Varen: Haven by the River Aveyron

View of the château/deanery

I never cease to be amazed by the new things (to me) I discover in this region, where I have lived for 20 years. We haven’t set foot in Varen for ages and even then we didn’t stop to have a good look around. We rectified that last week when we went for dinner at le Moulin restaurant (more of that below). This small but historic village by the River Aveyron in northeast Tarn-et-Garonne rewards the wanderer with some time to spare.

What’s to see in Varen

Like many such villages, the main road bypasses the historic centre. You can stroll around the ancient streets, some of which are too narrow for cars anyway, without the fear of being mown down.

Columbage detail

What you see today are the remains of a Benedictine monastery complex founded in the 9th century. They consist of the enormous church of Saint-Pierre-Saint-Serge, built in the 11th century to house the remains of Saint-Serge and receive pilgrims to his tomb; one wing of the former monastery buildings; and the fortified deanery, built in the late 15th century. They are fine examples not only of Romanesque architecture but also of the fortified architecture of the late medieval period.

Huge buttresses reinforcing the church
15th-century fortified deanery. The gatehouse was added later.

There’s also a rather nice little medieval garden with a good view of the deanery.

Medieval potager

Stormy History

Show me a village around here that doesn’t have a turbulent history. Walking around these peaceful places today, it’s hard to imagine a time when they were besieged, sacked and passed from one side to the other.

During the Hundred Years War, vulnerable parts of Varen were reinforced. A little later, the deanery, also known as the château, was built. It is a foursquare building on five levels, typical of Rouergat defensive architecture. It once had a walkway around the upper part of the building.

Deanery. The walkway ran around the top storey, but was replaced by windows at a later date.

The village suffered again during the Wars of Religion. It was taken respectively in 1572 and 1581 by the Protestant people of Saint-Antonin and Verfeil. The Verfeillais in particular were a pretty bloodthirsty lot, causing a lot of damage and killing a number of people, including the Dean.

When Louis XIII besieged Montauban in 1621 and engaged his troops against other Protestant towns in the area, the people of Varen were afraid of violent reprisals. They didn’t occur, but the king billeted his troops in the village, which imposed a considerable burden on the people.

Railway Revitalisation

In more modern times, the coming of the railway in 1858 gave a boost to the village’s fortunes. An enormous station was constructed at Lexos, a hamlet downriver of Varen, believed to have been modelled on the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris. This coincided with the apogee of the village’s population. In 1861, 1,913 people lived in the commune.

Most villages in this area suffered from rural depopulation after World War I and with the advent of new agricultural techniques and machinery. The decline was not so steep in Varen because a cement works was developed from former lime kilns, providing employment for local people. The cement works was itself finally closed in 1994.

Le Moulin

Le Moulin restaurant

In a pleasant spot beside the river, sits le Moulin restaurant, housed in – you’ve guessed it – a former watermill. We sat with our friends on the long, covered terrace at the front of the restaurant and enjoyed a lovely meal.

River Aveyron at Varen

In summer, the river looks tranquil and inoffensive. In the early spring, it can be transformed into a raging torrent by heavy rain and melt-water from upriver. Devastating floods occurred in 1930 all along the Aveyron and many people were drowned. During a particularly wet winter here about 15 years ago, we heard that the proprietors of le Moulin had to be airlifted to safety because the river had risen so fast.

If you’re taking a trip along the River Aveyron, Varen is certainly worth a stop.

You might also like

Discovering a Former Railway Line

The Flood of the Century in SW France

Trip Along the River Aveyron

Copyright © 2017 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


    • It’s certainly well worth a visit. We have lived in the general area for 20 years, but we keep discovering new things about places that we really ought to know about!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Vanessa, thanks for such a lovely treat! i am assembling a list of your sojourns to enjoy when we are in your region next year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a lovely village…. I can’t pass without commenting on those monumental buttresses. I set out when I moved to France to try and understand in greater depth the 100 years war. Your posts often remind me that I gave made much headway. I must start to redress that a little 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • The buttresses are incredible. I can’t now think why I didn’t take a shot of the church itself, except perhaps we were slightly pressed for time and were with other people. The Hundred Years War must have been a very confusing time, not least for the poor folk who were subjected to it. Interestingly, any roving band of mercenaries or downright thugs was referred to as “les anglais”, whether they were English or not!


      • I’m always getting distracted by either what I’m looking at or who I’m talking to and then regretting forgetting to take a picture! I wonder how many times ‘baddies’ have been generically tagged in wartime through the ages.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Keep it that way … my very stylish third daughter got rid of hers 3 months ago in favour of a phone that makes and takes calls, ‘re ya and plays music for long journeys. She reports that she is sleeping better, less anxious and generally more relaxed now. She takes wonderful pictures … with her camera!

            Liked by 2 people

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