On the road

CANTAL (15)

Population: 152,797

Prefecture: Aurillac

Sub-prefectures: St Flour, Mauriac

Area: 5,726 km²

Specialties: 5 AOP cheeses (Cantal, Salers, Saint-Nectaire, Bleu d'Auvergne, Fourme d'Ambert), charcuterie (sausage, pâté, fries, ham ...), Cornet de Murat, Tome tart (desserts), Couderc gentian, Avèze, Salers, Birlou, Tonton (aperitif and liqueur), Croquants from Salers and Trizac §biscuits).

Sport Clubs: Stade Aurillac Cantal Auvergne (Rugby, Pro D2) and Football Club Aurillac-Arpajon (Women's League 2)

Competitions: Puy Mary-Aurillac Ultra Trail, La Pastourelle (hiking, mountain biking, running), Marcolès International Cycling Critérium, l'Etape Sanfloraine and L'Antonin Magne (Grand Fondos)

Festivals: International Street Theater Festival in Aurillac, International Tattoo Festival in Chaudes-Aigues, Festival of High Lands in St-Flour, Hibernarock Festival, Estive Festival in Allanche, Boogie-Woogie Festival in Laroquebrou, Chestnut Fair in Mourjou ...

Economy: agriculture, tourism "4 seasons", hydrotherapy, agribusiness, crafts, furniture manufacturing, plastic packaging, pharmaceuticals and umbrellas. Production and distribution of industrial and medical gases.

Websites / FB / Twitter: www.cantal.fr / www.cantal-destination.com / www.lelioran.com / www.puymary.fr / www.caleden.com / www.facebook.com/CantalDestination/ / twitter.com/cantald/ www.facebook.com/cantalauvergne/ / twitter.com/cantalauvergne

Km 6.5

Viaduct of Garabit

Built from 1880 and commissioned from 1888, the viaduct of Garabit radiates with red as it crosses the river Truyère and shines brightly at night, as  a mirage from the Arabian Nights. Conceived by engineer Léon Boyer and Gustave Eiffel, Garabit remains one of the most remarkable structures ever built. This 122-m high and 564-m long building, with a monumental arch span of 165 metres, was in its time the largest metal structure in the world. It was also and above all a real laboratory for the construction of the Eiffel Tower. A testimony of the audacity of 19th century builders and a fine example of the technology of metal structures assembled by rivets, this aging masterpiece does not pale in comparison with the neighbouring viaduct of Millau.

Km 21

Belvedere of Mallet

Located at an altitude of 832 m, the Mallet belvedere offers a remarkable view of the Truyère and Bès valleys and the Grandval reservoir.

Km 36.5

Chaudes-Aigues (Pop: 890 )

Known since Roman times for the therapeutic virtues of its waters, among the warmest in Europe, Chaudes-Aigues is the only spa town in Cantal. The village is typical for its oratories, or glass niches: there are eight, one per district. Also on the town is the castle of Couffour (12th to 16th century), housing the Michelin starred Serge Vieira (two Michelin stars).

Géothermia
The idea of a museum of geothermal energy and spas cropped from the geophysical particularity of the site, which has 30 hot springs and among them some of the hottest in Europe. As early as 1332, Chaudes-Aigues was the first village to be centrally heated, using wooden pipes and its hot water springs. From the ancient use of water by the locals, visitors are invited to discover the characteristics of geothermal energy, which preceded by far coal or nuclear power.

AVEYRON (12)

Population: 277,740 (2013)

Prefecture: Rodez

Sub-prefectures: Millau, Villefranche-de-Rouergue

Area: 8,735 km²

Specialties: Aligot, estofinade, Roquefort, Fleur d’Aubrac (meat), Aveyron veal, spit cake, farcous, truffade, fouace, marcillac wine, tripous, cheese soup, flaune, échaudés ...

Sport events: Roc lassagais (27th edition), Trans Aubrac (trail and ultra-trail), Rouergue rally (45th edition), marmotte d’Olt (gran fondo, 22nd edition), Natural Games, 100 km of Millau (long distance running), Templar Festival (trail), The Aveyronnaise Classic ((enduro)

Festivals: CapMômes Festival (theater, music, circus), Sylvanès Music Festival (sacred music, world music), Millau en Jazz

Economy: Livestock market in Laissac Séverac (2nd market of France), University in Rodez, Bosch (1,600 people), RAGT (1,261 people), Roquefort (1,210 people), etc.

Website: www.aveyron.fr

Km 66

Laguiole (Pop: 1,240)

One of the French capitals of cutlery, Laguiole has also invented the perfect products to use its famous knives since the village gave its name to a delicious cow cheese, laguiole (which can be used in the aligot sauce), and has also been noted for the quality of its saucissons. On Place du Foirail, a monumental bull statue, the work of Georges Guyot, has paid homage since 1947 to the Aubrac cow race. To find out more about local products, it is possible to visit most Laguiole cutlery stores, some of which have a private museum. Among the monuments of the village, besides the beautiful Saint-Mathieu church and the presbytery, two castles are listed as historical monuments, the castles of Oustrac and Boissonnade (15th century) which can be visited in the summer. Gourmets will visit the nearby restaurant of Michel Bras, awarded three Michelin stars since 1999.

Km 75

Montpeyroux (Pop: 550)

Castle of Bousquet
5 kilometres from Laguiole, the Bousquet castle is a 14th century historical monument, located on the direct route from Le Puy to Conques, already used by pilgrims from the Middle Ages. Its military architecture probably due to the Knights Hospitalier, its parapets and machicolation make for an impressive fortress, one of the best preserved of the period in France (furnished interior, furniture, objects, paintings).

Km 89

Espalion (Pop: 4,520)

Dominated by the castle of Calmont d'Olt, this small town spreads along the river Lot, and was for long one of its few crossing points (Pont-Vieux). The expression "Espalion, the first smile of the south" came from the pilgrims to Compostela, who used to discover it with relief after long days on dark and steep paths up north. On the banks of the Lot are lined up the facades of picturesque houses with corbelled wooden balconies and steep roofs. They are the building of ancient tanneries, the "calquières", whose large stones, called "gandouliers", plunge into the Lot. It was on those stones that skins were tanned until WWI.

The four-arched pink sandstone Pont-Vieux (Old Bridge), dating back from the Middle Ages, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the French routes to Compostela. But the religious heritage (chapel of Persia, chapel of the Penitents, church of St. John the Baptist transformed into a museum, Ursuline Convent), is also worth a visit, as well as the beautiful buildings along the Lot, the Vieux Palais (Old Palace) neing the most picturesque. Visitors might be surprised to find the statue of a deep-sea diver on the banks of the Lot, facing the Old Palace: it pays homage to two local inventors, Benoît Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze, who developed the first diving suits.

Km 98.5

Bozouls (Pop: 2,830)

The village is famous for the vertiginous Trou de Bozouls (Bozouls Hole), a spectacular canyon formed by the waters of the Dourdou and around which the town settled. The castle that once stood on the rocky outcrop has been replaced by the beautiful Romanesque Sainte-Fauste church.

Km 199.5

Rodez (Pop: 24 000)

The former capital of Rouergue, Rodez took its name from the Ruthenians, the Gallic tribe who occupied the region. Perched around its cathedral, it has preserved its picturesque historical centre once encircled by ramparts of which many remains are still visible. Chosen as the prefecture of Aveyron at the expense of Villefranche-de-Rouergue during the French Revolution, the city expanded and gradually modernised to become a tourist attraction thanks to the Marcillac airport or the extremely popular museum dedicated to Rodez-born painter Pierre Soulages. Rodez already had several assets in that respect with the cathedral and its 300,000 annual visitors, and the proximity of sites like Conques or the viaduct of Millau.

The many personalities related to Rodez include Pierre Soulages, but also former Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, Parliament speaker Richard Ferrand, the president of the French Rugby Federation Bernard Laporte or chef Cyril Lignac. Alexandre Geniez, who rode the Tour de France in 2013 and 2015, was born here in 1988.

The Tour de France came to Rodez several times in recent years. In 2015, Belgian Greg Van Avermaet win his first Tour de France stage in Rodez: the win spurred him to more victories (Paris-Roubaix, Olympic Games, 11 days in yellow on the Tour). In 2017, victory went to the Australian Michael Matthews, who conquered the green jersey that year.

Soulages Museum
Inaugurated in 2014, the Soulages museum is located on the edge of the Jardin du Foirail in the heart of the painter’s hometown. Pierre Soulages made the largest ever donation by a living artist to support its establishment. Soulages, who laid the foundation stone in 2010, has left the museum more than 500 works. Intended to showcase the museum within its environment, the building has been designed to highlight the story of Soulages’ life together with the different facets of his works: paintings on paper and canvas, printed works and stained glass. It was the proximity of the museum to Conques, where he produced the windows for the abbatial church, which convinced Soulages. The 1700m2 permanent exhibition is designed to illustrate the variety in the artist’s work.

Notre-Dame cathedral
This is the main religious building in the department. Burned and damaged over the centuries, Rodez’s cathedral is a remarkable mix of architectural styles covering the 13th to the 17th centuries: Gothic, Renaissance and elements of Baroque decoration inside. It has imposing dimensions; the central nave, which is quite narrow, is 102 metres long and has a particularly impressive elevation (30 metres). The building has a superb steeple, with beautiful filigrees of pink sandstone that can be seen from afar. It rises to 87 metres to dominate the city and is illuminated from within at night.

Km 135

Calmont-de-Plancatge (Pop: 2,000)

A 15th century dungeon is all that remains of the castle of Calmont-de-Plancatge, formerly stronghold of the Barony of Arpajons, which held a prominent place in the life of the Province. A keep dominates the ramparts and tight lanes go down to the brook of Nauze. Once famous for its fairs and for producing hemp, the village still charms today with its old half-timbered houses dating back to the 15th century.

Km 140

Comps-la-Grand-Ville (Pop: 620)

The abbey of Bellecombe was founded in 1167 by Cistercians who remained there until 1791. An imposing building, it was crippled during the Revolution before being restored by Trappist monks in 1889. These Trappist monks left Bonnecombe in 1965. Since May 1998, it is occupied by a charismatic community (the Beatitudes) and can be visited.

TARN (81)

Population: 386,543

Prefecture: Albi

Sub-prefecture: Castres

Surface: 5,758 km2

Specialties: Lacaune delicatessen (IGP), Lautrec pink garlic (Red Label), Gaillac wines (AOC), Ségala veal, Croquants of Cordes, Pumpet of Sémalens

Sport Clubs: Castres Olympique (French Top 14 rugby champion), Albi Sporting Club (Pro D2), ASPTT (1st division women's football), Albi Rugby League XIII (Men's 13 Elite 1 rugby). Events: Grand Prix d'Albi (September), Cycling Route d’Occitanie (June), Moto-Cross European Championships (April), Albi Marathon (April), Black Mountain Car Rally (July), French Pétanque Championships in Carmaux (July), from August 24 to 28, 2017 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in Albi.

Main tourist sites: Albi and the Episcopal City, Toulouse-Lautrec museum, Castres and the Goya museum, Cordes-sur-Ciel, the vineyards of Gaillac, bastides and villages, the Sidobre, the Garden of Martels and the Tarn panoramic railway, the Black Mountain, the Abbey-school of Sorèze and the Dom Robert Museum, Ambialet and the Tarn Valley.

Festivals: Pause Guitare in Albi (July), Musiques des Lumières festival in Sorèze (July), L’Été de Vaour

Economy: Pierre Fabre laboratories (pharmaceuticals), Albi glass facotry, agri-food sector, tourism sector

Websites and social networks: www.tarn.fr / www.tourisme-tarn.com

Km 174.5

Tanus (Pop: 550)

Viaur viaduct
A contest launched in 1887 awarded the construction of the viaduct to engineer Paul Bodin of the Batignolles construction company. He finally built the railway viaduct across the Viaur between 1895 and 1902 and inaugurated it on October 5, 1903. By the boldness of its conception, the 460-metres bridge is one of the most important metal constructions in France. The 220-m central arch consists of two symmetrical frames arching through an articulated key in its centre. It is one of the three major metal constructions of the 19th century in France with the Viaduct of Garabit and the Eiffel Tower.

Km 189.5

Carmaux (Pop: 9,500)

The industrial past of the 19th century is inscribed in the very soil of Carmaux. A black past like the coal that the men extracted in the mines for the glass industry. Elected member of parliament in Carmaux in 1893, Jean Jaures took the defence of the miners and workers of the mines and industries of the region. He created modern socialism and became the emblematic figure of this political current in France. The mine museum allows visitors to go down a real mine and discover the exciting history of coal and the hard life of miners. At the Glass Museum in Carmaux, the history of the glass industry is told in a magical space of  brilliance and transparency.

In 2011, Carmaux hosted a stage of the Tour de France clinched by André Greipel. Carmaux is also a land of rugby union (Jean-Pierre Romeu, Marc Andrieu, Jack Cantoni) who won the French championship in 1951.

Km 193

Blaye-les-Mines (Pop: 3,000)

A royal bastide founded at the beginning of the fourteenth century, Blaye developed thanks to the creation of a glass factory in 1752 by the Solages family. A museum recalls this past history. A first mine pit was opened in 1833. From 1897, all of the “Carmaux coal" was produced on the territory of Blaye while the Solages glass manufacture operated until 1862. The last mine pit was closed in 1987 but an open air mine was used until 1997. In 2003, the Cap'Découverte leisure park was created in this huge crater 1 km-wide and 200 m-deep. A famous time trial took place on the site during the 2003 Tour. In scorching heat, Jan Ullrich won it. In 2011, Blaye-les-Mines was the start of a stage won in Lavaur by Mark Cavendish.

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