Le Viaduc de Millau

Millau Bridge from the services' viewpoint
Millau Bridge from the services’ viewpoint


This bridge has inspired every conceivable adjective that describes big and impressive. And it is certainly both. I finally got to see the tallest cable-stayed bridge in the world last week, on my way down to the Camargue with a friend. For such a majestic structure, there is something almost ethereal about it.

The bridge carries the A75 motorway over the deep gorges of the River Tarn near Millau in Aveyron. Before its construction, that bit of A75 didn’t exist. The link road snaked over the hills, down into the town of Millau and back up again. Eye-wateringly long traffic jams built up in the summer. We know; we were stuck in one in the 1990s on holiday and witnessed the eruptions of bad humour it caused.

Conceived in 1987, the bridge finally opened in December 2004. Designed by French engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster, it took three years to build, starting in December 2001. We saw it under construction on our way home from Corsica in 2003. It consisted then of several gigantic pillars and part of the deck, curtailed in mid-air like a sort of space-age Pont d’Avignon.

I won’t list reams of facts about it, which are legion. You can get them from the official website anyway or simply by Googling ‘Viaduc de Millau’ or ‘Millau Bridge’. Instead, here are a few key points:

  • Length: 2,460 metres
  • Max height: 343 metres, taller than the Eiffel Tower, with which it is often compared as an engineering feat.
  • Height of the tallest pier: 245 metres
  • Weight of the steel deck: 36,000 tonnes – five Eiffel Towers’-worth
  • Cost of construction: 400 million euros
  • Structural guarantee: 120 years – I don’t need to worry too much, then.
Former farmhouse in the bridge service area
Former farmhouse in the bridge service area

My friend and I stopped at the service area just before the bridge, where you get a reasonable prospect from a specially-constructed viewpoint. It was very windy up there, which I suppose explains the 110 kph speed limit on the bridge (normally 130 kph on French motorways). If you bash on over the viaduct itself, you don’t see very much of it. The tall windbreak barriers, which are probably also anti-suicide measures, prevent you looking down into the gorge. And you don’t get a sense of the height or extent of the bridge when you’re on it.

Ethereal but durable
Ethereal but durable

For such a stupendous structure, it looks incredibly graceful and delicate. The hyper-modern bridge merges with the ancient landscape surprisingly well. It must be an impressive sight emerging from the mist on an autumn morning.

The best shots of the bridge are no doubt from low down looking upwards and from either east or west. So I will have to go back sometime and find a spot down there for some really good pictures. In the meantime, the Camargue beckoned (more of that anon) so we paid our 7€ toll and sped southwards. The rest of the A75 is toll-free but I suppose they will be paying for the bridge for some time.

Final view from services' viewpoint 2
Final view from services’ viewpoint 2

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. I’d love to see it, it looks fabulous from your pictures. Bridges are nearly always so pleasing to the eye and the French do seem to be very good at them.


    • If I could have found a spot with a better angle, the shots would have been even better. The French do large engineering projects rather well – but don’t forget it was a British architect!


  2. I either crossed this bridge or saw this bridge last summer. I also went to la Camargue for the first time and I can’t wait to read your post about it!


    • You probably did cross if it you took the A75 autoroute down south. Camargue post coming soon but I need to post up about the weather first to shut my husband up!


  3. Like you, we didn’t go over to see the viaduc till quite recently. I wasn’t sure it would be all that special; but I was very wrong. It does have an incredible presence – words like majestic don’t really do it justice! It is, as you say, more interesting from below. There’s a visitor centre on the D992 St-Affrique to Millau road (via the D999 and St-Rome) in the shadow of one of the most westerly pylons. The views are better than splendid, and indoors they have a model showing how each section of the platform was built on the hilltop and then eased out into space until it came to rest on the next vacant pylon. Very impressive!


    • Next time, I must go to the visitor centre and learn more about it. We stopped only at the services since we were in a bit of a hurry to get down to the Camargue. But I think it deserves a special visit.


  4. Superb photos, Vanessa. And you’re right, it does look ethereal, as if it would take you into Tolkien’s/C.S. Lewis’ realm or some otherworldly place.


    • It is a triumph of both design and engineering. Alas, the wind was not delicate that day. It was all I could do to take photos without too much camera shake.


  5. Wonderful photos. I love the Millau bridge as it is so very exciting, but I’m glad they put a curve on it and high barriers so that you don’t get freaked out with vertigo.


    • It is a beautiful structure. Like you, I’m glad there is a curve and no way of looking down into the abyss. I really have to get back there to take some more shots from different angles. I was very impressed by what they have done. Sometimes humanity exceeds itself and I think this was one of those occasions…


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