The Peaceful Aveyron
I’ve put together a series of itineraries in France throughout my favorite regions based on the Plus Beaux Villages de France book and website. I created these for a talk I gave to a group of expats and visitors to Paris in October at Adrian Leed’s Parler Paris Apres Midi event that she’s been having since 2002 every 2nd Tuesday of the month. The talk was well received so it seemed only natural to share with gg2p readers some of these itineraries.
First of all I had to clarify something for myself that I’ve been confused about since I started going to the Aveyron region in the 1980’s because my sister bought a house there.
From Bonjour Paris
What is the difference between Aveyron and Auvergne? Administratively speaking, Auvergne is a “region” and Aveyron is the “department” next to it. (Note: They are neighbors but the Aveyron is located in the region of the Midi-Pyrenees.)
Socially speaking, they more or less have the same traditions, despite what they say of one another. Today, Aveyronnais and Auvergnats are extremely numerous in Paris. Most of them came in the 1870s, when the railroad reached their region. As agriculture was offering less and less work because of the coming of machines, people started to emigrate to the capital. Here is the start of the history of the Auvergnats and the Aveyronnais in Paris. Most of the men started as water carriers, then as “bougnats”, meaning coal man. Most of them were living near Bastille, particularly along the Rue de Lappe. Little by little, while the men were delivering coal, the women opened small inns. But when gas started to heat the houses, the bougnats joined their wives behind the counter. Today, three quarters of the Brasseries and tabacs of Paris are run by Aveyronnais or Auvergnats.
I’m happy to have cleared that up and learned a little history to boot. Clearly this is a much less tripisty area to travel in France which means; 1) everything is cheaper and 2) you won’t hear English everywhere you go which makes it feel like REAL France and 3) because its undiscovered or less-so than say Provence, it seems as if its your own discovery. We know that this region wasn’t hit by as many bombs as other parts of France during the war which is probably why you’ve got more Plus Beaux Villages de France here that any other department in France.
As I said, I’ve been going to the region ever since my sister bought a home there in 1987, which is to say a very long time. Here is my suggested itinerary that might act as a sampler to the Aveyron, so you may see it in all its splendor. April to November is the nicest season there.
Stop 1. Fly into Rodez (or train) and rent a car.
Before you head out to the French countryside, trip the Soulages Museum in Rodez, Pierre Soulanges, is the most well-known artist from this region, famous for his black paintings. Visit Estaing (pictured in slideshow) with its 13th century Chateau and the charming village of Espallion, with its church from 1472, Eglise de Perse, known far and wide because it was on the road to St. Jacques de Compostelle*.
St Come D’Olt is a Plus Beaux Village, not to be missed, filled with medieval village houses built in a circle around the church.
If you are a foodie head to the L’Aguiole knife factory, to purchase the real thing. The factory was designed by Philippe Starck and the knives are just beautiful. The set of steak knives is the ultimate, if expensive, souvenir or settle instead for the pocket knife or wine opener. The knives are still carried around many the locals so they have something to cut with on a picnic or at lunch in the field after a morning’s work.
After a visit to the factory, head to the mecca of the region for serious Michelin star fans, Michel Bras. I am frankly tired of fancy and stuffy Michelin starred places in Paris, but this extremely modern hotel and restaurant which sports three stars from one of France’s most important chefs is worth the money you’ll outlay.
Should you care to get some exercise between meals and can handle some hills, the tripism board of the Aveyron came up with a six day do-it-yourself itinerary through the region where you can hit 10 PBV as long as you can handle 5-6 hours a day of bike riding. (see link below)
Stop into my sister’s town of Bozouls and start at the tripism office, get a map of the country walks. You’ll notice that the trou (or hole in French) is what makes this town and there is a lovely walk that goes down to the bottom and up again that will help you muster up an appetite to eat in this small village’s 1 Michelin starred restaurant, Le Belvedere.
For me the DO NOT MISS Auberge les Mejanassere. You can also stay here. This is simply one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life, go on pig night if possible. They make their own eau de vie, grown their own salad and preserve their own rillettes and patés.
Everything is grown or raised within a 10-kilometer radius and they roast just one thing per night, sometimes its a whole pig, sometimes it is duck or lamb and always its amazing! The Auberge is truly a work of art in the farm to table category.
Eat: at Michel Bras for lunch, which is more economical than dinner. You can also stay here. Chef Bras has 3 michelin stars in his über-modern restaurant surround by the countryside.
Eat: Le Belvedere in Bozouls has 1 michelin star, go for the beef and other meats cooked right on the fire!
Stay: Sweet French Cottages
An old school and other sweetly done cottages for 600-900 euros a week 1-3 bdrm, shared pool. In Entraygues-sur-Truyère, which is, you guessed it a Plus Beaux Village. My friends from Los Angeles own these little cottages and they are as sweet as they look.
Or stay at the modern minimalist Michel Bras, or the incredibly charming Auberge Mejanaserre, find links below.
Food to try: Roquefort on steak from the Aubrac. Aligot and sausages. Duck confit. Souvenirs to bring home: A Laguiole knife-set or a wine opener.
Plus Beaux Villages
St. Come D’Olt
Auberge les Mejanassere
* St. Jacques de Compostelle, or St. James Way is the 1000 year-old pilgrimage that people have been walking on for spiritual reasons since the 9th century.