Ten Things to do in 2012 in SW France

Everyone’s thoughts turn to resolutions at this time of year. Last year, I suggested 10 things to do in 2011 in southwest France. All of them were things I had never done but planned to do this year. Well, I managed only seven out of 10 – but I did substitute a few events or places for those I missed. Mostly, I wrote about them on Life on La Lune.

Here are 10 more things I’d like to do in this region in 2012 and can recommend to anyone else who lives here or is planning to visit.

Canoeing on the River Aveyron

We’ve already done this, but not for some time. The Aveyron is not fast-flowing but it does have rapids and weirs, guaranteeing a soaking. This is a perfect way to see the spectacular Gorges de l’Aveyron and wildlife such as kingfishers and herons. The SF and I share a two-person canoe. Remarkably, we rarely have a domestic, even when one of us has to get out and push. We take a picnic and a set of dry clothes to change into at Cazals, where they come to collect you and the canoe. Exhausting, but fun.

Cimetière Espagnol at Septfonds

In 1939, after the fall of Barcelona, a wave of Spanish refugees came to southwest France. The authorities built several camps, including at Septfonds, to house them. Although conditions were cramped and poor, Spanish people integrated into local life and their children went to the school. Some of their descendants still live in the village.

Later, the Vichy government turned the camp into an internment centre for undesirable foreigners and then it became a detention centre for Jews prior to deportation to concentration camps. Little remains of the camp itself, except an oratory built by Polish detainees, a memorial to the Jewish deportees and the Spanish cemetery, outside the town. I’d like to explore the story further. 

Laguiole Knives at Laguiole

Laguiole Knife

Invented 200 years ago, the Laguiole knife is world-famous with its bee motif where the blade joins the handle. The patent was never registered so anyone can make a Laguiole knife and sell it under that name. The real ones are still made in the town of Laguiole. At one atelier, the same craftsman manufactures each knife from start to finish. I’d rather like one myself now, having bought the SF one for Christmas once.  

Musée Fenaille at Rodez

I have been meaning to go back to Rodez (Aveyron) for some time. Anne Wroe, who researched her PhD thesis there, wrote an excellent popular history, entitled A Fool and His Money. It brings alive some of the characters of the 14th-century city and their daily preoccupations. A wall physically divided Rodez between the Bishop’s territory and that of the Count of Armagnac, which complicated life for most of its inhabitants.

The museum was founded 170 years ago. Maurice Fenaille, an art-loving industrialist, donated to it in 1937 the building in which it is now housed. The museum tells the history of the Rouergue from prehistory up to the 17th century. What interests me most is its unique collection of ancient menhir statues (click on the link above to see some).

Le Petit Paris at Vaïssac

A curiosity. A man who had never been to Paris decided to create a scale model of the city, Le Petit Paris, in his parents’ vegetable patch. It took him 14 years. It is detailed to the point of having miniature paintings in the Mini-Louvre and dolls dancing the can-can in le Moulin Rouge. I have to see this.

Plus beaux villages in Aveyron

Najac - Château

As I’ve no doubt said before, Aveyron has the highest number of plus beaux villages of any département in France – 10. Our own Tarn et Garonne has only three – Auvillar, Bruniquel and Lauzerte – but then it is much smaller.

I have already been to Najac (left), Belcastel and Conques but that leaves seven more: Brousse-le-Château, La Couvertoirade, Estaing, Peyre, Saint-Côme d’Olt, Sainte-Eulalie d’Olt and Sauveterre de Rouergue.

I could cheat and say that these constitute seven of my 10 things but I won’t.  

Pressing walnut oil

Walnut Oil Mill - Horse-Drawn Millstone

At one time, mills abounded in this region. They performed many functions, including pressing walnut oil. The one I visited in Saint-Antonin in August was only a demonstration and is no longer working. I’ve always fancied having our own Huile de Noix de la Lune and a French friend has promised to take us to a working oil mill on the River Lot. This year, our crop wasn’t good enough because of the drought in the spring and autumn. You have to provide 15 kilos of shelled nuts, which will keep us busy.

Templar sites

Knowing my penchant for history, the SF gave me for Christmas a book about Templar sites in the Midi-Pyrénées. This order of quasi-monastic knights was founded during the Crusades and became fabulously wealthy as people sought to assure their place in Heaven by donating land and money to the Templars. This also proved to be their downfall. King Philippe le Bel had many of them arrested, tortured and burnt in 1307 and gave their possessions to the Knights Hospitallers.

Several Templar commanderies still exist in the region, although some are now in very poor condition. Those at Lacapelle-Livron, Vaour and Montricoux are not far from us. I can already feel some blog posts coming on.

Truffle Hunting

Due to a misunderstanding, I missed the truffle market at Limogne (Lot) by half an hour and haven’t been back. I plan to rectify that this winter but I also want to see a demonstration of truffle hunting with a truffle hound, which they do locally. They used pigs formerly but you can imagine the difficulties of controlling an animal built like a barn door that is bent on keeping the truffles for itself.

Violet Fair at Toulouse

Toulouse - Place Capitole

The violet is the emblem of Toulouse. It’s possible that soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars brought violets back from Italy. Growers then cultivated them in the fertile soil around the city and exported thousands of bouquets every year to Paris and beyond. The delicate plants almost died out in the 20th century. They flower in February and the city celebrates them with a fair in the Place Capitole, when the plants and all kinds of products made from them are on sale.

Twelve months always seems a long time at the start but this is quite a lot to get through. I’ll do my best.

It only remains for me to wish all my readers une bonne fin d’année. In France it’s considered premature to give wishes for the New Year in advance. Thank you to everyone who read and commented on my blog this year. 

Copyright © 2011 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved


  1. We, too, want to see Musee Fenaille with the real menhirs. A few years ago, we drove around and looked at the replicas that have been placed where the real ones were found in the Aveyronaise countryside; very moving and impressive experience. Excellent replicas they are, they could be taken as the real statues, very aged looking. This might be a good addition to your list!
    We have been to the truffle market at Limogne three times now, quite interesting. The past 2 times, we, as visitors, have ‘taken’ various anglophone friends living nearby, who had never gone… At this year’s first market, it looked as if some of the truffles sold quickly, with impressive wads of cash changing hands, some vendors seemed to go off to the restaurant with full baskets and came back with empty ones, and a few vendors went away with the truffles they brought. There’s got to be a story there! Also, there is a local woman who gives ‘tours’ of the market in French or English, http://www.truffespassion.com; we have no personal experience with these tours. However, we can definitely recommend the program given by the Lalbenque tourist office, which included lecture and demonstration with a dog.
    Good luck on your list, and lots of great ideas for us all! Thanks so very much for your lively and interesting blog!


    • Hello, Maggie, and thank you for these additional suggestions. I didn’t know they had put up replicas of the menhirs at the places where they originally stood – what a brilliant idea. How did you find out? Is there a map of them that you can access somewhere online? It don’t think it said anything about this on the Musée Fenaille website. I have to see this.

      I have been intending to take one of the truffle tours with the woman whose website you give – she also does demonstrations of truffle hunting with dogs, which I’d like to see. Apparently, the truffle market at Limogne is very small – and probably even smaller after last year’s dry autumn – and is over in the blink of an eye. The restaurant does a truffle menu but it’s rather pricey as is the one at Lalbenque at the old station.

      One day I’ll find the time to do all these things!


      • I found a brouchure somewhere that listed the menhirs, possibly also had a map? I don’t remember where or when I picked it up, probably at an OT. (I’m always picking brouchures up, like a magpie!) I’ll look for it when I get home (I’m on the road for 3 weeks) and let your know more!


        • If you find out I would love to know – thank you. In the meantime, I’ll have a look on the Internet and also see if any of the OTs round us have info on them (although they’re not generally open at this time of year).

          P.S. Think I’ve found it. South Aveyron around Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance – 13 or so statues-menhir mostly accessible by car. An opportunity for another trip to Roquefort, I think.


  2. Happy New Year, Vanessa. Good luck with the walnut oil, especially! We first “met” when I contacted you about your walnut wine post and when my blog was almost new, do you remember? I concur with Sara Ellen’s comment: yours is a beautifully written blog and it’s always a pleasure to visit.


    • I do indeed remember our first ‘meeting’ about the walnut wine recipe. Your blog has gone from strength to strength. Thank you for your kind words about mine and Happy New Year.


  3. Just a note to say how much I enjoy your excellent and well-researched reports, in tandem with that Holy Grail of all serious writers — really fine writing!
    While the designation “blog” is in fashion these days, I cannot think of your work as a blog — instead they reach me as well-crafted, literate creations of a life-engaged mind.
    Thanks for the pleasure, and I look forward to the New Year’s surprises.
    Ellen (in Castellar Village FR)


    • What a pleasure it is to receive such a nice comment and a lovely way to round off the year. Thank you. I hope I can continue to live up to your kind words.
      Bonne fin d’année,


    • It remains to be seen whether I will actually make it round them all. But there’s certainly no shortage of things to see and do in this region.


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