Without a doubt one of the most imposing structures of modern France is the Millau Viaduct (Le Viaduc de Millau). The tallest bridge in the world is an absolute architectural masterpiece. Located near Millau, it spans above the Tarn River just before one of the most beautiful canyons in France – Gorges du Tarn.
Read more: Discover the area with this 7-day itinerary for an amazing road trip in the Gorges du Tarn.
The Millau Viaduct is the perfect day trip if you are on holidays in this area of France. Millau is only at 55 km from Sainte-Énimie, 70 km from Florac, 90 km from Mende, and 65 km from Rodez. So, if you are staying in the Gorges du Tarn, Gorges de la Jonte, or in the Caussses and the Cevennes, a trip to Millau and its stunning bridge is a must-do. Even if you are staying on the coast, Millau Viaduct could be feasible for a day trip. The distance between Montpellier and Millau is only 110 km.
Read more: There are lots of lovely places near the Viaduct of Millau. Here are the 10 most charming places in the Gorges du Tarn area.
How to get to Millau Viaduct
If you want to drive on the bridge, which is also quite exciting, you will need to take the A75 motorway. It connects Clermond-Ferrand with Béziers and is known as the Méridienne. However, there is a toll to drive through the bridge. The viaduct is between entrances 45 and 46.
If you are coming from Millau, and want to visit the Viaduct Exhibition (the local visitor’s centre), take D911 and then take the exit to Soulobres/Aire du viaduc de Millau. Of course, you can take the A75 itself, but D911 is more picturesque.
Facts about the bridge
As with any other public works, there was a competition for the design of the bridge. In 1996 at the final stage of the competition, a jury chose chose the design of the French engineer Michel Virlogeux and the famous English architect Lord Norman Foster among the last 5 finalists.
Fun fact: Michel Virlogeux is the very same Michel Virlogeux who designed another iconic bridge in France – Pont de Normandie (Normandy Bridge), that connects Le Havre with Honfleur in Normandy.
Here are some amazing facts about the bridge:
- Length: 2460 m (that’s almost 2,5 km!) / 8071 ft
- Maximum height: 343 m / 1125 ft
- Deck width: 32 m / 105 ft
- Deck height (at the highest point above Tarn): 270 m / 886 ft
- Number of piers: 7
- Height of the tallest pier (P2): 245 m / 804 ft
- Pylon height: 87 m / 285 ft
- Cable stays: 154 (11 pairs per pylon)
- Span width: 204 m / 669 ft and 342 m / 1122 ft
- Amount of concrete: 206 000 t
- Weight of the steel deck: 36 000 t
- Year of inauguration: 2004
- Start construction: 2001
Although it’s such a massive construction, the bridge looks light and airy, like a feather resting on two hills.
Fun fact: Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world but it’s not the highest. The difference between the highest and the tallest bridge is that for the highest bridge the deck height matters – this is the distance between the ground and the road bed. The highest bridge in the world is another cable-stayed marvel in China – the Duge Bridge with deck height of 565 m / 1854 ft. The Viaduct of Millau is at the modest 26th place.
The Viaduct Exhibition at the Viaduct Rest Area
The best way to learn everything about the bridge and see it really from close is to visit the Viaduct Exhibition at the Millau Viaduct Rest Area. At the Viaduct Rest Area there are a viewing platform to take some amazing pictures of the viaduct, a tourist information center, where you can find lots of travel inspiration and information about the Aveyron region, a visitor’s center, a gastronomical area and a souvenir shop.
The visitors center hosts a few exhibitions. In an interesting and quite interactive way you can learn everything about the bridge. I loved how immersive the story-telling was. Beside the exhibition dedicated to the viaduct, there are also exhibitions about the region of Aveyron and its famous produce, showing the rich cultural and historical heritage of the region.
Although the centre is all about the viaduct, I found its own history quite fascinating. Once, it has actually been one of those farmsteads typical for the Grand Causses area. Old and modern architecture blend perfectly and the old caussenarde farm of Brocuéjouls gets a completely new life.
Practical info: Visiting the Viaduct Exhibition is free of charge. It is open 7 days a week, but the opening times vary depending on the season. In the summer it is open from 9:00 am till 7:00 pm.
And when you are tired of all that walking and sightseeing you can grab a bite at the so-called “gastronomical area”. There you can try the famous “capucins”, created by the Bras family of chefs. The “capucins” are galettes (a type of buckwheat and rye pancakes), served in a cone and garnished with local produce.
The Explorers’ Path
The Viaduct Exhibition offers also a guided tour, which is called The Explorers’ path. This tour gives access to the special viewing platform underneath the bridge. We didn’t know about the tour prior to visiting the bridge and as we hadn’t planned it in advance, we couldn’t book it at place, as the day we visited was fully booked. So, my advice is, book it on time and don’t rely on to be able to get tickets when there.
Practical info: It takes about 40 minutes to complete the tour. The price is 6.00 EUR for adults and 4.00 EUR for kids/students. There are also family tickets for 14.00 EUR. For more information about the booking, check the official webpage of the Viaduct Exhibition.
The most beautiful views of the Viaduct of Millau
If you want to take a glimpse from another angle to the bridge, the best place is the little village of Peyre. Glued literary to the rocks, the little place offers some spectacular vistas of the bridge, the Tarn River and the causses. Peyre is included on the list of the Most Beautiful Villages in France because of its well-preserved ‘troglodyte‘ architecture.
When you are standing at the viewing platform at the Viaduct Rest Area, make sure you have a look around, the bridge is amazing but the landscape around is just stupefying. You can admire the so-called causses – high limestone plateaus. The viaduct actually connects two of them: to the north it sits on the Causse Rouge and to the south on the Causse du Larzac.
Other places from where you can see the bridge are:
- the viewpoint at Luzençon – Saint-Georges-de-Luzençonis is a lovely small village
- Cap de Costes-Brunas – a place near Millau from where you can do paragliding or other high-adrenaline types of free flying
- Lerouge Bridge (D41) – this is the best view point from Millau itself. Make sure you arrive at sunset, as the views are stunning.
- Belfry of Millau (Beffroi de Millau) – well, one more view point from Millau. Unfortunately, the observation deck is open only in the summer, but the view is still amazing from this 42 m high bell tower.
- the panorma viewing point on D809 – it’s one of those viewing points you can’t miss. You’ll be able to see not only the viaduct, but also the Gorges du Dourbie and the Gorges du Tarn. It is located some 10 km from Millau in direction of La Cavalerie.