The majority of Stage 10 passes through the Aveyron region. It begins in the Cantal region but the edit I watched picked up once already in Aveyron. The stage concludes in Albi in the department of Tarn.
Aveyron is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. It is located in the Occitanie region of Southern France.
Although only a couple of hours’ drive north of Toulouse and Montpellier, the region is sparsely populated and seemingly unchanged by time. Its a land of hidden valleys, wildlands, and stony peaks. It is a place of villages and village life. Even its largest “cities” like its capital Rodez are small in comparison to other regions.
There are no highways or fast-train lines blemishing the landscape, so you are forced to slow down while traveling around. The northern parts of the region are crossed by the Camino de Santiago, the Christian pilgrimage route that heads toward Spain.
There is an official list of the most beautiful villages in France called Les Plus Beaux Villages. Aveyron contains more villages on this list than any other region of the country.
There is no way I could detail everything the Aveyron has to offer. But most of what is detailed below is part of the region or just outside the borders. Its a region I am dying to visit personally. I recommend you use the links below to explore it a bit more.
Saint-Côme-d’Olt is a village located on the bank of the Lot river. Ranked as one of the most beautiful villages in France, the nearly circular center of the village has retained its medieval character. It was shaped around the ancient ramparts which became the exterior facades of the houses that circle the central church and square.
You can enter the historic center through one of three original gateways through the fortifications. This part of the village is very compact and full of medieval buildings and alleyways. At the direct center are 2 major monuments; the Chateau de Castelnau and the Church of Saint-Côme-d’Olt.
The Chateau de Castelnau is a castle directly across the square from the church. Built in the 12th century and updated and modified in the 14th and 15th centuries, it looks more like a manor house than a castle because the southern facade was rebuilt in the 19th century.
The Chateau was the residence of the lords of Calmont and Castelnau who owned the area for at least seven centuries. Currently, it is used as the town hall.
It was listed as a historic monument since 1999.
The main church in the center of the village is unique. It was built in the 12th century and reconstructed in the early 16th century in the flamboyant Gothic style. The most unique feature of this church is the twisted bell tower. This design is incredibly rare and no one is even certain if it was on purpose or an accident. Its carved oak doors are also very impressive. They were the work of the architect Antoine Salvanh who was also the architect of Rodez Cathédral.
The village is located on the Le Puy route of the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrims come from Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac before moving on to Espalion.
Located in the village of Espalion, this pedestrian only bridge crosses the Lot river and is constructed of red sandstone (except for the parapets).
The first bridge built here was commissioned by Charlemagne around 780. The current iteration was first built around the 11th-13th centuries and underwent many changes over time. The bridge was once fortified and had 3 towers; one at each end and one in the middle. The towers were guardhouses. There were also drawbridges at the ends at some point in the 16th century.
Until the 17th century you needed to pay a toll in order to cross.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the tower at the left bank was removed along with the stalls that cantilevered on the sides of the bridge. The road was widened. The last arch on the right was rebuilt after the right tower and drawbridge were removed around 1724.
It was classified a historic monument on March 9, 1888 and part of the World Heritage of UNESCO in 1998 as part of the pilgrimage road to St Jacques de Compostela.
Église Paroissiale d’Espalion
This Neo-Gothic church built from red sandstone was built starting in 1879 in order to replace the old church that had become too small. This church has 2 45m tall towers on the front corners, both of which are topped by 6m tall bronze statues; one of the virgin mary and the other of St. Joseph. It is the work of the Ruthenian architect Grinda and was consecrated on October 3, 1880, and remained under the name of St Jean-Baptiste.
It was eventually transformed into the town hall and is now currently a museum.
Château de Calmont d’Olt
Perched on a basalt hill 535m above the village of Espalion, the Château de Calmont d’Olt was first built in the 11th century. During the 100 Years War in the 15th century, a secondary fortification with 8 towers was built around the existing castle. From then the castle has remained unmodified preserving its medieval features.
In the 17th century the castle was abandoned by its owners who preferred to live in more comfortable fashion, leaving it to ruin.
The castle was purchased in 1987 by a historian. It is currently undergoing archaeological excavations, stabilization work, studies on the life of a castle, as well as reenactments on the themes of war and daily life in the Middle Ages.
It was registered as a historic monument in 1992.
Église Sainte-Fauste de Bozouls
The origin of this church is unknown and its history is chaotic. It has been added on, modified and fortified many times over the centuries.
Most of it was built in the 12th century on the end of a rocky outcrop high above the canyon formed by the Dourdou. This part of the canyon forms a loop around the chapel which looks very impressive.
Through time, 5 chapels were built on the south end. Buttresses were added several times to different sides. The flagstone roof was replaced with slate as it was lighter. Vaults were rebuilt and a staircase turret and bell tower were added to the north side. A porch and sacristy were added later. Most of these updates seem to have been done to help reinforce the church.
You can get more details by following the links below.
The building was classified as a historic monument on August 31, 1920. Any renovations since have mostly just been for maintenance.
Rodez is considered a romantic medieval city, prehaps owing something to the pink sandstone uses to construct many of its building. The city posesses the title of ‘The land of art and history”.
There is way too much to cover here but the main attraction I will mention is the Rodez Cathedral.
The cathedral is unlike any you’ve seen before with its warlike look. It was built in this fashion to keep attackers out as much as to invite worshippers in. The western front of the cathedral was actually once part of the city walls that surrounded Rodez which is why you will notice there is no entrance on this side.
Constructed of red sandstone, it has a severe façade, flanked by two sturdy towers. The belltower which stands at 87m is topped by a lantern carrying the statue of the Virgin with a choir of four angels.
For more information about this city follow some of the links below.
Musée Soulages Rodez
Rodez is the hometown of Pierre Soulages, one of France’s most acclaimed living painters who has been honored with this brand new museum full of his painting and sculpture, 500 of which he has donated to the municipality.
He became known as the “painter of black” due to his strong interest in the color and the way it reflects light. For almost 40 years he has painted exclusively black monochrome works. The museum itself is made of preoxidized steel which references the pink sandstone of the nearby cathedral, while the black-steel internal lining references his work.
Abbaye de Bonneval
The abbey was founded as a monastery of Cistercian monks in 1147. The name Bonneval means ‘Good Valley” which is a typical Cistercian name. The Abbey quickly became rich and powerful, owning extensive estates throughout the country.
In the mid-14th century, it suffered from the Black Death and was extensively damaged during the Hundred Years’ War. As part of the Treaty of Brétigny, the area was given to the English in 1360. Although fortified the abbey was looted as were towns and abbeys nearby by both English troops and French bandits.
Bonneval was chosen in the 17th century to educate novices from every Cistercian abbey in southwest France, however, during the French Revolution in 1791, the 13 remaining monks had to leave. The abbey and its goods were sold off, and the buildings subsequently quarried for stone.
In 1875, Trappist nuns came to rebuild the abbey. They also opened a chocolate factory and installed a turbine on the river to produce electricity. Today, the community at Bonneval consists of 30 nuns, aged from 29 to 98. They still produce a well-known chocolate, but above all, they endeavor to fulfill their vocation of prayer.
Viaduc du Viaur
Opened in 1902, the Viaduc de Viaur was the first large steel bridge built in France. It was also one of the highest railway bridges in the world at 116.8m (383ft), second in height to Eiffel’s Garabit Viaduct. It was also the longest spanning railway bridge in France at 220m (722ft).
The Viaur Viaduct is also one of France’s greatest triumphs of bridge engineering. Although it looks like an arch, the bridge is actually two balanced cantilevers joined in the middle by a hinge. Only when a train is crossing the central span of the bridge does the weight cause a true arch effect to occur. This innovative design allows the bridge components to expand and contract from temperature as well as weight changes without straining the arch structure as a whole.
Chapelle de Las Planques
Built on a rocky outcrop and only accessible on foot, the beautiful Romanesque Chapelle de Las Planques overlooks the Viaur river. It was built between the 11th and 12th centuries and owes its name to a footbridge which made it possible to cross the Viaur river. In Occitan, “plancas” means planks.
The building was once the center of a village that had about twenty houses In the 14th century. Hidden at the bottom of a valley and difficult to access, the church served as a refuge for the local population from marauding bandits during the Middle Ages.
The village was abandoned nearly a century ago, but the chapel has had some restoration in recent years. Visitors are encouraged to obtain the key from the Tourist Office in Tanus to gain access to the chapel.
The chapel was registered as an Historic Monument on February 16, 1913.