Just outside Castres in the Tarn département, the Sidobre is a large area of granite covered in beech groves that conceal a concentration of mineral oddities: rocks in some places all in a jumble, in others sticking up out of the water (see the magnificent Lac du Merle) and in others still stacked up or positioned as if they have fallen from the sky. Over time, people have given these spectacularly shaped rocks evocative names such as le roc de l’oie (goose rock), les trois fromages (the three cheeses) and le fauteuil du diable (the devil's chair), and also the unlikely Peyro Clabado (the locked stone), a 780-tonne rock balancing precariously on a one-square-metre boulder.
In this land of tale and legend, which is part of the Haut Languedoc Regional Nature Park, granite-working has been a tradition since time immemorial. The craft has developed into a modern industry, producing granite used in towns, buildings and houses.
Granite quarry or gold mine?
The 'Sidobre, World of Granite' guided tour offers visitors an exclusive look at this fascinating world. Starting out from the Maison du Granit visitor centre, it begins with the Plo quarry, the 'gold mine' as it is known locally. Blasting, drilling, bursting wedges, loaders and platform cranes: it's an impressive place.
This quarry is the largest in France. It produces granite of such remarkable purity and colour that the Plo company was selected to supply the paving stones for the Champs-Elysées in Paris, among other things. You will then visit a processing workshop where the stone is shaped and cut, full of impressive machinery including dicing saws with diamond blades that slice through the granite in showers of cooling water.
With 150,000 tonnes of rock quarried every year, the Sidobre is today France's biggest producer of granite, providing a living for some 2,500 people in 200 companies including around 50 quarries, which incidentally are careful not to blight the stunningly beautiful countryside of the Sidobre.