I have been fortunate to have lived in three departments in France during my nine years here after emigrating from Britain. The first was department 59 – the Nord (Nord-Pas de Calais); the second was department 11 – Aude (on the Mediterranean coast); the third is department 12 – the Aveyron, in the Midi-Pyrénées, South West France.
They all have their good and bad points:
The Nord with areas of beautiful scenery, deserted beaches and interesting places to visit was too cold for me.
The Aude was hot and the beach was a five minute walk away. It was green all year with no seasons, and the Tramontane wind which blew month on month, was bitterly cold in February and March.
The Aveyron, ah, the Aveyron… with its mystic medieval architecture, lofty hills, deep, mysterious gorges bedecked with trees concealing fast flowing rivers and mile after mile of undulating pastureland. Summers are hot and stretch into autumn, winters are cold, but with very little snow, and spring is just a joy.
The Aveyron has been my home for the last six years, and still I sit on my terrace in the summer, overlooking the field watching the cows, and think to myself “I am so lucky.”
The Aveyron is like a place that time forgot, magical villages perched on ridges. You can imagine knights on horseback charging across lush green fields. But there is more to the Aveyron than this, there is much to see and do, for those of you who enjoy the outdoor life, walking and cycling, painting or photography, the scenery is forever changing. Enjoy a morning kayaking on the rivers, horse riding, or swimming in the Viaur on a hot summer’s day.
Najac is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, and during July and August there are the night markets here where you can purchase food and wine of the area, to be eaten and drunk with locals and holiday makers alike on long tables in the open air. Travelling from La Fouillade to Lunac on the D39, you will find by the side of the road, three standing stones made of granite, the largest being 3m in height. Carry on to Lunac and you’ll find the apse of Lunac Church which dates back to the 12th century, and has on the south side a beautiful absidiole (a secondary chapel).
There are many other interesting places to visit, St-Cirq-Lapopie, (Lot), Albi (Tarn) with its Cathedral and home of the Toulouse Lautrec museum and Rodez with the Bishop’s Palace and Cathedral. Bastide Towns, chateaux, wine tasting in the many Marcillac vineyards, the list is endless.
If all this sounds too energetic, then drive half an hour to Villefranche de Rouergue, (travelling time from Lunac), get yourself a leisurely lunch overlooking the river and the old bastide, and watch the world go by. If you happen to do this on Thursday morning, you can stroll around the market filled with local produce to tantalise your taste buds.
The Aveyron is for food lovers – there is wonderful locally produced cheese, wine, meat and fabulous patisseries and a visit the Roquefort caves, France’s most famous cheese is a must for cheese lovers. Cheese abounds here, made from sheep’s milk in the south, cow’s milk in the north, and further west goat’s milk. Try the local speciality “aligot” made from mashed potato and tome fraiche (a local cheese). For meat lovers there’s the beef from Aubrac or the veal from the Segala, and to start your day – the local fouace a type of cake to have with your coffee.
Whatever you enjoy doing there is something here for everyone, so why not pay a visit and be transported back 60 years.
By Pauline Weller, Le Clos de Serenes B&B/Chambre d’hôtes, Lunac, Aveyron