Discovering Aveyron (Part 2): A busy country life – Meanderings through France n° 111
By Annick Dournes and Frédéric de Poligny
Welcome back to Aveyron, this French department located at the foot of the Massif Central, in South Western France. Although it is one of the largest French departments and has numerous natural beauties, historical monuments and a rich gastronomic heritage, it is still unfairly little known by tourists. Let me try to correct this.
The capital city of Aveyron is Rodez that is easy to reach by plane from the UK or from Paris. By road, Paris is 650 km (400 miles) away from Rodez, most of it on motorway (600 km). This shot journey will take you to the heartlands of France. Today we are going to Laissagais, an area 20 km east of Rodez that has a strong rural culture.
Laissac is a small village where, since the 15th century, a big cattle market takes place every week. Amazingly for such a little village this cattle market is the second largest one in France. Every year 60,000 cows and 30,000 sheep are sold and bought here. Aveyron is a famous region for cattle breeding and the “Aubrac” breed is its best ambassador. Breeders from the whole region go to Laissac to sell their cattle to traders coming from all Western Europe countries.
The cattle market is now open to the public in the summer (from 15 June to 30 September), and special guided tours are organised every Tuesday morning (5 tours from 7:45 am till 9:45am). After viewing a movie explaining how the market works you will walk to the “foiroil”, the market place. A long footbridge has been put in over the market and you will get a very good view of all the cows, calves and bull that quietly wait while discussions and bargaining are going full swing. You will quickly spot the breeders who hold a long stick in their hand, speaking in a low voice with a potential buyer. If they come to an agreement, they clap their hands and say out loud in patois: “Patcha!”, “it’s a deal!”. Although cattle breeding traditionally is a man’s business, more and more women do it to and even the most reluctant macho men have to admit that ladies do a very good job! You will even see young girls wearing rubber boots and holding their own stick following their father… or mother to the cattle market. Future is assured!
Did all this whet your appetite? All Laissac restaurants and cafés are waiting for you for a late breakfast called “A la fourchette”, “Use your fork”, the local version of brunch. Have a plate of cured meats and cheeses or a steak with Aligot, a local dish made with mashed potatoes and fresh cheese or be bold and have Tripoux, a dish made with braised sheep’s tripe with herbs… Don’t scrunch your nose… some people love it! These are the right place and moment to meet the breeders who, business done, also enjoy this late hearty breakfast.
Nicely full, take a stroll through the village and meet local producers who come here every Tuesday morning to sell their fresh produce: fruits and vegetables, honeys, cakes, jams, ham, dried sausages, plaits of garlic or onions… All summer long live bands liven up the market place that gets even more attractive.
Close to Laissac the Bourines estate is a living testimony of the rich rural heritage of Aveyron. It originally was a fortified barn built in the late 13th century. The barn soon was enlarged and turned into a stronghold with a rectangular dungeon where the cereals harvested on the estate were stocked, safe from gangs of thieves and looters. The dungeon and the mansion built next to it were later surrounded with high walls flanked by four towers. Horses, cows, sheep, pigs and poultry were bred on the estate and many adjoining buildings were added to the castle along the following decades.
The Bourines are open to the public every Tuesday afternoon from mid-July till the end of August. So get your GPS ready and follow the narrow bucolic roads that will lead you to this impressive medieval site. The present owners with the help of volunteer associations have patiently and passionately restored this unique architectural complex. In the castle the big rooms still have their original fireplaces and ornamented beams. Next to the castle the huge pigsty is absolutely outstanding and makes us realise that during the Middle Ages farmers took very good care of their animals. In their stone houses the pigs had plenty of room with individual troughs and a huge paved courtyard that gently slopes in order to make cleaning easier. A true pig-castle! Guided tours start at 3 pm and require reservation, phone number:+ 33- 5 65 70 71 30 or go to Laissac Tourism Office before leaving Laissac after the cattle market.
There are many other beautiful places to go to in Laissac’s surroundings, such as Veminet, a fortified medieval castle that has been entirely and carefully restored by the houses’ owners with the help of the local master stone mason who is totally in love with this beautiful village. There are many other castles nearby that are open to the public: Bertholène Castle, Tholet Castle, Galinières Castle… In this magnificent area there seems to be a castle at every road corner!
For more information: http://www.tourisme-aveyron.com/index_en.php
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny