Exploring the River Aveyron Around Villefranche-de-Rouergue

One night last week I was driving home from a choir rehearsal along an unlit country lane bordered by woodland and fields. About 50 metres ahead, a bulky form suddenly burst out of the hedgerow and trotted across the road. A wild boar. Seconds later, another followed. I stopped, knowing that they often travel in groups. Sure enough, three more hefty porkers crossed unhurriedly. I waited for a good half a minute before driving on, in case there were any stragglers. You do not want to collide with one of those.

Safe passage

Earlier that evening, someone had mentioned that 28th February was the last day of the chasse (hunting season) for this winter. The boar must have heard and decided to go out to celebrate. Mind you, they are not completely out of the woods, since battues (culls) are arranged all year round to control their numbers.

I quietly celebrated, too, since we can walk in the countryside again without fear of being mistaken for wild animals. I’m not going to debate the rights and wrongs of hunting here. Suffice it to say that from September to February, our peaceful enjoyment of the countryside is constrained by this “sport”.


Armed with the knowledge that we probably wouldn’t be shot at, we decided to take a new walk from a website that lists randonnées. This walk starts in the centre of Villefranche-de-Rouergue, but quickly takes you into the country to the North East of the town upstream along the Aveyron.

I’m very fond of Villefranche, which is an atmospheric bastide town founded in 1252 on the banks of the Aveyron. The construction of the gigantic collégiale (cathedral without a bishop, run by a college of canons) started during the 13th century. It towers over the market square. The Thursday market is one of the biggest and best in the region.

Hemmed in by slopes and built on a hill, Villefranche is more reminiscent of an Auvergne mountain town than a Southern French one. Its architecture straddles the two: terracotta pantiles are juxtaposed with iron-grey slate roofs.

Villefranche has all sorts of interesting little alleyways and nooks and crannies. Sadly, like many others, the town centre has declined owing to the spread of out-of-town superstores. Hopefully, the filming last year of a Netflix adaptation of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See might help to revive Villefranche’s fortunes.

Public baths

We parked opposite the former public bath house. This was built in Art Deco style between 1936 and 1939 in response to the growing demand for modern comforts. Many houses still didn’t have bathrooms. The baths had separate areas for men and women. The architect, Achille Masini, died in 1937, while the work was taking place. The public baths functioned into the 1990s.

Walk on the wild side

We continued up the road, crossed over the Assou, a tributary of the Aveyron, and then over the Aveyron itself. The walk details described the concrete footbridge as “fragile” and advised walkers to cross one by one. I shot over as fast as possible, not relishing the idea of ending up in the freezing cold drink.

From there, the walk continued upstream on the left bank, mainly on minor roads. The sound of the river accompanied us, although it’s very low for lack of rain. Right outside Villefranche, it’s not a particularly attractive section of river, bordered by modern villas and dilapidated buildings, probably former factories.

Shrine balanced on the rocky hillside by the river

The concrete structure below is probably une échelle/passe à poissons (fish-way or fish staircase). This enables the fish to swim upstream avoiding the weir, which would otherwise obstruct them. To my knowledge, there are no salmon in the Aveyron, but there are trout, pikeperch and carp, among others.

The further we walked from Villefranche, the wilder the river became, snaking between rounded hills that hid the town from view.

The Calvaire

We took a footpath that came out halfway up the stations of the cross that lead up to the Calvaire overlooking Villefranche.

This hilltop site, known as Saint Jean-d’Aigremont (the name of the hill), was an enclosure for animals and people from early times. The Gauls built a fortified settlement, which the Romans took over. Although well outside the existing town, the church of Saint Jean-Baptiste was Villefranche’s first parish church in the late 13th century, with its origins as far back as the 8th century.

Eglise Saint Jean-Baptiste

At the top of the hill behind the cross, the chapelle of Saint Sepulcre was built in 1715, destroyed during the Revolution and rebuilt by the Pénitents Noirs in 1807. The cross dates from 1926.

chapelle of Saint Sepulcre

The site has a terrific view of Villefranche and the surrounding countryside. An orientation table indicates various landmarks. Unfortunately for me, the sun was in the wrong place, so I didn’t get as good a shot as I was hoping. The best time is probably in the morning.

Villefranche, dominated by the collégiale centre-shot.
River Aveyron with its two bridges. You can see the railway line to the left of it, just below the hillside.

We continued down towards the right bank of the Aveyron, which was sunny and warm, unlike the opposite bank. In fact, the hillside seems to have a micro-climate, favourable to Mediterranean-type plants, which someone had helpfully marked with slate signs.

From there, it wasn’t far back to the car. And, thankfully, not over the fragile concrete bridge this time. The whole walk is only about 5 km, but there are longer circuits. You can also walk along the Aveyron downstream of Villefranche.

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  1. Hi Vanessa. How lucky you were to see five of them. I’ve only ever seen one at a time. Good news about chasse. We’ve just arrived back home at Le Shack, and after a month living in a town, are ready for some good walks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The end of the hunting season, brilliant! I thought it might be the end of February but hadn’t got around to confirming it. We avoid walking off road in the winter except when we go up to the espaces nordiques. Mind you, it has been so cold in the mornings for most of this spring we’ve been very lazy.
    We catch sight of sangliers on our garden camera traps now and then and I found evidence of their ‘snuffling’ in some recently turned up earth in our orchard the other week. 😊
    Enjoy your spring walks..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t actually checked, but I assume the person was right about the date. We are very careful if walking off-road in the autumn and winter.

      We see evidence of sangliers – earth and stones turned over – but we very rarely see them these days. My sighting the other night was the first for some time.

      Rain is forecast from tomorrow for about a fortnight, so I think our walks will be curtailed for a while, although we desperately need the rain.

      Liked by 1 person

    • We used to see large family groups quite often with the little striped marcassins. Their numbers seemed to go down after that, no doubt because of culling. I wonder if they are on the increase.


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