France // The Massif Central //

Sauveterre-de-Rouergue

Forty kilometres southwest of Rodez, Sauveterre-de-Rouergue (wsauveterre.free.fr) makes the most rewarding side trip in this part of Aveyron if you have your own vehicle. It is a perfect, otherworldly bastide, founded in 1281, with a large, wide central square, part cobbled, part gravelled, and surrounded by stone and half-timbered houses built over arcaded ground floors. Narrow streets lead off to the outer road, lined with stone-built houses the colour of rusty iron. On summer evenings, pétanque players come out to roll their boules beneath chestnut and plane trees, while swallows and swifts swoop and dive overhead.