Tuesday 27 January 2009
We leave Arles this morning after being suitably sated with the generous breakfast at the Hotel l’Amphitheatre. Before we leave town we head across the main street to take a photo of Rue Parmentier (just couldn’t leave without this one!). All question if we know what it means and most are surprised that I can tell them that it means ‘the potato farmer’ – all thanks to Dad’s interest in and research of our family tree. And on the way out, Michael just HAS to get a photo of the Roman viaduct remains on the edge of town!
Today we make a change in our plans south and head north to visit the Viaduct Millau (pronounced mieow!) This is the highest bridge in the world, is an engineering masterpiece and has won numerous awards. It forms part of the latest motorway between Paris and Barcelona, crosses a lengthy valley at the edge of the Midi Pyrenées at a dizzying height and cuts significant time off the journey by cutting out a descent and then another ascent via continual hairpin bends.
One more of the pleasantly surprising things we find are the excellent roads in France. Whether it is a tollway or a local highway, the roads are in very good condition and road works are being undertaken in many areas. Even though, you can see that the diversion road is almost up to the standard you might expect on a highway! We see lots of chapels and shrines along the road and at one point, see one church with a series of shrines stretching out to a small chapel at the end. It turns out that this area is part of a number of pilgrimage routes that stretch from Spain through France and into Italy. No doubt this is one of the points of call.
We travel across the top of the Midi Pyrenées from the south at altitudes up to 885m. There is snow all round – not really deep, but a beautiful blanket on fallow farmland nonetheless. And it is cold again – the outside temperature (according to the car thermometer is 1.0ºC. Thankfully, we do not plan on getting out here!
As we continue north, I am thinking that we should be seeing the bridge when we come over a rise and around a broad corner and there it is! Despite its size, it is beautifully graceful and seems to hang effortlessly across the landscape far below. The wind has picked up and when we stop at the viewing station, it is roaring up the valley. This means that the temperature feels decidedly less than what is indicated. Nevertheless, the views are stupendous, not only of the bridge itself, but also of the surrounding countryside.
Millau town way below us is very picturesque and you can see the road winding down into the valley and then back out of it. Trucks not on the motorway crawl slowly down and then up the slopes of up to 9%. Doesn’t sound much, but try walking a kilometre at such an incline!
In order to turn south again, we need to turn off to the town of Millau and come around to re-join the motorway. The town is much larger than what I had previously imagined and we stop at the McDonalds store on the south side as they advertise great views of the viaduct (and we are not disappointed). We don’t stay long as we are heading for Carcassonne and now have quite a few hours travel ahead of us.
Stunning - isn't it!