The somewhat undernourished-looking statue of Henry IV outside the gates to Marvejols is not really a good omen. But this beautiful town in the south-eastern corner of the Aubrac, which nestles in a wide basin flanked with pine trees, is really quite a delight.
Chosen in 1307 to be Philippe le Bel's administrative centre in the Gévaudan, the town was later fortified during the Hundred Years' War. Stroll through the streets of this unpretentious community, check out the magnificent fortified gates, and you'll soon realise you are taking a journey through time.
The town is twinned with Cockermouth in Cumbria – birthplace of William Wordsworth – and with this distant town Marvejols has many similarities not least the fact that just as Cockermouth had to sustain itself against incursions by the Scots in medieval times, Marvejols suffered for having backed the wrong side in the Hundred Years' War. When the troops of the inappropriately named Duc de Joyeuse attacked in the 15th century, three-quarters of the population were massacred, the town set on fire and razed to the ground. When Henri de Navarre became king, he rewarded the town's loyalty by building the massive gateways.
The nearby Parc de Gévaudan is one place you can get a chance to see wolves, as over 100 are kept in semi-liberty here, and survive in spite of the reputation of the famous Bête du Gévaudan, which in the 1760s is said to have killed almost 100 people...adding to the general blackening of the wolf's reputation.
Marvejols is one of 7 towns down the length of the A75 motorway, which go under the name of Les Perles Vertes, and promote themselves as stop-over places en route to the Med. Each is individually charming, and well worth a short visit.
Porte du Soubeyran, 48100 Marvejols
Tel: 04 66 32 02 14