Do like Toulouse Lautrec did, spend your holidays in Aveyron – Meanderings through France n° 125
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
If Henri de Toulouse Lautrec was born in Albi, he spent his early childhood and later most of his holidays in the Chateau du Bosc, in Aveyron this French Southern department easily reachable from Toulouse or Montpellier airports or with direct flights to its capital city Rodez from Southampton, Leeds or Dublin. Toulouse Lautrec found in this green area his first inspirations. The castles, charming villages or quiet rivers where he loved to go painting have little changed since the 19th century and we can still see most of them the way he did. But more than this, with many water sports and sand beaches on the nearby lakes and a rich gastronomy, this preserved region offers a lot to today tourists.
Originally built in the 12th century the Bosc Castle was a medieval fortress with a high dungeon, moats, a drawbridge, arrow loops… and was the property of the Imbert du Bosc family for several centuries. Henri’s grandmother, the Countess of Toulouse Lautrec inherited the castle in the middle of the 19th century and turned it into a comfortable family house. She got rid of the moats and drawbridge, many windows were created into the high walls and modern amenities of the time were added, such as bathrooms and electricity.
Young Henri shared very happy moments with his joyful family when they came here for summer holidays and autumn hunting parties. Today the castle looks exactly the same way it did when he came there, with the same red shutters, the same furniture and the same objects used in daily life by the family: toys, clothes, books, bicycles… If the Toulouse Lautrec museum in Albi allows us to discover the extent of this extraordinary artist’s talent with an extensive exhibition of his paintings, drawings, posters or lithographs, the Bosc Castle invites us to discover the intimacy of the artist. Some of his early drawings are on display in his former bedroom and graffiti drawn by Henri on the walls of the room that is today a nice tearoom are carefully preserved. Don’t forget to ask the waiter to show them to you!
A 20 min drive will take you to Sauveterre de Rouergue, one of the most beautiful bastides of Southwest France. The bastides were the “new towns” of the 13 and 14th centuries, a period when Europe and particularly France went through an exceptional demographic expansion. These new towns were created ex nihilo close to fertile lands, water resource and trade roads. This is how Sauveterre-de-Rouergue was created in a wide valley in 1281. Its network of streets built on an orthogonal plan surrounding a central square where the weekly market took place has little change since its construction and takes us back to the Middle Ages.
With its four sides lined with arcades and half-timbered houses, the village square is absolutely amazing. But the village doesn’t only rely on its rich heritage to entertain tourists. All summer long concerts and festivities are organized in this unique setting. Sunday morning market, night market with live music on Fridays, the “Melon Festival” in September, “Chestnut and Cider Festival” in October, music concerts all summer long attract people from the whole area.
Sauveterre-de-Rouergue also welcomes artists and craftsmen who have found here ideal conditions to open their workshops. Most of them are open to the public and meeting these passionate people you will discover mastered know-how and beautifully handmade artefacts. Knives, jewels, leather handbags, violins or cellos, paintings, ceramics, furniture, glass artefacts, weather vanes, sculpted stones, fine bookbinding… it’s a long list of beautiful objects to collect, wear or use, giving you the feeling to be privileged and different. If you love beautifully handmade leather bags don’t miss to visit Max Capdebarthes workshop and get bargain prices in his next-door shop.
A French village would not be complete without a good place to eat in. In Sauveterre-de-Rouergue the “Auberge du Senechal” is much more than “good”, it’s a true gastronomic experience! Who could believe that a village of just 500 people would shelter a 4-star hotel and its Michelin-starred restaurant attracting gourmets from the whole planet? Michel Truchon grew up in the village where his mother ruled the local inn. After quickly earning his stripes in famous restaurants, he came back to his hometown and opened the “Auberge du Senechal” 30 years ago. Far from “fashionable” cuisine he values authenticity and top quality local produce sublimated by his outstanding inventiveness. The menus change according to the seasons and to the chef’s inspiration.
The hotel’s rooms express the same simplicity and sophistication as Mr Truchon’s cuisine. Vast, elegantly decorated with noble materials they combine modern style furniture with ancient decorative items found in local antiques shops. Mrs Truchon warmly takes care of the hotel guests, showing them to their room, to the indoor swimming pool and to the outside terrace where dinner is served on warm summer nights. A quiet and restful place from where you will easily reach the main local points of interest. http://www.hotel-senechal.fr/
The Pareloup Lake and the Pont de Salars Lake are a little further away east of Sauveterre-de-Rouergue. You will find there several sandy beaches and be able to practice many water sports: sailing, kayaking, water-skiing, jet skiing and even kite surfing. Several campsites directly on the lakeshore offer nice opportunities to enjoy these activities. Furthermore these lakes where pikeperch and pike abound, are also a paradise for anglers.
More information about Aveyron: http://en.tourisme-aveyron.com/index_en.php
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Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes