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Sifex France Guide to Aveyron

Set at the South Western point of the Massif Central, the Aveyron has spectacular scenery with deep gorges, through which both the Lot and the Tarn flow, perfect for canoeing, and huge plateaux, carpeted with unusual flowers. Coupled with the Truyere and the Viaur, the power of water in the Aveyron is considerable. There are 17 dams which feed 16 power stations. In the Aubrac region in the North wild cows are to be found and these are famous for the flavour of their beef. To the south of the department, sheep predominate.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the farms could not support the families so many Aveyronnais left for California and Argentina . Loggers would winter in Catalonia under contract and it was after one of these episode they brought back the catalan knife called a ‘Navaja’ which inspired the creation by Pierre-Jean Camels of the ‘Laguiole’, the knife of the Aveyron. Another famous product is Roquefort cheese. One of the best known blue cheeses of the world, it is made from ewes milk and takes three months to reach maturity in the cool of the limestone caves. Both Casanova and Voltaire commented on this king of cheeses which is, since 1925, protected and can only be made in the Roquefort area.

Rodez, the capital of the department, retains numerous Gothic buildings from the 12th to the 16th century. The most outstanding is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame with it magnificent bell tower and statue of the Virgin Mary standing 87 metres high and overlooking the old part of the city. This bell tower featured in the invention of the Metre during the French Revolution when two scientists named Delambre and Méchain left Dunkirk and Barcelona respectively to measure one ten millionth of a portion of a quarater of the meridian. The Bell Tower of Rodez cathedral was their meeting point. Aligot is a regional speciality which consists of a rich puree from Tomme cheese, butter and mashed potatoes whilst estofinado, salt cod cooked in walnut oil, is another. As well as wines from Estaing, d’Entraygues, Fel or Marcillac, walnut quince or plum eau-de-vie is often the conclusion to the fine local cuisine.

With its origins in the prehistoric age, the Aveyron has been subjected to the influence of many different tribes and ruling factions. The limestone caves on the plateau were inhabited by the Chasseens, a prehistoric tribe. Later on Barbarians, Visigoths, Moors, Vikings and the English (in the 100 years war) all came to the department and left their mark. The Knights of the Templar also ruled here and the many monuments and architectural sites bear testament to this richly varied past. These range from dolmens and menhirs to fortresses, castles, abbeys and churches, especially the beautiful Abbey at Silvanès, first conceived in the 12th century for the Cistercians and regarded as an architectural gem. The Aveyron boasts nine of the ‘plus beaux villages de France’ – more than in any other department in France. Belcastel with its Château, Conques with its Abbey, the pretty half timbered 13th century of Sauveterre-de-Rouergue and at Najac, the 13th century royal fortress set high on its rocky promontory at one end of the village, to mention but a few. In all, 23 châteaux of the routes of the ‘Seigneurs de Rouergue’ are open to the public.

© 2003-2006 Sarah Francis

Sifex France Guide to the Departments in Midi-Pyrénées

Haute Garonne
Haute Pyrenees
Tarn et Garonne

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