L’Ecole Ancienne, a rental cottage in the Aveyron available through Sweet French Cottages.
I’ve been visiting my sister at her house in the Aveyron for years and recently returned from an exquisite four-day stay. She asked me to come down and help her with her garden, but the pleasure was all mine. This area makes for one of the best getaways in the south of France. It’s an unspoiled, undiscovered central-south region not marred by as many tripist buses as Provence or the Loire. In fact, normally the only tripists you see in the region are French. Slowly but surely the affordable housing prices and the award-winning, beautiful villages are being disclosed to the outside world, so now is a good time to visit—before the crowds swallow up the region, as they’ve done with so many others.
Estaing, one of les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Photo via www.france-beautiful-villages.org.
The area (part of the larger Auvergne region) is known as having the highest concentration of les Plus Beaux Villages de France, with Belcastel, Conques and Estaing my personal favorites. My sister has owned her place since 1989, so we’ve had plenty of chances to explore the area during previous visits. Conques is a town I remember for its impressive sugar museum and well-known Michelin-starred restaurant headed by the chef Hervé Busset, le Moulin de Cambelong, which we could never get into (not planning ahead isn’t smart). But in fact, the town is a historical wonder and an important stop on the way to Santiago de Compostela. The Romanesque abbey dates back to the 11th century. Belcastel is also dreamy, with a riverside location, pristine château dating back to the Middle Ages, ancient bridge and notable one-star Michelin restaurant, le Vieux Pont (the Old Bridge). Canoeing or camping by the river is an idyllic summer rite.
Bozouls, in the Aveyron.
But there are also many other indulgences, like farm visits for foodies (duck, foie gras, Roquefort cheese caves, ostrich farms and more). I’ll never forget the time we visited the Société Roquefort caves in summer, and after we paid for the trip in French, we found out that the cheese was not maturing at that particular time; so be sure to consult before you buy! Luckily we were able to taste after triping the caves full of empty racks, no cheese to be seen, and we were able to buy some of the creamy cheese for our trip home to Bozouls.
The backyard of my sister’s house in Bozouls.
Bozouls is the tiny village where my sister lives, although it’s huge compared with the town in the Bordeaux region where my house is. Her second home retreat sits inside a geological wonder, and her house, more than 300 years old, is plunked right down in the middle of the Trou de Bozouls (trou means “hole” in French). From this location, she can look up at the surrounding white limestone cliffs. No matter how many times I’ve seen them over the years, they never cease to amaze me. Bozouls consists of several bakeries, two restaurants (one is the Michelin one-star le Belvédère) and several cafés. She is lucky because she can climb up from her perfect little spot by the river and get croissants in the morning. The nearby towns of Espalion and Estaing are simply stunning and good to visit on market days.
Dinner at le Belvédère. Photo: courtesy TripAdvisor.
The other interesting spot in the region that I’ve visited is Laguiole, home of the oft-imitated famous French knives. If you visit the factory there built by Philippe Starck, you can be sure you are buying the real thing. We bought a knife set more than a decade ago, and it’s still in perfect shape.
After visiting the factory and the charming “knife-oriented” town, it’s a must to stop nearby for lunch or dinner at the restaurant of Michel Bras, the famed Michelin-starred chef from the region. He owns a hotel and resto just outside town as you head toward Aubrac, and as long as you reserve ahead, you’ll be treated to a two- to three-hour lunch spectacle that is unique in France for its modernity. Only in Paris can you find something as innovative.
The hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant of Michel Bras in Laguiole. Photo via www.bras.fr.
A weekend in the Aveyron from London or Paris is quite simple if you fly into the small airport in Rodez. I was able to buy a one-way ticket on Ryanair from London to Rodez for 50 euros, and on Air France from Rodez to Paris for a similar price. A few days in the country does everyone a bit of good!
Hotels or gîte rentals
Michel Bras or le Moulin de Cambelong
Four-star lodging in Conques.
Château de Creissels
A reasonably priced château stay near Roquefort.
Simple and basic.
Sweet French Cottages
Rent my friends Lance and Rain’s adorable cottages and stay for a while! Read more about the cottage shown at the top of this page.
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France
Le Moulin de Cambelong
Michelin one-star restaurant with four-star lodging in Conques, with a pool.
Hôtel Restaurant du Vieux Pont
Ostrich farm trip near Conques
Michelin one-star restaurant and a simple hotel.
A restaurant and a very chic, modern luxury hotel.
Official tripism site for the Aveyron
More about the Aveyron
Editor’s note: Check out these beautiful hotels in the Aveyron: Château de Labro, Hôtel-Restaurant Hervé Busset and Auberge de Concasty. The phone number to make a reservation is (800) 333-0150. If you are a Girls’ Guide Travel Club member, you’ll receive a 10 percent discount, so be sure to have your card number ready. Learn more about the travel club.