Your typical day
Your personal guide, Véronique, is as well your host. I’ll get to know you before the trip even begins, and make extra efforts to meet your individual needs. My house will be your base for ten days.
Keep in mind, as each tour is fully customized, our main goal is to make sure you bring back home lifetime memories and "goosebump moments." You'll experience the real, authentic, and genuine France, the France I want to share with you, mine.
Hence the 'typical 10-day schedule' presented here is for illustration purpose only. It will inevitably vary, be adjusted and customized to your needs, wants, desires and/or curent availability where applicable and/or weather and/or season of the year (i.e. farmers' markets where you share and eat food and/or drink wine on the spot with locals are only available in July or August).
Véronique, your guide and host, chose surrounding areas rich with beauty, history, and distinct culture, areas she knows so well. Most of your explorations focus will be within a two-hour drive of our home village. Its name is Baraqueville, and is located twenty kilometres south-west of Rodez. Check the left hand-side of this website. I listed there the main places I planned for your next experience. Adding more is a matter of each group's preferences, desires and availabilities as indicated above.
Let's pick here a 'heritage and history' day
(Click on a name and its red circle to get more details about the experience)
█ Baraqueville departure at 9:00
█ Short drive (40 min) in a private air-conditioned van to the Tour/Château de Peyrebrune.
Set proudly on the heights of Alrance village, Peyrebrune is an unspoilt natural reserve site combining nature and cultural heritage. You'll enjoy the magical view from the walkway round the keep, where the eye is drawn to the Lévézou valleys. We'll make sure you'll climb the stairs of the thousand years tower —close to 300 feet high— to get one of the best panoramas of the Lévézou and Pyrénées in the background!
█ Short drive to Ayssènes (20 min), population nowadays of 226, altitude 390 to 985 m (1279' to 3230'). This village is located on a promontory, at the confluence of two rivers, the Vernobre and Coudol. Ayssènes name is of Celtic origins, "Ussénu", meaning "the hill planted with vines".
You'll appreciate the castle ruins on the cliffs overlooking the village. It originally belonged to the viscounts of Albi and Nîmes. He was then attached to the County of Rodez, the Vicomte de Broquiès then Caylus's house. The house of Séverac took the name of Ayssènes, eventually the family of Armagnac. One can still remember of the legend; the beautiful knight who was drowned in the waters of the Tarn to rescue his beloved. King Charles VII came there in 1437, the castle became then a protestant stronghold, battled for to be reconquered by the catholics during the religious wars before being destroyed like many other Rouergue castles by 1629, on Cardinal Richelieu's order.
A walk to Roc Saint-Jean promontory, to a gorgeous panorama point of view will as well be part of your morning.
Will follow a visit to the Maison de la Châtaigne et des Arts Religieux (House of Chesnut and Religious Arts), where interpretive panels await you. As well, you'll be able to taste some local, organic products.
█ An other short drive (25 min) drives you to Brousse-le-Château, population 170, where we planned your lunch. 50 kilometres south of Rodez, where the Tarn joins the Alrance, the towers of a medieval castle overlook the village of Brousse to which it gave its name.
An old gothic bridge spans the Alrance and leads to the flagstoned streets and the 15th century fortified church.
Awarded the well sought-after recognition of "Plus Beaux Villages de France" label, Brousse-le-Château is a small town with narrow streets, old houses and a castle built in the 12th century by the Comtes de Rouergue, and held by the Seigneurs d'Arpajon and the Armagnac family.
Some history about this special place:
In 1344, Princess Hélène de Castelnau spent some time here. She was of noble descent, as her grandfather was Olivier de Penne - a Simon de Montfort fierce opponent during the crusade against the Albigensians.
Jean d’Arpajon, who was in love with her, abducted her, forcing her to live with him in the castle, eventually marrying her. Meanwhile, her family took the matter before Philippe VI, King of France. At this point in time, France was at war —Hundred Years War—, and Edward III was the King of England.
In 1347, Géraud de la Barthe, the King's captain, laid siege to the castle. Initially unsuccessful, he faked leaving, hiding in the woods surrounding the castle. At night, when castle soldiers had lessened their guard, Géraud climbed the castle walls, and managed to free up Hélène, eventually bringing her back to her family.
Historians tend to think the castle got burned shortly after, as later on Jean d’Arpajon complained about it before the government.
█ Your next stop after a 20 minute drive will be in Coupiac. To know more about this village, its castle, and its long history, please look at this web page dedicated to Coupiac we developed for you.
To make the most of your trip, let us know what you're the most interested in. We'll make every effort to customize your experience. Examples might be; we'd like to know more about history, or want to discover this region's food, or culture, we are wine lovers, or we'd like to attend cooking classes, or French language lessons, or come over for a painting, photography, or writing retreat...let us know, we'll make arrangements to accommodate your requests.
█ 30 min later, you'll be discovering the Château d'Esplas, a fortified castle built during early Middle Ages.
Esplas is located atop a hill, in what's called the Rougier (red soil) de Camarès (name of location). Originally part of the Camarès Lordship, there's evidence it existed in the 9th century. It belonged to the du Pont family, whose most famous representative was Arnaud du Pont. Arnaud du Pont, a rich and powerful lord, retired to the Sylvanès monestary in 1153. Arnaud du Pont and Pons Lérac share credit for being the original founders of the Abbaye de Sylvanès, back in 1132.
Later on, in 1349, Esplas lordship got acquired by Bernard de Martrin. From these times, Esplas remained in the Martrin family estate...over five centuries!
The Château d'Esplas, protecting the Esplas village, got under English siege in 1375 and resisted. The then French King, Charles VIII honoured Esplas lord and gave him a dungeon cannon. Taken off during the French Revolution, the cannon got given back to the Martrin family afterwards.
A more than 20m high dungeon dominates an architectural ensemble formed by four corps de logis or residential blocks enclosed by towers at each corner. The building period spans five centuries, from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Inside, you'll appreciate arrow slits and dungeon guard posts, water tank dug into the rock, 15th century monumental fireplaces, and classical architecture of the south wing.
█ Another 25 min in our air-conditioned van and you'll be discovering, and enjoying the Château de Montaigut. Another heritage location awaits you! You'll still be guided by your local personal bilingual guide, Véronique!
Built during the 10th century, on a spur of rock dominating the Rougier de Camarès, you'll admire the château, its beautiful rooms with vaulted ceilings, and its a spiral staircase. Cellar, guards room, great room, kitchen and bedrooms show daily life in the Middle Ages. Good to know: the château has now become a permanent centre for cultural events, and interpretive shows.
█ 10 min in our van and you'll be at Camarès, population nowadays of approximately 1000. This little town was already known during the Roman times for its particular red soil (Rougier de Camarès), a mix of shale and sandstone, that became a mine site, where Romans extracted copper and silver. The old bridge was originally built around the 11th century, and the little town was mentioned in old books as far as 883 A.C. Camarès is surrounded by many castles, but in 1563 Protestant troops took over Camarès and made it a stronghold.
Unusual red landscapes are the Rougier de Camarès "trademark" one might say. Hence there is a reason why this area is such; an inclusion stuck between the limestone plateau of Larzac on the east side, the Tarn river on the north, and the Monts de Lacaune on the south and east sides.
█ Then, Véronique will be guiding you to an enchanting castle —a Renaissance style one this time— quite close-by, Château de Fayet.
We'll start with an historical background.
The first lords of Brusque and Fayet were the viscounts of Albi in the 11th century, the viscounts of Béziers and Carcassonne in the 12th century, the counts of Toulouse in the 13th century, and, finally, the lords of Castelnau-Bretenoux in the 14th century.
In the 16th century, the daughter of Guy de Castelnau, Jacquette de Clermont, married Jean V d'Arpajon and her dowry was used for the restoration and enlargement of the castle. The stone balustrade, decorated with two harps (the coat of arms of the powerful family of Rouergue), dates from this time. Henri de Navarre, the future Henry IV, resided for a period in the Château de Fayet and would have seen the row of living rooms that was, at the time, entirely made of papered hangings. Some of these were framed decorations painted using dyes made by Rougier de Camarès.
During the French Revolution, the latter, was condemned to the guillotine for conspiring against the Republic. Right before her execution, the duchess of Biron sold the castle to André Jean Simon de Nougarède, titled Baron de Brusque et Fayet by the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
The second baron of Fayet, having no descendants, sold the castle to a pair of men named Soulas and Roques. They completed some work on the castle, restoring the authenticity of its appearance.
Subsequently, the castle was purchased by Cabanel, priest of Notre Dame des Tables order in Montpellier, who, using an anonymous gift of a million francs, became the owner of the castle and surrounding land. The gift was to be used for the creation of an orphanage administered by Salesian monks, followers of Saint Jean de Bosco.
█ Not even 5 min, and you'll be discovering Sylvanès and its now world-reknown abbey. The history of this rural community blends with its abbey history. Sylvanès abbey was founded by the companions of Saint Bernard, in a fertile valley with its gently sloping wooded sides.
You'll be enjoying Cistercian architecture; a 12th century abbey-church, a 13th century scriptorium, a 12th and 13th centuries capitular room, as well as 12th century abbey bedrooms.
The Sylvanès abbey was founded in 1136, but became a cultural, artistic and spiritual mecca over the last 25 years. Nine months of the year a rich and diverse program is offered, like singing courses, pictorial art courses, as well as conferences. A real gem of Cistercian art, Sylvanès abbey-church holds an International Religious Music Festival in July and August, thanks to its exceptional acoustic properties!
█ A 30 minute drive and I'll bring you to Saint-Affrique, where I spent some childhood years and you'll be having dinner before heading back to Baraqueville! Saint-Affrique started its development in the 6th century around the tomb of St. Africain (with one "f"), bishop of Comminges. A 15th century bridge, and some megaliths in the surroundings—especially the dolmen at Tiergues—are notable.
In the 12th century a fortress was built on the neighbouring rock of Caylus. The possession of Saint-Affrique was vigorously contested during the French Wars of Religion. It was eventually occupied by the Huguenots until 1629, when it was seized and dismantled by a royal army.
█ Drive back to Baraqueville, around 90 min.
About the top banner photo: Detail of Loc-Dieu Abbey shot on August 2013.