This French Town Perches Precariously On The Edge Of A 300-Foot-Deep Canyon

Bozouls is a small town situated in the south of France. Like many villages of its kind, it boasts cobbled streets, a rich history and a thriving gastronomic scene. However, its vertigo-inducing geography sets Bozouls apart from other similar hamlets. And it’s safe to say that the location takes the meaning of “living on the edge” to a whole new level.

Bozouls is situated in the Aveyron region in southern France, which is the largest of five districts in the Midi-Pyrenees. Spanning 28,000 square miles, the area is larger than Denmark or Holland and contains more than 2.5 million inhabitants. However, the town of Bozouls itself is much smaller in size.

As of 2008 Bozouls was home to just over 2,700 people. However, the hamlet is close to larger settlements. For instance, Bozouls is just 30 minutes away from the small city of Rodez and two hours from Toulouse. Meanwhile, the French capital, Paris, is six and a half hours north of the town.

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The region in which Bozouls sits, Aveyron, was one of 83 administrative divisions created throughout France during the country’s revolution in March 1790. However, the history of the area goes much further back. In fact, the region has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

Historians have come to this conclusion as Aveyron can lay claim to more prehistoric ruins than any other administrative division of France. This includes more than 1,000 single-chamber tombs known as dolmens – which tend to date from the early Neolithic era – which have been found in the region.

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The earliest known inhabitants of Aveyron are believed to be the Rutenii tribe. The Celtic people were a small group in the middle of the 1st century BC. However, they later became well known for producing lead. Furthermore, Roman dictator Julius Caesar knew the Rutenii for their archers.

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Meanwhile, one of Aveyron’s most famous historical figures is Victor of Aveyron. The feral child was found at around the age of 12 in 1797 wandering in the region’s woods. After Victor was found he was taken in by many people, but he still attempted to escape civilization around eight times.

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Victor was later taken in by a young doctor called Jean Marc Gaspard Itard. He studied Victor for five years and was interested in understanding how the boy would learn after his time spent as a feral child. Through Itard’s teaching methods, Victor learned some language skills, but his progress was limited.

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Nevertheless, Itard’s study of Victor was important in establishing new ground when it came to the education of those with developmental delay. As such, Victor’s story has transcended into popular culture. Most famously, it was the focus of the French-language film The Wild Child. Amazingly, the movie, released in 1970, sold almost 1.5 million tickets in its native France.

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Another famed incident in the history of Aveyron was the murder of local prosecutor Antoine Bernardin Fualdès, who was killed in 1817. Consequently, there were a number of sordid details which emerged in the wake of his death. And his lifeless body was later discovered afloat in the Aveyron River.

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Given the circumstances of Fualdès’ death, the case led to widespread controversy in France. It sparked a number of conspiracy theories, but in modern times it has been suggested that Fualdès was killed by the Knights of the Faith. For its part, the right-wing royalist secret society was formed in 1810 with the aim of restoring the French monarchy.

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Thankfully, nowadays Aveyron is a much more peaceful place. Home to dramatic scenery and some of France’s most beautiful villages, the region is popular among holidaymakers. And the area’s varied terrain of forests, grasslands, moors, hills and lakes affords an abundance of activities including horse riding, cycling, golf and various river sports.

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Given the beauty of Aveyron, the region is a popular place for people to have holiday homes. In fact, a 2008 census determined that nearly 20 percent of the available housing stock in the area was being used as second homes. And though small, the hamlet of Bozouls was no exception to the trend.

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According to the 2008 census, there were over 1,400 residences in Bozouls. Of them, 227 were classified as second homes, which was akin to nearly 16 percent of the housing stock. However, given the sheer beauty of the hamlet, it’s not hard to see why people would choose Bozouls as their preferred getaway spot.

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Bozouls dates back to around 1,000 years ago and a castle was built in the hamlet during the 9th century. The fortress took advantage of the natural protection given to the area thanks to the unique geography of the Massif Central. Amazingly, the highland region, formed of plateaus and mountains, covers around 15 percent of mainland France.

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Apparently, the Massif Central came into existence around 600 million years ago when microplates came together to form a mountain range. New peaks continued to form up until 60 million years ago. Ice ages later caused glaciers to progress and retreat and river levels to go up and down, carving great canyons into the landscape.

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Bozouls’ 9th century castle has since sadly crumbled into obscurity. However, the quaint town isn’t short of historical architecture. It’s most famous building still standing today is perhaps the St. Faustus church, a red stone Romanesque building which was established back in the 12th century.

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And a visit to St. Faustus isn’t the only sightseeing opportunity that tourists to the town can enjoy today. That’s because Bozouls also boats a botanical trail, with over 100 species of plants to see. There are also a number of hiking trails and waterfalls for visitors to enjoy. This means Bozouls is perfectly suited to those with an outdoorsy disposition.

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Meanwhile, for the most part, Bozouls has been largely unchanged by the passing of time. The town is formed over a network of cobbled avenues and the ruins of the ancient castle are still visible today. In fact, if you know where to look, Bozouls’ rich history – from the prehistoric era, through to the Iron Age and the Roman Empire – is all too evident.

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Bozouls also has its links to the famous Christian pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain. Known as the Camino de Santiago, the route leads to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great, and gained prevalence during the Middle Ages. There are several recognized routes to complete the route. However, the so-called French Way is preferred among most pilgrims.

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The French Way has a number of different routes, with at least one option taking pilgrims through the region of Aveyron and Bozouls. As such, some properties in the hamlet display the scallop shell of Saint James. This symbolizes a place of rest or sanctuary for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.

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So, with that in mind, there are many reasons that a person may come to visit Bozouls. However, the hamlet’s major tourist draw is probably the same thing that attracted settlers to the area in the first place – it’s geography. That’s because Bozouls teeters on the edge of a 328-feet drop into a breathtaking canyon.

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The 1,312-foot-wide gorge is known as the Trou de Bozouls – or “Bozouls Hole.” The stunning geological feature winds by the hamlet to form the shape of a horseshoe. It was carved into the landscape by the Dourdou de Conques river, a 52-mile waterway that flows west through Aveyron from its source close to the village of Lassouts.

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It is believed that the canyon started to form around two million years ago. It was then that repeated ice ages saw glaciers advance and retreat, which in turn caused river levels to go up and down. The settlement of Bozouls was then later built on an area of highland with the river flowing right through it.

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Needless to say, the canyon is undeniably beautiful – and the people of Bozouls enjoy a front row seat to the spectacle. That’s because their town defies logic, as it perches precariously close to the cliff edge. Amazingly, it has been there for centuries, without spilling over into the gorge.

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Rather than endangering the town, the canyon has in fact protected Bozouls, allowing human settlements to thrive in the area for generations. Indeed, evidence suggests that people have lived there since prehistoric times, as ancient tools have been discovered in the area.

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In the 9th century, when the castle at Bozouls was built, the unique geography of the canyon provided the settlement with natural protection. And in the Iron Age, Bozouls began life as an “oppidum” – a term given to the protected center of a settlement. Over the years, the Dourdou de Conques river has continued to erode the cliffs. And this forms the dramatic gorge as we see it today.

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During the medieval era, the only way to reach the castle was from the south. And this route was guarded around the clock by watchmen who were housed in two towers. These structures are the only part of the fortress that remain today. As such, they cut two intriguing figures in the pit of the canyon.

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Nowadays, the most famous site in Bozouls is the St. Faustus church which also benefits from the unique geography of the area. The place of worship sits perilously close to the edge of the canyon – and viewed from a distance it appears to be slipping down the bankside. However, that doesn’t prevent pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago from stopping by on their way to Spain.

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Visitors to Bozouls who wish to get a better look at the canyon can take a trip down the Rue de Trou, or Hole Street. This leads explorers right down to the edge of the gorge to a viewing platform where they can stare right into the belly of the pit. However, the trip is not for the faint-hearted.

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Meanwhile, for those who prefer life at ground level, being a Classified Sensitive Natural Area, the canyon itself is a walker’s paradise. The gorge is home to a range of flora and fauna – and a number of habitats for nature lovers to enjoy. There are many paths and trails, some of which include bridges across the Dourdou and offer sensational views of the canyon.

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Prior to its decay, the old castle was at the heart of old Bozouls. That’s because the village originally established itself around the fortification. But, as the decades passed, the settlement began to spread along the right bank of the river, and the thriving center of the town today is the Place de la Mairie.

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Nowadays the Place de la Mairie is one of Bozouls’ most popular meeting places. Lined with cafés and shops, the square also hosts local fairs. Meanwhile, a weekly market is held nearby every Thursday. The town also boasts a healthy culinary scene. And there are still a number of businesses that practice traditional crafts, particularly woodwork.

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Given all that the town has to offer, the Bozouls tourist board is eager to entice more people to the area. According to the organization’s website, the hamlet is “a gem hidden in the depths of the Aveyron.” But thanks to the media attention the town has received in recent years, the appeal of Bozouls might not stay secret for long.

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In April 2016 Bozouls was the subject of a video by the Mon Aveyron & Mon Lot Photo YouTube channel. The account is dedicated to showing off the beauty of Aveyron and the neighboring department of Lot, both of which sit in the larger region of Occitan. And needless to say, the four-minute clip of Bozouls is truly mesmerizing.

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For its part, the video features sweeping shots of Bozouls and its neighboring canyon. The scenery on display is a mix of luscious green valleys, typically French architecture, rocky cliff faces and fast flowing waters. The clip is entrancing to watch, offering viewers the chance to experience Bozouls from a bird’s eye perspective.

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With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Mon Aveyron & Mon Lot Photo video of Bozouls has clocked up over 14,000 views since going live on YouTube in 2016. The clip has also led to comments from people who have seemingly fallen for Bozouls’ charm and beauty.

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One such message posted below the clip of Bozouls appeared to suggest that its poster had been moved to visit the town by the breathtaking footage. Originally written in French, it read, “Oh, how beautiful! My favorite video. It’s so grandiose and excellently showcased that it makes you want to go… and that’s what I did. Not disappointed at all. I say bravo.”

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Another user shared a similar sentiment, writing that they too wanted to visit Bozouls after watching the clip. “Beautiful video that really makes you want to discover such a beautiful region and especially this site! Thank you,” they said. Elsewhere, another message simply read, “What a magnificent beauty.”

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Meanwhile, one more user commented on the “impressive beauty” of the Bozouls Hole, which they pointed out was “almost circular in the Earth’s crust.” However, the same user couldn’t help but wonder, “How weren’t architects, contractors and masons afraid to build so close to the edge of the cliff?” But it’s thanks to them that Bozouls gained its unique edge.

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