Located on the south side of the Aveyron, Villefranche de Rouergue is a charming small town with a rich history. It has a beautiful medieval bridge over the river and plenty of shops, restaurants and places to stay.
The village is also home to an important monastery – Chartreuse St Sauveur, which is one of the best examples of the 15th century flamboyant Gothic architecture in France. The cloister, the chapel and the magnificent decorated stalls make this a very attractive place to visit.
La faille (French: [vilfRaS d@ RweRg], Occitan: bilo’fraNGko de ‘rwerge) is a large, circular rocky formation that extends inland for about 50 km from Segala to Causse – the highest point in the area and a popular tourist destination. It is the largest of its kind in France and contains a significant amount of fossilised plant and animal remains, including marine plants such as sea urchins, and mammals such as otters.
Le plateau calcaire blanc is situated near the southern end of the faille and is a good place to see some of its amazing geological features. It is also a perfect place to observe the many different species of animals and plants that have been relicts of the Jurassic Period.
During the Jurassic, a large ocean formed, which flooded most of Europe. This ocean was much deeper and warmer than today’s and covered most of the land mass.
This ocean, which is now largely gone, made the lands of Aquitaine and the Rouergue very fertile as it was the main source of food for all the local people. It is thought that this was due to the abundant water that came from the flooded Atlantic Ocean.
The Counts of Toulouse had several villes franches, or free towns, which they founded in order to encourage the population to move there and boost the economy. They also enacted several policies such as custom duties exemptions and franchises which helped attract new people to the area.
In the 13th century, as the Counts of Toulouse reorganised their fiefdom in order to increase its wealth, they decided to create Villefranche de Rouergue, which was founded on the site of an old village called La Peyrade. This was to allow the Count to transfer his administration from Najac, which was on the other bank of the Aveyron.
Alphonse de Poitiers, brother of Saint Louis, King of France, inherited the County of Toulouse in 1234 and founded Villefranche de Rouergue. He moved the administration of the Rouergue county to his city, thus establishing his authority over the region.
Since the 18th century, the ramparts and fortified gates of the town have been demolished, but there are still plenty of places to explore on a stroll along Les Promenades.
On the outskirts of the town, you can find the famous Monastery of Chartreuse St Sauveur which is an outstanding example of the flamboyant Gothic style. Here, you can learn about the history of this monastic order.