Discovering Aveyron (part 1): The Bastide of Najac – Meanderings through France n° 110
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
Why should such a beautiful region be reserved for the lucky visitors who already know it? The Aveyron department is located in Southern France and well deserves to be your next holidays’ destination. With its spectacular and varied landscapes, its ten villages awarded “Plus Beaux Villages de France”, (Most Beautiful French Villages), its UNESCO world heritage sites, its gastronomy, its authentic and welcoming inhabitants, Aveyron is a mosaic of sensations and unexpected discoveries.
Let’s begin our journey through Aveyron in Najac, an amazing village perched on a high crest dug by the River Aveyron that lazily winds at its feet. Surrounded by forests devoid of any modern buildings it looks almost the same as it did when the stronghold was built in the 13th century. The village stretches along the only street of the village that goes from the marketplace to the castle. Leave your car at the nearby car park and stroll along the street where you will have plenty to see. No need for a map, there is no-way to get lost in Najac!
Most of the houses were built during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and have the typical stone roof of the region: the Governor’s house, the Seneschal’s house, the St Barthelemy Chapel… and a rare twelve sided fountain cut in a unique block of rock made in 1344.
The huge stronghold was built in only ten years and played an important role in the Hundred Years War and during the violent crusade against the Cathars. Going up the dungeon’s stairway you will discover several impressive rooms still in good condition and finally get to the top of the tower crowned with battlements from where you will have a breath-taking view over the village and the surrounding countryside.
All along the pedestrian street you will also find shops to buy local fresh produce to make a tasty picnic: leavened bread, dry sausages, pâté and why not try the famous fouace, of Aveyron, a delicious brioche made with baker’ yeast. Try to be in Najac on a Sunday morning and you will enjoy the weekly market where local producers sell their fresh produce: cheeses, jams, fruits naturally ripened on the tree and a cheerful atmosphere.
Don’t miss to visit the cutler workshop. Making knife is an old tradition in Najac, dating back to the 13th century when a master cutler named Peyrot Vidal, created his peace knife. This knife has a stylish blade with a rounded point that can’t be used to stab someone. Today a new cutler, Regis Najac, carries on the tradition and makes beautiful folding knives with sharp blades and handles made with precious material such as horn, rare woods, mammoth tusk, petrified wood, leather…
The weather in Aveyron can be pretty harsh in wintertime with snow and freezing temperature, but summertime is mostly hot and sunny, so local people are used to organise outside celebrations all summer long. In Najac, there are many opportunities to have fun. Every Wednesday summer night the market place is turned into a big open air restaurant where a tasty dinner will help you discover the local produce in a joyful atmosphere. Six times during July and August torch-lit parades going up to the castle are organised at night and by the end of August Najac celebrates St Barthelemy and the “fouace” for several festive days, with live music, parades, huge meals and open-air dances.
For a resting night or a great lunch or dinner, just go to the far end of Najac’s street, at the “Oustal del Barry” right at the entrance of the marketsquare. Chef Rémy Simon uses fresh and local produce to make mouth watering dishes while his wife, Corinne, will help you make your choice among the wines of the region: Gaillac, Cahors, Marcillac or Jurançon… They will perfectly match the duck terrine or the creamy pumpkin velouté, the quail meat loaf or the beef carpaccio, the berry crumble with honey ice cream or the almond tart with liquorice ice cream… All the dishes are 100 % homemade. During hot summer days book a table in the shade of the tall trees of the large outside terrace. A meal to remember! http://www.oustaldelbarry.com/en/index.php
For more information: www.tourisme-aveyron.com
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny