With its fine gothic cathedral and a very attractive historic centre, Rodez is suddenly on the tourist map, since the opening of its stunning new Soulages museum, honouring the most famous French artist of the last 50 years.
Discover Rodez - things to see and do
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Walkway from the Soulages Museum to the Place d'Armes and Notre Dame cathedralThe capital city of the Aveyron department, Rodez was for a long time well off the tourist trail. Hard to reach by rail and just as hard by road, it was one of the most isolated small cities in France.
All that has changed, and while Rodez remains at the heart of one of the most rural regions of France, it is now firmly on the tourist map. The 2014 opening of a stunning new museum to house a large collection of paintings and works by the artist Pierre Soulages has propelled Rodez firmly into the twenty-first century.
Midi- Pyrenees region, between the foothills of the Massif Central and the plains of the southwest. It is accessible by motorway and dual-carriageway road from Toulouse and Albi to the southwest, and is 45 km from the A75 Paris-Beziers motorway to the east. There are trains, comfortable but rather slow, from Toulouse (direct) and Paris (change at Brive la Gaillarde). Rodez has direct flights to the UK - Southampton - with Eastern airways/Flybe. The airport is also served by Ryanair flights from Dublin and Charleroi (Belgium), and can be reached by Eastern Airways flights from Paris Orly..
Due to the city's relative isolation in previous centuries, the historic centre of Rodez is well preserved, and consists of a network of old narrow streets and attractive squares, flanked by fine medieval and renaissance buildings built in one or other of the local stones, either a red sandstone or a creamy pale limestone.
Sunset over the skyline of old Rodez - a hilltop city
Sunset over the skyline of old Rodez - a hilltop city
At the edge of the city centre, on the paved Place d'Armes stands Notre Dame cathedral, one of just a handful of great gothic cathedrals in the south of France. Particularly noteworthy is the cathedral's intricately carved flamboyant gothic tower. The historic centre is also home to two of the city's three museums, the Musée Fenaille with its remarkable collection of carved prehistoric menhirs or headstones, and the Musée Puech, with its collection of 19th & 20th century sculpture and early 20th century painting.
Boldly modern - the new Soulages museum in RodezFour hundred metres from the cathedral, in an attractive city park, stands the impressive new Soulages museum, that opened in 2014. Recognised as the greatest French artist of the second half of the 20th century, Pierre Soulages was born in Rodez. In 2005 he bequeathed over 200 of his works to his native city. The new museum now houses this collection, and also presents temporary exhibitions of works by other modern and contemporary artists. After the Picasso exhibition in 2016, the museum will be hosting an Alexander Calder exhibition in 2018.
Designed by Catalan artchitects RCR Arquitectes, the museum is a significant building in its own right, a masterpiece of "minimalist spatial composition" clad in weathering steel plate. It is part of an coherent ensemble of contemporary buildings including a brasserie run by Michelin three-starred chef Michel Bras, and a multi-screen cinema complex, all opened in 2014.
The Aveyron departmentRodez is not just an attractive small city in its own right, it is the centre of for discovering the Aveyron department, one of the largest and most diverse in France. The north of the Aveyron comprises an area known as the Aubrac, which is the southern flank of the granite heartland of the Massif Central mountains. At an altitude of between 1000 and 1300 metres, the Aubrac is a fairly desolate area, famed for its beef cattle.
In the east of the Aveyron, crossed by the A75 motorway, lies an area known as the Causse du Larzac, an arid limestone plateau. This is the heart of an area that produces France's most famous cheese, Roquefort.
The south of the Aveyron is hill country, including an area known as the Ségala which is now a prosperous agricultural region. The west of the Aveyron, warmer and lower-lying, is known as the Rouergue; the low limestone hills are quite forested.
Attractions in the AveyronConques - (Conques slidehow) a UNESCO world heritage site, and one of the most finely preserved romanesque churches in France, on the old pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella.
Salles-la-Source - small town 15 km from Rodez, on the scarp of a steep valley, and famous for its waterfalls, its site, and its rural crafts museum.
Villefranche de Rouergue: one of the larger bastide towns of southwest France.
Villeneuve d'Aveyron and Sauveterre de Rouergue : two more attractive bastide towns.
Millau: attractive small town on the river Tarn, very meridional.
The Millau viaduct: the world's most impressive motorway viaduct, over the Tarn valley, deigned by Norman Foster & partners.
Viaduc du Viaur: between Rodez and Albi. One of the two great 19th century viaducts designed and built by Gustave Eiffel
Micropolis : between Rodez and Millau. Large modern museum of the world of insects.
Lacs du Lévezou. a series of lakes in the hills south of Rodez. Sailing.
Séverac le Chateau. Impressive medieval fortress beside a small town 45 km east of Rodez, on the way to...
Les Gorges du Tarn - Running between Aveyron and Lozère, the Tarn gorge, a very dramatic a deep limestone gorge, is one of France's grandest natural sites. The Tarn gorge is now overflown by magnificent vultures, a species successfully reintroduced in the 1990s.
La Couvertoirade - minuscule walled city, once a bastion of the Knights Templar, on the Larzac plateau.
Roquefort - home of the famous cheese. Visit the underground caves where the cheese is matured and stored.