Having arrived the previous night in the dark, we woke up to a wonderful view over the Octon countryside which was a nice surprise. The 100 church bell rings followed by another 50, 20 minutes later, were not such a nice surprise! It did get us up out of bed though and after a quick breakfast in the motorhome we set off towards the tallest bridge in the world, the Millau viaduct, on our journey towards the Auvergne, stopping almost immediately at Celles by the picturesque Lac du Salagou and then again at Cartels to photograph some eye-catching red earth formations alongside a river and vineyard. We’re forever stopping and starting journeys, getting out to take a photo so it’s amazing really that we ever get anywhere in a sensible timeframe. It’s well worth it though, we’ve seen some wonderful sights this way just at the side of the road.
There is a service station on the A75 just before the bridge and as we approached I was chatting on the phone to my mum in England so Julian pulled off and we parked up for a few minutes and put the kettle on for our second brew of the day while I finished my conversation during which I told my mum of my amusement at watching a trucker parked up nearby leaning out of his window looking in his wing mirror having a shave and beard trim with what looked like a pair of giant kitchen scissors!
Conversation over and coffee quaffed, we set off again towards the viaduct, and as we approached, the ever nearing bridge was quite a spectacle, shining white metal dazzling against the bright blue sky. At 2.4km long and 343 metres at its highest point, this record-breaking cable stayed bridge is a stunning sight both when driving over it and when viewing from a distance. As we drove over, it was incredible to think that just a few days before it had been covered in snow! For once we got our timing right. Taking only 3 years to construct at the eye-watering cost of € 394,000,000, the bridge was a British/French collaboration conceived by French engineer Michel Virlogeux and designed by British architect Lord Norman Foster. The P2, the tallest pillar is in fact the tallest structure in the whole of France. The bridge spans the Tarn valley, its pillars stretching down to the ground in just 9 places. Gliding over the bridge in the motorhome we were at an advantage to those in cars as the side barriers are quite high and not very easy to see over. Although you can’t see the views down to the valley below when crossing you definitely get far reaching ones and experience a real sense of height.
Once the other side we pulled off at the first slip road to the Viaduc de Millau visitor centre where there is plenty of parking, cafe, toilets and souvenir/local produce shop plus an interactive experience room with films showing the extraordinary construction process from start to finish which was quite fascinating just being able to understand the sheer scale of it. Outside, a steep and winding (isn’t it always?) path leads to the outdoor viewing platform on the North side of the viaduct, passing by a 10th anniversary sculpture made by 40 blacksmiths to mark the engineering achievement, using hot riveted girders and corner pieces to great effect.
The platform offers a view across the whole of the bridge from a different perspective. Last year we were staying in the small village of Mostuejouls in the Tarn Gorge a few miles away and could see the bridge in the mist in the distance so seeing it up close we could finally appreciate the enormity of it.