tourist office has gloves on show as that was a major industry and there is a tower to climb if you can cope with heights! Re the sheep both are always advertised on no the lit tourisme site and details of how to be involved..

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for the info. I’ll look out for the sheep transhumance. My memories of Millau are somewhat tinged by being stuck in traffic jams there before the viaduct was built. And the only other time I ventured into the town was to visit some friends at a campsite. Time for another try.

          Another virtual visit is already posted – and I’m sure you’ll know the places!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Another lovely virtual tour. We stayed in Marcillac-Vallon in the Aveyron in 2012 and visited Belcastel, Conques, St Eulalie d’Olt among other lovely places. The Aveyron has a host of lovely villages. One that is less well known is Castelnau- Pegayrols which we discovered in 2018.
    Our first sight of the Millau Viaduct was in 2014 when we stayed in the Herault and drove up to Millau. It started out clear but as we climbed up to the Larzac plateau, it became foggy. It was breath taking to see the bridge emerge through the mist. We also stopped in Peyre and it is really an unusual experience to stand in such an old village steeped in history and view the modern marvel that is the bridge. We saw the bridge again in 2018 when we were in the Lozere ( we shopped in Severac le Chateau which is actually in the Aveyron ) near the Tarn gorges. We also visited Roquefort and La Couvertoitade in 2014.
    When in the Lozere we drove up to the Aubrac and thought it was magnificent – so wild and open and free. We hope to return and spend more time there. We stopped in Laguiole and bought some mirabelles at the market and a slice of terrine ( fallette ) from a charcuterie. Sadly,the knives are beyond our budget!! Our picnic lunch was had on a stone wall in Aubrac looking across to the church, tower and old monastery hospital. It was a wonderful day.
    Thanks for the memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your lovely memories. I think you’ve seen more of Aveyron than I have! But then we live on the western side in the neighbouring Tarn-et-Garonne, so we don’t often get over to the Millau/Larzac side. I have yet to do the Lot Valley part of Aveyron in any detail. My appetite for visiting these places is certainly being whetted whilst in lockdown!

      You might be interested in a book on Aveyron by Thirza Vallois, Aveyron: A Bridge to French Arcadia. It’s not a travel guide; more a personal odyssey. But I found it fascinating and very readable. The only quibble was the lack of an index, which made it difficult to consult later on. Available in Kindle in Aus, I think.

      Next time, I will come closer to home in the Western Aveyron. Plenty to write about!

      Take care.

      Like

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