Najac – One of the Most Beautiful Villages in France
Najac is aptly named one of the most beautiful villages in France. It is located in the newly named Occitanie region of Southern France (previously known as Midi-Pyrénées). It is very charming, and you could almost imagine Belle from Beauty and the Beast dreamily walking down the street with a book in her hand. The houses and shops positively ooze with charm. So, it’s no wonder Najac was appointed as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.
I have been to Najac a couple of times in the past 10 years or so on solo trips to France but had never visited the castle. This time, though, I went with my husband as we explored the area near Villefranche de Rouergue (VdR for short because it’s a real pain to type). VdR is a medieval bastide village, and it is where we have a house–a house that has been under renovation for 10 years!
But I digress… If you are in the area, Najac is worth a visit!
I recommend having a rental car to explore the area and get to Najac.
There is a train station in Najac, but I can’t give any advice as I have not visited this way.
I took the photo as I traveled through Najac on the train from Toulouse to VdR.
A Lovely Walk through the Village
As you climb the hill toward the fortress, you can marvel at the centuries old houses, restaurants, and shops, which is interesting and fun on its own. If you keep your eyes open, you might even catch a glimpse of a chicken or two. But you can also visit some intriguing historical sites along the way.
Maison du Gouverneur
If you have time, you can visit the restored 13th century Maison du Gouverneur (Governor’s House). Hours vary depending on the month you visit, so check the website for current hours. Entrance fees are only 3 € (full price) or 2.50 € (reduced price for children, students, etc.).
We didn’t have time to go inside on this trip, but I do want to go in next time I’m there. It’s a really interesting structure, so I’m looking forward to seeing it and learning more about the history of the area.
Église de Saint-Jean
The church of Saint John the Evangelist was the first gothic church built in the Rouergue. In 1258 during the inquisition, the villagers had to build the holy structure as penance for their Cathar heresy!
Opening hours vary, so check the website of the Église de Saint-Jean.
Forteresse Royale de Najac
Some call it a fortress, and some call it a castle or chateau. You can take your pick, but no matter what you call it, it’s a formidable structure.
However, it is not what it used to be. In 1793, it was sold and subsequently used as a stone quarry for nine years. That is until three workers were killed when a wall collapsed.
Currently, restoration works are ongoing.
The fortress was built in two phases. The square tower was built in 1100 to defend the village. This tower, known as the Roman Tower, is where Richard the Lionheart signed a treaty with the King of Aragon in 1185. Oh, if the walls could talk!
About 150 years later, Alphonse de Poitiers, the brother of King Louis IX (AKA Saint Louis) began building the keep. The model below shows what the fortress looked like when it was complete.
One of the unique aspects of the Najac fortress is that it is surrounded on three sides by the Aveyron River. It is perched 200 meters above the river at the highest point of a rocky hill overlooking the village. To get there, you must park at the main square at the bottom of the hill and walk up, up, up, through the village. It is a little bit of a hike, but if you take your time, it’s not too bad.
The keep is 130 feet high, and you need to climb 119 steps to reach the terrace at the top. There you will find a bell that dates from 1596 and a great view of the valley and the village.
If you look at the keep from the outside, you can see ~20-foot long slits cut into the round walls. Apparently, this is the only known existence of such long loopholes.
These loopholes allowed two archers, one on top of the other, to loose their arrows at the same time. Also, attackers from below could be drenched in hot liquids poured through the loopholes.
It makes me wonder if there was something extremely valuable in the keep, like treasures of the Knights Templar, maybe?
Currently, tickets are 6€ for adults and 4.50€ for children. If you time it right, you can join a guided tour at no additional cost. I recommend doing this if possible. I would have loved to hear the stories they must tell!
For operating hours, which change depending on what time of year you visit, please go to the official website of Forteresse de Najac.
Restaurants in Najac
If you want to get a bite to eat, there are a few options. Here is a list of restaurants in and near Najac.
We got drinks and snacks at Bar de la Plage. It’s right in the main square with outdoor seating. Cool drinks and warm gaufres (waffles) hit the spot.
If we had wanted a full meal, I would have tried L’Insolite. It had a good menu and even had vegetarian options (perhaps if asked, they could make it vegan).
There seems to be a good variety of restaurants for every budget. This is a sleepy little town, though, and it’s not always easy to know when the restaurants will be open.
When we were there, it was in between meal times, so there wasn’t much available.
Where to Stay
Stay in NajacThere are several cool places to stay in Najac. Check out Booking.com below to see what’s available.
Stay in Villefranche de Rouergue
You can also use nearby VdR as a home base for exploring the area. It’s bigger, but still very charming. More importantly, our short-term rental there will be available soon, so please check back!
Until next time…