Aubrac, an off the beaten track land – Meanderings through France
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
In the middle of the Massif-Central, Aubrac is a granitic mountain plateau shaped by traditional cattle breeding since the Middle-Ages. With its lakes, its grazing lands, its small villages built with the dark local basaltic rocks and its iconic brown cows, Aubrac has kept all its charm. Its inhabitants are proud of their traditional way of life and do their best to keep it this way. Go and share it with them: taste their simple and tasty gastronomy, stay in a B&B set in a carefully restored home, get pampered in one of the spas that uses the water from a nearby spring or go hiking through these peaceful landscapes.
The local star is without doubt the Aubrac breed cow often nicknamed the black-eyed queen. You will easily recognize her with her smoky brown coat, her long horns in the shape of lyres, her black eyes and the noble and proud air about the way she stands and reigns over her meadow! This little cow doesn’t make as much milk as the breeds selected for their high yield, but hers is a tasty and rich milk making a wonderful local cheese called Laguiole, the name of the village where it is made.
The Laguiole cheese has a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) guaranteeing a traditional making. It used to be made in small upland farms called burons, where shepherds lived all summer long. Today the cheeses are all made in Laguiole where all the milk is brought to the dairy factory created during the 1960’s by André Valadier, an Aubrac breeder, in order to save this cheese from the food-processing industry. Today the Laguiole is still made with whole raw milk produced by cows living in the Laguiole area where they graze at least four months a year in the open air. You can visit this small factory, the Cooperative Fromagère Jeune Montagne in the village of Laguiole, and discover the various stages of production (it takes 500 litres of milk to make a 46kg cheese loaf), then taste and buy the different cheeses: Young, Medium or Old Laguiole and fresh Tomme.
There are many recipes made with the Laguiole cheese. Aligot and Truffade are the iconic dishes of Aubrac. Aligot is made with mashed potatoes, fresh cream and fresh Tomme and needs to be constantly mixed while cooking. Truffade is made of slices of roasted potatoes coated with melting Tomme and Laguiole cheeses. Both delicious recipes and both very nourishing!
If the mad cow crisis put you off meat you might change your mind in Aubrac. Here good restaurants serve only Aubrac meat from cows that graze in the open all summer long and are fed with locally produced hay when they have to stay in their cowshed. Eating this meat is rediscovering the true delicious taste of beef. Here, on the main square of Laguiole, two good places with a warm atmosphere and a good value for money await you.
L’Aubrac restaurant: http://www.hotel-aubrac.fr/restaurant-laguiole-aveyron.html
L’Auberge du Taureau: http://www.restaurant-traiteur-laguiole.fr/
If you enjoyed eating this quality meat go to the Conquet butcher’s chop with delicatessen set in Laguiole city centre. Make your choice and the butcher can vacuum pack your items. You can even order from the website: http://www.maison-conquet-boutique.fr/
While in Laguiole, don’t forget to pay a visit to the forge where the famous Laguiole knives are made since the 19th century. The knives are all handmade with high quality materials and you can visit the different workshops and follow all the making process of these fine blades. http://www.forge-de-laguiole.com/en/
At only 5 km from Laguiole the Bousquet Castle is an impressive fortified castle with no less than 6 round towers. Built during the 14th century it still is in very good condition. It is inhabited by its owner who will be pleased to play the guide for a tour of this family home.
For a peaceful and restful stay you may go to Caprices d’Aubrac a charming B&B close to Laguiole. Sébastien turned the family farm into a 4-star B&B with a sober and warm decoration. http://www.caprices-aubrac.fr/guest-house-in-laguiole
Twenty-four km away from Laguiole a small road will take you to the fantasy world of “L’Annexe d’Aubrac”, a guesthouse nestled in a small hamlet called Aubrac near St Chély d’Aubrac. Its owner gave free reign to her imagination to decorate the three big lounges and the five thematic bedrooms with evocative names: Romanov, Edelweiss, Transylvania… a journey in between Lewis Carroll and Charles Perrault! Breakfast is included and you can also have a very tasty dinner in the big dining room. http://www.lannexedaubrac.com/#contact
Stunning landscapes and lush vegetation make Aubrac region a paradise for nature lovers and for hikers. In spring and summertime Aubrac is filled with flowers, no less than 2,000 different plants grow there allowing bees to make delicious honeys. One of these flowers, the wild narcissus prettily called Narcissus Poeticus, is highly praised by famous perfumers for its sensual and sophisticated fragrance. Another one, the Calament, is picked to make a fragrant tea that is getting more and more popular.
From the 30m high Déroc waterfall follow the Bès River and it will lead you to “La Chaldette”, a quiet spa and wellbeing centre where the efficient staff will pamper your sore muscles or aching back after your long hike on the Aubrac paths! Have a relaxing multi-jet shower, a warm thermal whirlpool bath with essential oils, seaweeds, Aubrac tea… or a massage under the chromotherapy shower. http://www.lachaldette.com/
If you enjoy visiting beautiful castles you should discover the Chateau de la Baume, also called the small Versailles of Gevaudan! If its long façade looks quite austere you will be surprised by the sumptuous decoration. Since 1858 the castle belong to the Las Cases family. Emmanuel de Las Cases became famous for going into exile to St Helena with Napoleon 1st, where he became Napoleon’s biographer. One of the castle’s rooms is entirely dedicated to Napoleon. http://www.chateaudelabaume.org/
To get to Aubrac, Montpellier International is the closest airport with several weekly EasyJet flights from UK. From there, rent a car and in less than two hours on the A 75 highway you will get to Aubrac.
For more information: