Places to visit within a 1 hour drive
Capital of the Tarn, magnificent Romanesque St Cecile cathedral, Bishop’s palace for works of Toulouse-Lautrec, plenty of music, entertainment, nightlife - part of pastel (woad) circuit or ‘pays de cocagne’ by which merchant fortunes were made in the 15th and 16th centuries ( later by tannery owners) and home of the Albigensian crusades against Cathar ‘heretics’ in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Château du Bosc
Family summer home of Toulouse-Lautrec. He spent his formative years here and guided tours are available all year- just pull the bell in the courtyard- tours available 9am-7pm.
Beautiful village upstream on the Aveyron river, excellent Hotel du Vieux Pont restaurant well worth a visit but needs booking, 15th century castle ( restored with art exhibitions and can be visited) and on its approaches ruins of Charlemagne toll station (c.800) overlooking shrine and stations of the Cross on the path to it.
Bozouls (1 hour 15 mins)
A canyon 400m wide and 100 metres deep, hiding an ancient river bend + Terra Memoria geology interpretation centre.
Carmaux - Cap Découverte
Cap Decouverte is a former open-cast mine offering outdoor activities including swimming pools and lake, artificial slope skiing, mechanical water skiing, luge, skateboard park , tyrolean aerial runway and more, all in spectacular setting and for one ticket. Outside student holidays very restricted openings
+ lively town with new museum and ‘boutique’ of glass open from May to October and set in an original 18th century glass-works with strong links with the surrounding coal mines. Home of famous socialist deputy Jean Jaures and a centre of resistance during second world war.
Conques (1 hour 25 mins)
World heritage hill-top site, Romanesque Sainte Foy abbey (11th-12th centuries) with art, beautiful medieval village and two exhibition halls with impressive gold and religious relics and treasures from the Middle Ages onwards. Notice the curious figures looking over the edges of the entrance arch portraying heaven and hell. A major stage on medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago di Compostela in Spain.
Gothic architecture, 13th century bastide town with Cathar history, artists’ centre, painted by Lawrence of Arabia. Spectacular hill-top setting which justifies its name. Very lively and tourist-oriented in a positive way. Borders Gaillac wine-producing plateau.
Underground caves with spectacular geological features and prehistoric human and animal (lions etc) remains from 5000 years ago- the child’s footprint is special. Great visit for a hot day. Circuit of Dolmens above ground not so good for a hot day.
Levezou 60 mins. +
Five mountain lakes, beaches and water sports covering nearly 7 square miles. Pareloup, the largest lake, has most kinds of water activity available (limited out of season) and well-supervised, a cruising restaurant and some nice beach resorts.
Loc-Dieu (place of God- formerly place of devils !)
Former Cistercian fortified abbey 9km west of Villefranche. Spectacular, part early Gothic building and parkland setting. Guided tours of interior.
Najac bastide, beautiful touristy village, medieval fortress all perched on rocky ridge- good example of 13th century military architecture, good restaurants and very good cycling and walking routes with Aveyron River and woods. Three outdoor pools + diving boards.
Capital and economic driver of Aveyron, historic centre based on 13-16th century Notre-Dame cathedral, fascinating central area behind, Fenaille and Denys Puech museums joined now by impressive Soulages museum of famous abstract painter, equestrian specialist centres (national Stud Farm- Haras- guided visits only- and Domain of Combelles for serious riding at all skill levels). Just outside Rodez there is the Hotel and Restaurant of Fontanges which is beautifully located with the Greater Rodez golf course and sports complex.
Sauveterre de Rouergue
A remarkably intact 1281 bastide village ; medieval arcades, duck ponds, half-timbered merchants houses, modern artists’ studios- classed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Remains of the fortifications are visible. Home of famous knife production if pricey and not as famous internationally as the Laguiole (also Aveyron) knives. Friday evening markets in July, August- short visit.
Viaducts of the Viaur
1902 iron railway bridge 460m long joining Rodez and Carmaux. It took 7 years to build. Very close to 2000 road viaduct 570 m long and 130m high- both considerable engineering achievements for their times but not to be confused with the Millau motorway viaduct designed by Norman Foster which is even more spectacular if a longer trip.
Villefranche de Rouergue
Medieval bastide town on the Aveyron River designed with regular street grid converging on a central square bordered by arcades, the surprising baroque Chapel of Penitents Noirs and the Chartreuse Saint-Saveur monastery with impressive great cloister, supermarkets, excellent and extensive weekly Thursday morning market (in several locations including old town square), recommended bars and restaurants, cinema. Boulangerie Boutonnet on Rue Serg. Bories excellent if a little pricey.