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AVEYRON - Causses, hillside villages and Templars

Carte de l'Aveyron, causses, villages perchés et templiers

This is the Larzac ! This limestone plateau is renowned worldwide. First, thanks to the Templars, then via the Hospitaliers (the Knights of St John of Jerusalem) and finally for the Lutte (fight) du Larzac. Today, roam on foot, by bike, by horse, by canoe or by car to see these landscapes and fabulous historical remains. The landscapes are truly beautiful in the "Causses hillside villages and Templars" land. Here, you go from the abysses under the Viaduct of Millau, to the aridity of the Causses, mixed with typical flora and fauna. The Rougiers de Camarès with its blood-red coloured soil, contrasts with the fluorescent green of nature in springtime. The villages are all built of stone ; the rock is noticeable everywhere as well as underground. You will encounter the smell of Roquefort and other cheeses... The combination of the geology of the area, the underground caves, the water and the grazing for sheep contributes to producing cheese of the highest quality

It is the perfect place for sports lovers as you can participate in activities while admiring the scenery : there's potholing, white water sports, rock climbing, bungee jumping, paragliding, hiking, trail biking... Let's go !

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RIVIÈRE-SUR-TARN

When you talk about a rocky OUTCROP, an INVICIBLE medieval FORTRESS, you imagine something picturesque... Using the term rocky OUTCROP is not an exaggeration in Rivière sur-Tarn for Peyrelade Castle !! Look for yourself !

Construction started during 11th century at the top of the Tarn valley. This was an unusual site upon which to built this castle. It became a sought-after place...To such an extent, in fact, that its dismantlement was requested at the end of 17th century.

Today you can relive the history of this incredible structure. From June to September it is open to the public for free or for guided tours. The castle is not the only wonder of Rivière-sur-Tarn, there are also the wines of the Côtes de Millau and orchards, in these arable lands on the banks of the Tarn. Wine lovers will be delighted with an unusual visit to the Caves de l'Entre Deux-Monts, buildings half buried (semi-troglodytic), with the characteristic Lauze roof (flat, thin stone). A site to be visited all year, refurbished with care by an association for the protection of local heritage. There is a guided tour with wine tasting at the end.

In the caves, could it be ripening cheese you smell ? The Bleu des Causses, is a veined cheese made from cow's milk with a soft, creamy texture. Produced in the natural caves of this region, where the “fleurines” (natural ventilation allows the cheese to breathe) gives this soft cheese its flavour.

In Rivière-sur-Tarn, between gastronomy and heritage, there is a lot to do and see to have a great holiday.


Rivière sur Tarn

Rivière sur Tarn

MILLAU

Millau is a town in the Aveyron famous for its majestic, breathtaking modern bridge, a genuine feat of engineering.


The Viaduct of Millau is a cable bridge. Its primary function is to span the Tarn valley to link the Causse Rouge and Causse du Larzac. It is an architectural and engineering achievement which is 2,460 metres (8,070 feet) long ! Cars cross it via the A75 motorway. This titanic project was built to avoid traffic jams around Millau, a very busy, clogged holiday road. Other than for traffic, the Viaduct of Millau, which is really an extraordinary and wonderful sight, is undeniably a tourist attraction in itself.

To learn more about the Viaduct of Millau, go via the Aire du Viaduc de Millau, to see Viaduc Expo. Enjoy the beautiful views of the bridge, its cables, its deck, its 7 pylons including the P2, the highest one in the world (343 metres / 1,253.3 feet) ! There is an exhibition area with explanatory signs, all of this organised by Eiffage, the construction group which built the viaduct. To have another beautiful and all encompassing view of the Aveyronnais landscape, visit Peyre village, built on the banks of the Tarn River.


Le fameux Viaduc de Millau

The Viaduct of Millau


Let’s return to Millau ! A bizarre town, built because of the Tarn River and its confluent, Millau is famous for its artisans using its sigillata soils (which the Romans liked...). This is a technique for making pottery, faïence and ceramics, which consists of applying a coat of clay to the extremely fine particles on the top of the modelled object, to give it hardness, tightness and durability. In Millau, learn more at the Graufesenque Gallo Roman Archaeological site.

During 9th century Millau changed sides (literally !) and settled on the other bank of the Tarn River and became a trading city. Over the centuries, Millau blossomed thanks to the expertise of its inhabitants for the making of gloves, bed linen, leather and skin work in general.

During 19th century, a period of urban development took place with the town still specialising in “mégisserie” (leather glove making). Today, like in many other cities of the region, and after the social crisis and industrial decline, the glove industry has also declined. The industry has been gradually over taken by tourism as the town's main economic means.

Today, Millau is a great town for a holiday with a population of almost 23,000, natural landscapes, cultural sites to visit and events all year. The climate is pleasant ; the town is well located and served by public transport.


Agréable cité, Millau est proche de la nature


Millau is a nature destination ; here the surrounding landscape is composed of grass on limestone soil. Gorges and ravines blend in a natural ecosystem, in the Grands Causses Regional Natural Park. On one side are the gorges of the Tarn, on the other Lévézou Plateau and the gorges of the Dourbie. Outdoor and adventure sports enthusiasts will be very happy in Millau which is a major site for outdoor sports ! Here you can go mountain biking, trekking, participate in white water and nautical sports, canyoning, rock climbing, via ferrata, paragliding, bungee jumping, parachuting... You will get fit in the fresh air and have fun !!


What to visit in Millau :


12th century Notre-Dame de l'Espinasse church, Sacré-Cœur church, the Beffroi de Millau, which has a square tower and a beautiful 360 degree view from the top of its 210 steps. Cross the Pont Vieux over the Tarn (not as big as the Viaduct). Enjoy looking at the beautiful houses : the hôtel de Sambucy de Sorgues, the hôtel de Sambucy de Miers, the hôtel de Pégayrolles. Walk towards the Place du Maréchal-Foch which has arcades and the covered market hall. Millau and the Grands Causses Museum traces the history of the town and its artisanal expertise.


Not far from Millau is Montpellier-le-Vieux and its famous 'chaos'. A chaos is a pile of rocks, resulting from erosion or meteorological events which lead to surprising landscapes, rather surreal and strange... In Montpellier-le-Vieux, there is a 120 hectares (296 acres) outdoor leisure park in the largest rock labyrinth in Europe. There are lots of walks to take here. Fans of the famous French actor Louis de Funès, will recognize a few of the landscapes from the movie La Grande Vadrouille... There is also a small tourist train, a via ferrata and other activities on site.


The best tips and plans of the Guide Tarn Aveyron in Millau :

Are you a thrill seeker ? Take your first freefall flight in Millau ! Or just look at others jumping from the Pouncho d'Agast, a beautiful viewpoint in the town, towards Montpellier-le-Vieux.

  • There are two Via Ferrata in Millau : the site of Boffi, close to the gorges of the Dourbie river has some ‘wow' landscapes. The site of Liaucous is at the entrance to the gorges of the Tarn. Each of the two has 2 levels of difficulties.
  • In Millau, a few kilometres from the Causses du Larzac, is a high limestone plateau with lunarlike, arid landscapes.
  • There is glove manufacturing in Millau. Visit l'Atelier du Gantier, a glove factory, the oldest in town where you can visit its manufacturing workshop and see its products. There are also other factories offering visits.
  • In the region the main fruit is the cherry ! The Maison de la cerise (the cherry house) has walks in the orchards with interesting explanations about the cultivation of this small, sweet, juicy red fruit...

Les artisans de Millau sont spécialisés dans le gant

NANT

Between the rivers of Dourbie and Durzon, in a peaceful, natural setting is Nant, a small village with a population of 950.

You can smell the Mediterranean influences in this village located 15 kilometres from the Gard department and next to Cévennes. It also has one foot in Larzac with its karstic plateau.

The monks built the original village of Nant in 10th century. They drained the Durzon valley to develop agriculture, they built a monastery and the village grew with the increase in population and trade. Here agriculture is still an important resource (the village is called "the garden of the Aveyron"), and in particular sheep farming, which produces the milk for the cheeses typical of the region ; Roquefort, Tome and Pérail.

In Nant, look for : Saint-Pierre Abbey church with its beautiful stained glass windows, Saint-Martin-du-Vican chapel (and many other small chapels), the Pont de la Prade (bridge). The covered market hall of the town is lovely, and many beautiful properties can be seen in the town.


Cantobre is situated on communal land near Nant. It is a medieval village in the Dourbie valley. Perched on a rocky promontory, 550 metres (1,805 feet) above sea level, in the heart of the countryside, far from any urban development, it really takes you back in time. Here there are no building blocks but old stones everywhere, a beautiful view, steep, narrow streets, small squares to stop for a picnic... It is a good place for climbing and relaxation !



The best tips and plans of the Guide Tarn Aveyron in Nant :

  • In Nant, walk along the Canal des Vernèdes. The building of these canals drained the land round the town. They contain the Durzon River and irrigate the fields.
  • Nant is a village where many artisans have workshops : jewellery, galleries, bookbinders workshops, cardboard creations, cushions filled with aromatic plants, ceramics, wicker work, painting... all sorts !
  • It is a great place for hiking and the best climbers can tackle Roc Nantais !

Nant, village verdoyantNant, village verdoyant

LA CAVALERIE

La Cavalerie has beautiful stone houses which are full of charm... La Cavalerie is a village in the heart of Larzac Plateau, approximately twenty kilometres from Millau. It is an ideal place for holidays and for immersing yourself in the tumultuous history of the Templars and Hospitaliers (a religious order) in the Aveyron, as well as the Lutte du Larzac (Fight for the Larzac is a non-violent civil disobedience action by farmers resisting the extension of an existing military base on the Larzac plateau (1971 to 1981). The settlement of La Cavalerie dates back to early man as there are many dolmen and other remains to be seen.

Larzac is a land of Templars, who built the town in 1154. They built the Commanderie de la Cavalerie which consists of a church, cemetery, a tower and agricultural buildings, close to the logis. There was also a castle, gone today and now difficult to locate. In 1312, after the fall of the Templars, the town was given to the Hospitaliers who fortified the village and developed it during 15th century. The religious wars at the end of 16th century damaged the town's prosperity and the towers were dismantled as well as the Templars' castle. During 17th century, La Cavalerie regained its reputation and its trade and many buildings were rebuilt. During 18th century, roads were improved. During 19th century, the agricultural landscape suffered as the result of the rural exodus, like other towns in this region. At the beginning of 20th century, the building of a military camp boosted the economy. The camp was used to repatriate soldiers who fought in the Algerian war.

In 1970s, La Cavalerie was at the heart of the Lutte du Larzac (fight for Larzarc) led by farmers and different unions for more than 10 years. For the past several years, La Cavalerie has benefitted from the development of tourism (thanks to a variety of accommodation being available, plus restaurants, and the development of its local history) and the presence of the military camp, as today it houses many families from the French Foreign Legion.


Wander around La Cavalerie and look for the fortifications, the well-preserved round towers, the parapet walk which has a beautiful view of the surrounding landscapes and the square tower.

The entire site is beautifully lit at dusk, and is listed as a historic monument. Visit Notre-Dame de l'Assomption Church, close to the Place des Templiers which has beautiful stone houses, and the surprisingly sumptuous Robert Muret Centre.

Around the village, are old sheepfolds and a circular stone wash house, the legacy of the farming community in Larzac. There are dolmen and mysterious menhirs, like in other parts of the region. La Cavalerie has many artisans in residence during the summer. Look for the famous Roquefort producers.

The proximity to Millau provides opportunities for sport and cultural activities.


La Cavalerie

La Cavalerie

L'HOSPITALET-DU-LARZAC

This is a lovely village built in 1108 and typical of the Larzac. It is closely linked to La Cavalerie, to which it was joined many centuries ago. It is a perfect starting point for peaceful holidays with lots of fun activities within a 30 minute radius.

Visit a free museum, the Larzac Archaelogical Centre, an interesting place for learning about local history and flora. Walk on the old Roman road which crossed the Larzac 2,000 years ago. The road was built to transport salt, oil and other artisanal products such as ceramics. The lovely Causse houses are built around a fountain which gives the village its nickname, the “Oasis of Larzac", for the “Hospitalet” (it is not easy to keep water on Larzac limestone plateau, fountains are rare).

During summer, enjoy the municipal swimming pool, rent a bike to travel the Larzac, take a ULM flight tour, play on the Vélorail (cyclerail) in Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon and tackle the Cornus Adventure Trails.

Not far from here, in Sauclière, is the Musée des traditions (local customs museum). For fishing and swimming activities, there are lakes nearby : at Sainte-Eulalie and Sorgue.


Le petit village de l'Hospitalet-du-Larzac

Hospitalet-du-Larzac

ROQUEFORT-SUR-SOULZON

Everything is in the name ! This town, close to the stream of Soulzon, owes its reputation to the eponymous cheese. The local geology is responsible (and we are not going to blame it !), for the blue veined, soft, strong Roquefort cheese. Indeed, the town was established on a limestone plateau, like most of the Larzac, but at this particular site, the plateau had partially collapsed, giving birth to "fleurine", cracks or rather big holes, which guarantee perfect ventilation for the caves where the cheese is produced.

Charles VII, during 15th century, gave Roquefort the exclusive right to produce the cheese of the same name. Here, this appellation is highly valued so be careful not to confuse Roquefort with other blue cheeses of the same type ! In the region, cheese is an important economic and tourist resource. Everything revolves around farming, so there are many sheep grazing in the fields as they provide the milk used in the production of Roquefort as well as Pérail (another cheese made with sheep's milk), see our gastronomy section.


In Roquefort, make sure you visit the cheese caves, situated in the natural landscape. Roquefort matures for at least three months in order to gain its AOP. In the village close to Soulzon, there is a gigantic three metres high menhir plus two churches to see. Check the orientation table at the Rocher de Saint-Pierre.


Le grand village de Roquefort-sur-Soulzon

Roquefort-sur-Soulzon

Les caves de Roquefort (Société)

SAINT-AFFRIQUE

This is one of the most sprawling towns in France ! Located in a part of the Causses Natural Regional Park, Saint-Affrique is made up of many hamlets and villages, which form the natural region of Saint-Affrique (the two main towns are Saint-Affrique and Camarès). The name of the commune possibly comes from the bishop of Comminges Affricanus, who took refuge in the town during 5th century and would have, therefore, given it his name.

Saint-Affrique is a dynamic, commercial town, thanks to the success of the textile industry, then agriculture and then farming, all within the vicinity of Roquefort. Today, for tourists, it is a pleasant place to explore, full of interesting history ! Several churches and religious buildings are scattered over this vast commune, including the former convent of the Cordeliers, the Parish church and its particularly high spire, Bournac church... Look up at the houses to see alcoves with statues of the Virgin Mary. They were put there as an offering of thanks from the inhabitants spared from cholera at the end of 19th century.

Saint-Affrique is a town with five bridges, including a medieval one, the Pont Vieux.

Visit the Maison de la Mémoire du Pays Saint-Affraicain (Memorial house of the Pays Saint-Affraicain), to learn more about the rich history of this region. It is free and open all year.



The best tips and plans of the Guide Tarn Aveyron in Saint-Affrique :

  • In Saint-Affrique, there is a beautiful dolmen : Tiergues.
  • There is also an impressive rocky structure : Le Rocher de Caylus, rising 200 metres (656 feet) above the town. From there you will find a beautiful view.
  • The is a green way to walk in Saint-Affrique, to go to Vabres l'Abbaye along the Sorgues River.
  • There is an inter-communal swimming pool for hot summer days !
  • To learn more about farming, important in the region, visit the Pastoralia Museum. This will delight children !



CAMARÈS

Are we in Colorado ? No we're still in Aveyron, but close to Camarès with its “rougierssoil which is really blood red in colour, due to the iron oxide content. Camarès is a small, peaceful village built on a geological curiosity, and farms sheep for Roquefort cheese. Camarès is beautiful to visit, with its surreal landscapes and its attractive houses. The village has a calm and relaxing environment ; you can dip your feet in the Dourdou River which flows at the bottom of the town. To have a perfect view of this glowing landscape, head from Camarès towards Montaigut Castle, which is quite imposing. It can be visited in a medieval costume (if you want !) and has paper chases and other activities.



LA COUVERTOIRADE

The lovely village of La Couvertoirade, labelled one of the most beautiful villages in France, is located in the heart of the Causse du Larzac, peaceful and indomitable. Remarkably preserved, La Couvertoirade is like a dream village for those who want to immerse themselves in the legends of the Templars, Hospitaliers and in the history of 16th and 17th centuries.

The fortifications of La Couvertoirade house a really exceptional heritage : practically all the houses are built of traditional stone, situated in small mazelike alleys. You can happily get lost and discover surprises and real treasures at every turn. Starting with the fortifications : enter the village by one of its monumental entry gates and their machicolation (a gap where stones or hot oil could be poured over the attackers of the castle), they were built by the Hospitaliers in order to watch the surroundings and protect the villagers. The Templars built a castle during 12th century, which is private but open to visitors during the summer. Stroll through the mansions and the beautifully renovated buildings, like the “Scipone” which houses an information centre with a film about the village plus an exhibition room. Saint-Christophe church's interior is entirely built in stone and is very serene. The ceiling is vaulted. Also look for the small presbytery. Explore the alleys to find the “lavognes”, paved holes made by farmers to provide water for their animals. Small canals supplied the water which ran down to the lavogne... Also appreciate the Moulin de Redounel, at the top of the hill. It has been refurbished recently.

There are many hikes to take around and from La Couvertoirade. It has always been a land of pilgrims. For children and adventurers there is an outdoor leisure activity centre and pot holing in La Couvertoirade : the Acro Roc des Infruts.