Najac is a small, but notable village located about 110 kilometres northeast of Toulouse. It’s known for its eponymous château, which looms on a verdant hill and offers a picturesque, postcard view from a distance– it’s no wonder, then, that Najac is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France (“les plus beaux villages de France”). The charm of it all has enticed visitors– domestic and foreign– to flock over in summer, whether to rent a holiday home or merely take a day trip.
I was exhausted after a long day trip to Rocamadour the day before, but I still had the energy and excitement to go to Najac the following morning. Unlike the four-hour ordeal to Rocamadour, thankfully Najac was only a 90-minute train ride from the Toulouse-Matabiau station. I also didn’t have to wake up as early to catch it, as I was able to hop on at 9:30 and enjoy the short journey over.
As I was visiting in late June, la canicule was already present. Upon stepping off the train, I was immediately hit with the sweltering 40°C (110°F) heat. The gare de Najac (which is literally just a post) was also about 1.5 kilometres from the village proper, so it required hiking up a narrow, dirt trail to reach the center. The distance might be short, but being uphill in high heat made for at least a half-hour trudge, if you’re fast enough.
I crossed the bridge over the Aveyron (the department’s river) before hitching myself up the zigzag trail to the top. I actually took a slightly-longer route (1.8 kilometres), as I wanted to see the château first before descending into the village proper. The sun was merciless as I sweated intensely on my walk over– I usually don’t sweat super badly, so it surprised me that I had to wipe my face every 10 steps or so!
There were a few gîtes I passed on my way to the château. They were really charming, with ivy and potted plants on their windowsills and their stone-brick exterior suggesting their medieval origins. I can imagine people enjoying their holidays in one of these rented homes, all the while having the freedom to explore neighboring villages that are just as equally picturesque and gorgeous as Najac.
Soon enough, I reached the château. It was a matter of heading to the welcome desk to purchase my ticket to enter. Sweat was dripping profusely down my face, and I suspect the receptionist found it rather gross, but it wasn’t as if I had a fan on my walk over! Tempting as it was to stay inside the reception, I pushed myself to head back out and start my self-guided tour of the castle grounds.
Built in the 13th century, the château de Najac was the work of the locals after it was commissioned by the Count of Toulouse back in the day. It overlooks the entirety of the village, as well as its surroundings– in the past, whoever had control of it had control of the region, and it has been subjected to major events during the Hundred Years’ War and the French Revolution. Today, it remains partly-ruined, yet with a structure and integrity that’s admirable after over seven centuries.
Considering the château is partly-ruined, there isn’t a whole lot to see inside. Granted, you can climb the towers with each floor containing exhibitions on the castle’s and region’s histories, as well as scurry through the narrow passages that connect one tower to the other. It’s a fairly-small château, so you probably need no more than one hour to see everything– in the heatwave that I experienced, it wasn’t too bad! I also got gorgeous shots of Najac village from the top of the tower, with the views resembling a sort of serpent of houses snaking along the green hills.
I finished my visit of the château, and I made my way down to the village. There were more gîtes and plenty of old gates that I passed through, all the while still being able to get lovely views of the castle itself whenever I turned around. I soon reached the village center, which was surprisingly empty in the middle of a summer day. I reckon it was because it was too hot to go out, and as a result I saw barely any visitors out-and-about.
The center of Najac is essentially a long, single street that goes through plenty of restaurants and boutiques. It doesn’t take very long to traverse the road, so after doing so, I opted to get lunch at one of the restaurants. I was the only customer at the place I chose, and the waiter was kind enough to position the fan near my table, so that I wouldn’t overheat. Which helped, because I chose to order hot food.
What I got was the tripou aveyronnais with a side of aligot– apparently, it’s a local dish, and I found it…interesting. Essentially, the former’s sheep tripe (and I do love tripe), but I found the taste and texture too bland and slimy for my taste– if anything, it looked like it was pulled from a can. The aligot was also a strange texture, as it’s like mashed potatoes, but with an extremely-smooth and chewy consistency. Kind of like cheesy gum. Overall, the meal wasn’t bad, but it was definitely a new experience for me!
After finishing off the meal with an icy gelato dessert, I returned out into the heat, which still wasn’t letting up. I decided to cut my visit short and head back to the train station to return to Toulouse, so I took the dirt path down and caught the next ride. I was back in Toulouse by 15:00, and that concluded my time in Najac.
Overall, I found Najac to be very picturesque and charming. Yet, aside from the views of the château and my interesting, local lunch, it had a rather dull atmosphere to it. I think it was because it was so hot that day that there weren’t many people around, and a lot of shops weren’t open. If anything, atmosphere makes a huge difference on visiting a place, and sadly, it wasn’t necessarily “hopping” when I went. This isn’t to say that I’d discourage anyone from going– in fact, Najac is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re in the area.