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See dedicated post for Conques here: http://myerbergcastletour.com/conques/


Laguiole

In Laguiole, the **Forge de Laguiole is a must for knife lovers. It’s a bit overwhelming – for the crowds, the prices, the very modern building with horrible glare and lights. Maison Bras is nearby (very famous restaurant) but it books out months, if not years, in advance.

*Repas à la Ferme de la Violette, just outside of Laguiole, was a rather uninspired choice for lunch. It’s clearly popular, but the service was quite indifferent and the food on the average side. My salad was bad, Galen’s aligot and sausage decent.


Estaing

About an hour from Conques, Estaing is on the banks of the River Lot, and dominated by its 11th-century castle. It’s not a bad place for an overnight (though I think we won’t be back; two visits were plenty), particularly for hikers on the Chemin de Saint Jacques, but for most it’s a 1 hr stop with a few photogenic spots. The village is on the Camino de Santiago, and its 16th-century bridge is Unesco-listed. They also have an excellent public pool overlooking the river. My biggest complaint is that the town seems really tired of their tourism crowd, perhaps just worn out by the constant influx of hikers who pass through.

The **Estaing Castle itself was built by the illustrious Estaing family (who lost the property during the French revolution, but former president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing re-acquired it in 2005 via a foundation). It mixes Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles and is open to the public in summer. Much of the interior is dedicated to the life of said President. A visit is worthwhile for the excellent views over the village and river. On Wednesday nights in the summer they light the castle and do a dramatic reading of its history. We expected a “light show,” which it isn’t – it’s just lighting – but it was clearly a popular event to show up for.

This is not an area with a lot of “fancy” options for dining and lodging. I think we made the best choice for dinner by choosing **La Brasserie du Chateau, which overlooks the river and has friendly, cheerful staff. It’s affordable and food comes out quickly. It’s affordable and food comes out quickly. It was edible, cooked in advance and reheated. We tried a few other places in town – notably Chez Mon Pere – and struggled to get anyone to serve us.

Our hotel, *Hôtel Auberge Saint Fleuret, was borderline acceptable (clean, central), but the breakfast really was quite bad and the overall experience just very tired. There’s a pool, and staff that just seem completely disinterested in hosting people. Other options (a bit outside of town) that might be better – chambres d’hotes le Clos Marty, and Domaine d’Armagnac.


Espalion

About 10 minutes from Estaing, Espalion was on our list of potential future overnights – after a brief visit, we removed it from the list. The **Pont-Vieux (Old Bridge) is part of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France, and is worth a short detour, as it’s rather pretty. There are also a few highly ranked restaurants, and a few churches made of lovely red sandstone (**Église Saint-Hilarian-Sainte-Foy de Perse, built around 1060, is the most notable). Aside from that, it’s a quick drive through town, and I wouldn’t make a major point to stop.


Bozouls

We made a very brief stop to see the impressive **Trou de Bozouls – a horseshoe shaped gorge, with a 10th century church in the distance. The town had a good feel, lots of foot traffic.


Rodez

Rodez did little for me – we wandered the old town, and made a stop at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption de Rodez, both of which felt fairly empty of personality. I wouldn’t make a point of returning, other than to see Musée Fenaille, which reportedly has the best collection of Menhirs in Europe.

The Cathedral itself is very large, has the usual signs of damage from the French revolution, and features the red sandstone of the region.

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