It’s always interesting to know what makes people decide to choose a particular holiday destination. When I ask visitors about their reasons for coming to Millau, some mention the old maps of France that hung in every French classroom for decades, with a little picture beside each town or area to help identify it.
Millau, as you may recall, was represented by a leather glove – a multi-secular tradition that gave the town its nationwide reputation.
Others enthusiastically state that they’ve come all this way to see close-up the famous architectural wonder of the modern world – Millau Viaduct.
And then there are those who explain that what they initially considered as a strategically convenient stopover on their trans-European holiday trip has turned out to be a unique holiday destination all of its own, requiring much more time than was originally planned to discover the town, the mediaeval villages, the sublime gorges, the unique architecture and heritage, the gastronomy, landscape and all-encompassing natural beauty.
Why not Millau?!
And it’s true that whether you’ve planned your holidays here or unintentionally stumbled upon this semi-urban, semi-rural jewel located just an hour from the Mediterranean in the South of France, you can’t help but notice that its setting is unique.
When they catch a first glimpse of the terracotta roof-tiled buildings of Millau, set in a vast riverside natural amphitheatre, surrounded by the majestic Causses connected by the spectacular viaduct, first-time visitors describe a burst of adrenaline normally associated with passengers on an aeroplane approaching a stunning airport destination – and yet they are sitting comfortably in a car or train, making their way down the final, breathtaking, indeed ear-popping 10 kilometres of their trip, from the plateaux down to Millau patiently waiting to welcome them, some 500 metres below.
And why Millau for me?
When I first arrived here – for professional reasons back in 2005 – my first approach down into the Cité du Gant (Glove-Town) from the surrounding mountains cast its spell on me and I immediately realised that I was about to discover something special, somewhere unique.
Little did I know that after 20 years of living, working and travelling in various parts of Europe, America and Africa, that I was about to choose Millau as my home.
What exactly was it that created an instant connection with the place? Probably the weekly hikes with omniscient local friends who turned these hikes (that were initially planned for a couple of hours) into day-long adventures and explanations of the area, its people, history and culture.
And then there was the discovery of the local stone, painstakingly carved over the centuries into vaults for foundations, into cisterns, lavognes and rooftops for ingeniously collecting precious rainwater, and indeed into picturesque villages such as Peyre or La Couvertoirade, today classified among the Most Beautiful Villages in France.
The combination of this age-old architecture and the techniques used for rearing Lacaune ewes that provide the milk for Roquefort cheese have earned this Causses & Cévennes area its place on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2011.
But there are many other reasons for choosing a place like Millau. First of all, for families, it’s an ideal destination, not just in terms of size (not too big, yet not so small either!) and variety of things to do. With easy access to so many adventure sports, it’s not too difficult to understand why Millau is labelled «The Outdoor Sports Capital». If your children are looking for adrenaline, then you can take them paragliding from any of the three take-off spots overlooking the town for a bird’s eye view of the area. Rock-climbing is also a popular adventure sport with several hills, mountains, cliffs and gorges awaiting the thrill-seekers.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for something more relaxing, there are spectacular hillwalking routes along the clifftops overlooking the valleys. For an ideal compromise between thrills and relaxation, kayaking or canoeing down the Tarn Gorges is an activity that will impress everyone in your family.
In Millau itself, don’t miss the twice weekly market, the local museum with its extensive collection of locally produced Roman pottery and leather gloves – with the added bonus of a 180 million year-old plesiosaurus! Climb the 210 steps to the top of the twelfth-century belfry for an aerial view of the town and then cool off with a relaxing swim in the centrally located Gourg de Bades beach – complete with paddle-boats, lifeguard, playpark, bar and restaurant.
It’s just a 5-minute drive up to the Millau Viaduct visitor centre where a beautiful old stone farm has been completely renovated to present everything you need to know about this world famous viaduct, including a special effects video and a viewing platform that overlooks the beautifully curved deck of the record-breaking viaduct itself.
It’s hard to believe that this entire area once lay at the bottom of an ancient sea! Over time the water retreated and after millions of years of glaciers and erosion, nature gradually carved out the superb valleys and plateaux (or causses) that you see before you today, an area which has recently been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Less than an hour from Millau, you have three very different drives into the heart of the Tarn, Jonte and Dourbie Gorges. Separating the valleys are the various causses, reaching over 1,000 metres above sea-level in some parts, providing breathtaking cliffs, caves and panoramas, each one with its own character and style.
Nature lovers will need a full day to explore Micropolis, an indoor and outdoor exhibition space dedicated to the exploration of the insect world, celebrating the local entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre in his native village of St Léons. At the entrance to the Jonte Gorges you can discover the fascinating story and life of local vultures at Le Belvédère des Vautours. Both Millau Tourist Office and CPIE Rouergue make the local natural beauty so much more accessible for everyone in the family by providing personalised tours that are both instructive and entertaining, with guided short walks to explain local geology, flora, fauna, nature and wildlife.
Need a break from the sun?
Both the Tarn and Dourbie rivers have a range of sandy beaches and ideal swimming spots. Alternatively, you can go for a guided tour in the underground marvels that are Dargilan and Aven Armand caves. The village of Roquefort is built on a myriad of naturally ventilated caves that are home to the world renowned Roquefort cheese. Take a guided tour to discover the secrets of this «King of Cheeses» and enjoy a sample!