On a general map of France, the town of St Affrique can be
seen lying to the north-west of Montpellier. To the west of St
Affrique, the village of Esplas is situated 1 km off the D999.
Further west lies the picturesque town of Albi, from where
Toulouse is easily accessible by motorway. Our most accessible
Mediterranean beach is Valras Plage, the beach for Béziers,
en route to which are the vineyards of Languedoc.
The red dot
Esplas itself is a small, vital village of 27 inhabitants in winter
and around 50 in summer, as some people who have gone to make their
living in the cities have kept family houses in the village for
holidays in the country. When we had our housewarming, over 60
people were here and, after we had all eaten our supper and drunk
our wine, sang well into the night.
Esplas is 11km from the large village of St
Sernin-sur-Rance where there are small supermarkets, bakeries,
chemists (and doctors) etc. The Mairie for Esplas is situated in the
nearby (4km) village of Rebourguil, which also has a small general
store, as does St Juery. in St Sernin and Belmont. A van from the
Belmont bakery comes to Esplas twice a week and one from the St
Juery store once a week. There is a small market in St Sernin on
Sunday morning, while St Affrique has a full range of shops and
stores, as well as a Saturday morning market.
Esplas lies in pleasant hilly country, which is ideal for walking
and which forms part of Le Parc Naturel Régional des Grands Causses.
Most of the surrounding villages now have tourist offices which have
leaflets describing discreetly marked footpaths for long or short
walks. Provided one doesn't walk across crops, people are very
tolerant of walkers. Le Rougier de Camarès refers to a relatively
small area of the South Aveyron where the earth is red - hence the
red stone of which our house is constructed. Within this area,
Esplas is situated at 600m altitude and enjoys excellent views.
Practically all around are mountains: to the north, the climb to
Rodez and the North Aveyron; to the west, the ridge along which runs
the road to Albi; to the south, the mountains of Lacaune, where Le
Parc Naturel Régional du Haut Languedoc begins; and to the east the
bluffs of Roquefort and Millau.
Fishing and Watersports:
The rivers round about, such as the Rance, the Dourdou, the Sorgues
and the Tarn, are excellent for fishing, especially for trout. There
is canoeing on the Tarn, 25km north of here, and in the Gorges du
Tarn (60km) rafting. 25km to the south lies the Lake of Laouzas,
with a full range of summer activities, sailing, canoeing, pedaloes
and a beach, archery, horse-riding, and affordable chalets for those
who want to stay (and book well in advance!) Millau, 50km to the
east, is a much-sought-after centre for hang-gliding, while Belmont
has an aero club and a karting track at the aerodrome.
The local agriculture is heavily focussed on Roquefort, the cheese
which is made from sheep's milk. Since the milk which is collected
daily from the farms in the area is tested for its purity on arrival
in Roquefort (and rejected if not up to standard), the local
environment is unpolluted by pesticides etc. The main cereal crop is
barley, for feeding to the sheep, and most farms have their flocks
of "brebis" (the milk sheep). The Hotel Moderne in St
Affrique serves 11 different varieties of Roquefort as part of its
cheese board: at one of our first meals there, Jean-François gave
me a plate with morsels of all 11, to give me an idea of the range.
Its village fête has been comparatively small compared to the ones
which go on all through the summer in the bigger villages all
around. There are also Summer Festivals of music and drama, such as
the Drama Festival at the nearby and superbly situated Chateau de
Montaigut, the Jazz Festival in Millau and the Folk Music Festival
in Pont-de-Salars, both of which spill out into the local villages (eg
Belmont) and towns (St Affrique). Of particular note is the Festival
of Sacred and Secular Music at the restored Abbaye de Sylvanès,
with performances throughout July and August of music of superb
quality from all over the world. The Chateau d'Esplas, situated in
the village and currently being authentically restored to a very
high standard, also hosted an evening of storytelling this last
Clearly, the countryside of the South Aveyron has many
advantages, to which may be added the generally excellent quality of
food in the area and the growing appreciation of its history and
heritage, eg there are more dolmens in the Aveyron than in any other
Département and this area is especially noted for its menhirs - and
for the Enfant Sauvage of St Sernin. It is also an area which can
accommodate its growing number of summer tourists without ever
seeming crowded, unlike the coastal area of Languedoc to the south.
Indeed, recent surveys have given the Aveyron a very low rating for
crime (90th out of the 96 Départements) and a high rating (7th out
of 96) as an area where one can live happily.
The nearest motorways
to us are 50km to the east (for Paris or Montpellier) and 60km to
the west (for Toulouse). The climate also differs from the
Mediterranean littoral in that here one experiences all four
seasons, without of course the persistent damp of some areas of UK.
Spring tends to seem late because the local woodland is largely
composed of oak and sweet chestnut, which come into leaf late, but
that is balanced out by magnificent Autumns which can last almost to