The river Tarn is a tributary of the Garonne that runs roughly westwards from the Cévennes to Moissac, where it joins the Garonne. At around 380 kilometres in length, it is infamous for its flood-potential.
As befits a mighty river, it has created in turn a dramatic valley, a canyon and many gorges. Just north of Millau, where the landscape is as dramatic as one can imagine, the astonishing Millau Viaduct throws itself across the valley. It is an unmissable spectacle, which combines landscape and human engineering to the benefit of them both.
Sweeping south to the Mediterranean
The A75 autoroute sweeps down from Clermont-Ferrand through wild and beautiful countryside and just as the valley of the Tarn opens up below, the viaduct thrusts itself out into space - and you are seemingly floating way above the river.
Le Millau Viaduct
The superlatives say a lot:
- it is the world's tallest bridge;
- at 343 metres, its tallest pillar is the tallest structure in France, taller even than the Eiffel Tower;
- it is 2,460 metres long;
- it has just 7 simple - and beautiful - pillars;
- it curves a little as if it is something more than a piece of engineering.
But it is also quite simply beautiful. With its steel stays descending from each of the graceful pillars, the impression is of a line of yachts, rather than a combination of steel and concrete that pulls, holds, supports and braces. Yes, it does all that, of course - and is beautiful.
Huge credit, therefore, to the French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and the British architect Norman Foster who jointly designed the bridge. Opened in 2004, it has been highly-regarded ever since - and not just by the inhabitants of the town of Millau who were eventually relieved of their historic traffic congestion.