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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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