Postcards from Provence: Unexpected Directions in the South of France

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“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


Garabit Viaduct France
The Garabit Viaduct in the South of France

The opportunity to make an unexpected turn and find oneself somewhere magnificent and completely unanticipated is one of the truly wondrous things about travel. These unplanned for moments are often some of the most memorable moments for me, and these moments can set the tone for the entire trip.

The entree for our day came in the form of one of these unexpected and quintessentially defining moments. We made a sudden turn in the south of France off of the main road which took us to see some spectacular sights that I had not known about.

Unfettered from the confines of the highway, we enjoyed meandering wherever our fancy took us. We were rewarded for our spontaneity by discovering a stunning viaduct that I had never read about before.  The Garabit Viaduct was built by the same guy who built the Eiffel Tower, and completed just five years before.

Further exploration yielded a quick visit to a traditional French chateau and a picture perfect town filled with postcard worthy traditional stone buildings that was utterly empty, we had it all to ourselves.

Tarn Gorge in France
The Tarn Gorge in France

The “plat principal” was another unexpected consequence of our divergence. Following a different route and getting creative with the map allowed us to drive down the Tarn Gorge.

The Tarn Gorge is quite long. The drive took us the better part of the afternoon, but the dramatic cliffs and quaint little villages along the bottom of the gorge were very worthwhile.

The roads are quite narrow in some spots, making it an exciting drive that made me happy that we had rented a very small car.  I was happy that we had not visited in the next month, August, in the peak of tourist season.

A gamble on a forbidden hiking trail led us up and up and eventually gave us the gift of a wide, panoramic view down the Tarn Valley which made the arduous climb seem suddenly completely worthwhile.

While the first two courses were pretty darned good, dessert was spectacular.

The Millau Viaduct in France
The Millau Viaduct in the south of France

The Millau Viaduct is an impressive feat of engineering that spans the Tarn river just south of Millau, France. It lies on the A75 and is the critical link in an efficient, high speed motor way connecting Paris with the Montpelier (the gateway to the Languedoc region of France.)

The spires of the viaduct are each as tall as the Eiffel tower.  It is definitely worth seeing if you are in the area.  If you have the time, a drive through the adjacent Parc Naturel Regional du Haut Languedoc and the cute villages along the way could easily be combined with your drive over the viaduct to make a nice day trip.

We finished our day satiated and immensely happy to be in the south of France.


“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.”


Travel in Provence : accommodation, visits and activities

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