Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val: Haunting and Historic Town

Terracotta roofs of Saint-Antonin by the Aveyron
Terracotta roofs of Saint-Antonin by the Aveyron

Winter here – especially this winter – is not greatly conducive to getting out and exploring. It’s all too easy to sit in front of the fire and make a promise that we’ll do it next week. But I do wonder why haven’t I written more here about Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, one of the more atmospheric towns in the region. It’s not far from here but we just don’t get there very often. See my post about its Fête des Battages. I took most of these photos at the end of October 2012, during magnificent autumn weather.

Quiet alley, but thronging with people and stalls on market day
Quiet alley, but thronging with people and stalls on market day

Exploring the twisting medieval alleys of Saint-Antonin, overlooked by towering white cliffs (the Gorges de l’Aveyron), we almost expect to meet the ghosts of former inhabitants. The town is full of secluded squares, ornate doorways and delightful stone carvings. It originated in Gallo-Roman times but the present town grew up around an abbey in the 8th century.

Colourful market

Market hall at Saint-Antonin
Market hall at Saint-Antonin

The market square with its covered halle is the setting for a lively Sunday market. The colourful stalls stretch out along the narrow streets from one end of town to the other in summer. You can buy herbs and spices from a stall which you scent long before seeing it; try samples of local pastries and breads; and taste goat’s cheese from la Fromagerie du Pic, based at Penne downriver, which has a stall under the halle.

Nonetheless, at the risk of offending the locals, I have to say that this is not one of my favourite markets. In summer too many tourist throng the narrow streets. If you suffer from claustrophobia, as I do, this is no fun. Other local markets are more authentic – and cheaper – in my experience, e.g. Caussade.

Stormy history

Saint-Antonin - Maison Romane
Saint-Antonin – Maison Romane

Despite all this, Saint-Antonin has plenty to see. La Maison Romane, constructed in 1125 and reputed to be the oldest civic building in France, towers over the market square. It houses the town’s museum, notable for its collections of bygone implements and geological exhibits.

Saint-Antonin also played its part in the region’s stormy history. Simon de Montfort took it during the Albigensian crusade, it changed hands five times during the Hundred Years War and Louis XIII besieged and took the staunchly Protestant town during the Huguenot Rebellions in the 1620s. He lodged in our own commune, Caylus, which was staunchly Catholic. In fact, the two towns have always been rivals.

In her comment below, Victoria has reminded me that the film Charlotte Grey (2001) was shot in and around Saint-Antonin. Based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks, the story is set in World War II. I remember the film company changed all the shopfronts in the town to 1940s style – and then had to change them all back afterwards.

Cate Blanchett, who played the main character, was seen dining several times in the town, although one restaurateur told us afterwards that she had a small appetite. We know a few people who acted as extras in the film. However, I’ve never actually seen it and I believe it had a mixed reception. Amazing to think it’s already 12 years since the film was made.

Making the most of the river

River Aveyron below Saint-Antonin
River Aveyron below Saint-Antonin

You’ll find plenty of walks (randonnées) in the locality, either up on the surrounding hills or along the river. And in summer, the river is great for canoeing. Starting from the town you paddle downstream to Cazals, a small village about 10 kilometres distant. In between, you negotiate weirs and rapids and enjoy long flat stretches. The gorges de l’Aveyron loom above you, their limestone heights pierced with inaccessible caves.

The SF and I are reasonably good at canoeing. I rowed for my college at university and he is of muscular, athletic build. So we power away and, astonishingly, usually avoid arguments. It’s great fun and we always wish we did it more often.

This is much the best way to see the landscape. You see kingfishers, dragonflies, fish rising and naked sunbathers. And you get wet. Very wet. In our experience the best time to go is early September. Normally, it’s still warm but the holidaymakers have gone and you have the river almost to yourself.

Saint-Antonin - one of many stone carvings in the town
One of many stone carvings in Saint-Antonin

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. I used to live in St Antonin Noble val…well, we had a holiday home there for eleven years and I spent most of the year there. Nowadays we visit about four times a year and stay in gites. In fact, my second novel, Surfing in Stilettos is set in the region and around St Antonin. It’s a beautiful town and a beautiful area. Your photos rekindled many happy memories for me.
    Very glad I discovered your blog.
    Best wishes and good luck with the writing!


    • Hello, Carole, thanks for commenting and for following on Twitter. Will return the compliment when I get a mo.
      I already know of you since I am involved in the library at Parisot and you are coming to talk to us about your latest book on 1st June, I think. I look forward to meeting you then.
      We’ve been here full-time for 16 years and haven’t looked back. France can have its downsides, but so does anywhere.
      I write non-fiction for a living and fiction for fun, although I don’t have a lot of time for the latter.
      A bientôt,


  2. I havent been to Saint-Antonin though I certainly want to now (and by chance I recently saw the movie). You make a good point though, I have seen a lot of people pick a town to holiday in or even buy a house because its a tourist attraction, only to get frustrated by how crowded and busy it is during the summers. Better to stay (or buy) in a town near the tourist area but not one that has a special ‘must see’ attraction that encourages hordes of tourists. That way you get the best of both worlds, life in small French town and easy access to the ‘sights’ if you need them.


    • I hope you get to see Saint-Antonin. Do let us know if you pass by this way – we are not far away. There are several downsides to buying in a tourist honeypot. First, they are heaving with tourists in summer and you get little privacy; second, they are often plus beaux villages or near an historic monument, in which case you can’t do anything to the place without going through countless hoops; third, these places are often deserted in winter. Your advice is spot on – buy close by in a place that is attractive but without the obvious disadvantages.


      • We might come over this summer, have to wait to see how our sched works out. But if we do I will let you know, as it would be nice to finally meet and see your chapel project.


  3. You should see ‘Charlotte Gray’ if for no other reason than to admire all the scenery you’ll recognize! It’s actually not a bad film; I think some of the detractors were upset that it wasn’t in French and had only one French actor in it. Can’t please everyone, I guess! St.-Antonin has been on my ‘to do’ list for awhile, but I agree, the cold, wet winter days were not conducive to exploring. I think I’ll avoid market day, tho. I hear it’s quite busy then when the weather gets nice.


    • It didn’t do very well at the box office, I understand, so they cut bits of it. Perhaps it was also the length that put some people off?

      Yes, I would avoid Sunday (market day) in the summer since it really gets very busy, you can’t find anywhere to park, etc. But in the spring it’s okay. If you want to wander around in peace, though, I’d choose another day.


    • I’ll have to see Charlotte Grey – people keep telling me I should. Probably have to get it on DVD now since it was made so long ago. Canoeing on the Aveyron is great fun but sometimes the river is so low that you have to get out and push in places!


      • The secret to dvd watching – if you are prepared to do it on your computer is to see if it is on – and then see if they have a putlocker download. It’s probably highly dodgy but i do it all the time in order to make excercise biking bearable! I also really liked the film about the Enigma machine (I can’t remember the exact title) but both of the same sort of genre.


        • Thanks for the tip. Unfortunately, we don’t have broadband here – just a slower satellite connection – so can’t watch on the computer. I know the film you mean about Enigma – I haven’t seen it either!


  4. Hi Vanessa, thank you for the interesting post. Saint Antonin-Noble-Val is one of the towns I will be stopping at during my trip and I look forward to exploring its historic streets, it looks delightful. The information will come in handy!

    I will be around Villefranche de Rouergue from the 21st May and then moving down to Cordes sur Ciel and St Antonin before heading down to the Pyrenees on the 28th. It doesn’t seem long enough, there is so much to explore. And yes, I hope it will warn up by then!!



    • You have obviously done a lot of pre-planning for your trip, which is a very good idea. There’s so much to see that one week hardly seems long enough but I hope you enjoy it. Hope the weather will be good too!


  5. I’ve only been to St Antonin once in the spring with my sister in law who was looking at a house, it was very pretty but I remember wondering what it’s like in the height of summer. Am I right in thinking Charlotte Grey was filmed around there?


    • Thanks for reminding me about Charlotte Grey. You’re quite right – it was filmed in and around Saint-Antonin. I’ll add something to the post about it. The place is pretty busy in summer, especially on market day, and in winter it can be chilly and dank in the centre of town itself since it’s right by the river.


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