Millau is a maze of narrow streets that lead to secluded squares, fountains, markets, shops and churches. It is the second town, after Rodez, in the old province of Rouergue. Is setting, between the Causse Noir and the Causse du Larzac, is quite spectacular. Along the Place Foch, in the shade of the plane trees, lie numerous cafés and restaurants, and ancient houses supported on stone pillars.
Where is Millau?
Millau lays at the centre of the Grands Causses Regional Nature Park, at the confluence of the Tarn and the Dourbie rivers. It’s in the department of Aveyron.
Things to do in Millau
Strolling round this beautiful town is such a pleasent experience. Meandering through the streets, taking in the varied shops and enjoying the local cafes will keep you occupied and fascinated whether you’re a day-tripper or staying in the town for the whole of your vacation.
La Graufesenque in Millau
History lovers will have an amazing time visiting La Graufesenque which is located just off Millau in Aveyron. You will find this outstanding archeological site where the Tarn and Dourbie rivers meet which is a beautiful sight in itself so killing two birds with one stone to see La Graufesenque and the river views is a great day out.
La Graufesenque dates back to Roman times and is an area famed for its pottery. What was so special about the pottery that was made here was its signature dark colour known as terra sigillata which boasted a rich red colour.
This pottery was so well loved that it was sold and transported all over the Roman empire, particularly in the Western areas.
Huge amounts of pottery was made in La Graufesenque and visiting here is an opportunity to go back in time. In fact, the site has been listed as a historical monument for the last 30 years and has been part of the French Ministry of Culture for almost a century.
There are some wonderful displays of pottery here and some great opportunities for education and a chance to explore the ancient ruins of the Roman site. However, when you’re done, there are some other excellent local attractions to check out while you’re in the area.
For example, the Belfry of Millau is a stunning fortification with architecture from two distinct periods. Or you might want to stop off at the Gorges du Tarn for some breathtaking scenery and a chance to snap some of the most Instagrammable areas in France!
Pont Vieux et Moulin Vieux in Millau
France is home to a diverse range of monuments, historical sites and states but one of the most impressive and unique is the Pont Vieux and Moulin Vieux at Millau. If you are looking for an unusual sight then this will certainly appeal to you.
The bridge was built back in the 1100s and still stands proud to this day despite having lost much of its structure in the 1758 floods. The first mention of the bridge can be dated back to toll records in the year 1156; this is truly a slice of French history!
At the time of the flood in the mid 1700s, most of the bridge was completely destroyed but two arches remained giving the bridge its unique aesthetic that we see today.
Before this, there were 17 arches and three fortified towers that connected the river from one side to the other.
At the centre of the bridge was the Moulin du Roi which still exists today and is commonly referred to as the Moulin Vieux. Appearing to almost float in mid air over the sparkling water, the Moulin Vieux is something you simply have to see.
Parts of the old mill are now protected including the mill base where the tub wheels and mechanisms are located as well as the roof and facades.
This lovely town has an atmosphere that hints at the Mediterranean, and is a fascinating and lively provincial place. Then of course there is the main attraction. The incredible Millau viaduct.
To fully appreciate the viaduct, you need to find your way out of town and along the road to Peyre – one of the most beautiful villages in France, which will take you directly under the bridge and on to the village.
The bridge is awesome; the village quite simply beautiful.
What is the Millau viaduct?
The Millau viaduct, a cable-stayed road-bridge designed by English architect Norman Foster with the celebrated French engineer, Michel Virlogeux, is a marvellous site to behold, and an even more impressive one to drive across.
It carries the A75-A71 autoroute axis from Paris to Montpellier, and its 2.5km length is supported by seven slender concrete piers, the greatest standing higher than the Eiffel Tower, making this the tallest man-made structure in France. It is the 12th highest bridge in the world, at 270 metres (890 ft) high above the Tarn river.
It is simply quite breathtaking, all the more so if you contrive to find your way out of Millau and head along the road to Peyree.
Visiting the Millau viaduct
Close by the viaduct is a splendid ‘Aire de Service/Viewing point’, specialising not only in information about the structure, but also in regional produce.
The viewing point is accessible in both directions using slip roads from the A75. There is access to both the exhibition centre [open from 0900 to 1900, last entry is at 1830] and the viewing point, both on the eastern side of the motorway.
The viewing point is approximately 30 minutes walk away uphill, but the climb is very steep in places.
A few key numbers:
Height of the deck: 270m above the Tarn.
Height of the summit of the pylons: 343m.
Number of pillars: 7.
Height of the tallest pillar: 245m.
Total length: 2,460m.
Slope: Approximately 3%.
36,000 tonnes of steel framework.
205,000 tonnes of concrete.
The history of Millau
Millau’s industrial tradition dates to Roman times when the town made pottery. Later, the manufacture of leather products and glove-making became the town’s principal economy. But during the 1930s, the glove-making business suffered a decline, largely due to the import of cheap imitations.
Recently, however, Parisian fashion houses have decided that the old ways are the best, and Millau’s glove makers have seen a revival of their fortunes.
In addition, in 2005, with the opening of the stunning Millau viaduct, the town achieved even greater notoriety. But the hope among the town fathers must have been that travellers, once obliged to pass through the town, would continue to stop off before charging across the viaduct.