Authentically French Aveyron
Who hasn’t been to France? From school trips, then the (almost) retired booze cruise, to more sophisticated breaks, it seems most Brits have been to France. Or have we?
You see Cap Nord de France and even Paris are within the country’s borders, but to really get to grips with France you need to see Aveyron.
Aveyron is perhaps the country’s most authentically French district.
Maybe it’s the food – everything from farmers’ markets selling internationally renowned Roquefort and lesser-known local cheeses, to its six Michelin-starred restaurants. Or perhaps it’s the picturesque villages that grace its rugged landscape. After all Belcastel, Brousse-le-Château, La Couvertoirade, Conques, Estaing Najac, Peyre, Saint-Côme-d'Olt, Sainte-Eulalie-d'Olt and Sauveterre-de-Rouergue have all been classed as the most beautiful villages in France.
It was all of these things and more that attracted us to Aveyron.
Our visit was akin to taking a step back in time, to a more peaceful, slower paced world, where a relaxing break was to be expected, rather than hungrily sought out.
In the north-east of the Midi-Pyrenees in southern France, it’s an area renowned for its natural beauty. We enjoyed watching eagles swoop over deep, dramatic gorges and peaceful lakes, and were told of other wildlife including deer and boar that roamed its wild moorland, forests, and grasslands.
As a result of this varied landscape, Aveyron has an abundance of outdoor activities including walking routes, cycling, golf, potholing, climbing, horse riding, and fishing. Being bored or suffering from a lack of things to see and do is not an option, making it perfect for an active family break.
And, as we discovered, the beauty of working up a hunger with all that activity is that Averyon has some of the best food we’ve had anywhere in France.
Walking through the streets of Aveyron’s towns and villages provided us with a theatre of aromas. Pungent cheeses, aromatic coffee, the sweet-sticky scent of patisserie cakes, and the warm, garlicky smell of hearty meals wafted from every eatery.
And they tasted just as good. We gorged on Roquefort – the star of local cheese makers, as well as other specialities, Pérail, Laguiole and Bleu des Causses.
There were a great variety of foods to tempt us, too many to mention them all here. But my wife Sarah really enjoyed the array of charcuterie from the region. As a potato fan, I loved aligot, a dish served in many restaurants, which blends mashed potatoes and tome fraiche cheese. And then there was gâteau à la broche, a rather irresistible dessert, made in quite a fascinating way. A liquid paste is gradually poured onto a conical spit that turns before a flame, resulting in a delicious cake. And of course, the local wines are also worth sampling.
Tearing ourselves away from its food, we drove the Millau Viaduct to view the Tarn Valley from on high, and simply to say that we’d driven the world’s tallest bridge – it’s highest point is taller than the Eiffel Tower. It is certainly an impressive sight, and when the valley is shrouded in morning mist it’s beautifully eerie.
More modern architecture was on show at the Soulages Museum in Rodez, the region’s capital. An unusual rusty looking building, it belies the treasures it houses. Internationally renowned abstract painter Pierre Soulages, who is from Rodez, has donated over 500 engravings, bronzes and paintings to the museum.
But from the modern to the ancient - its historical landmarks, medieval architecture, and centuries-old traditions – Aveyron has an abundance of culture.
And it is this, as well as the outdoor activities, and delectable foods, that will have us returning to this oh-so French corner.