The incredible Millau Viaduct bridge was opened in December 2004 and is the highest bridge in the world, standing 270 meters (890 feet) over the Tarn River and is more than 340 meters (1,125 feet) in height at the top of its highest mast. It is slightly taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris and only 38 meters (125 ft) shorter than the Empire State Building. It is a cable-stayed road bridge designed by engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster. It cost approximately € 400 million to complete the Millau Viaduct.
The Millau Viaduct is part of the A75-A71 Autoroute (Motorway / Freeway) from Paris to Montpellier, and is located in the Aveyron départment in southern France 125 km (78 miles) north-west of Montpellier (approx. 1 1/2 hours drive).
One of the best places from which to view the bridge is the Service Area on the northern side of the bridge off the A75 motorway. The climb to the viewing platform is a little strenuous but very worthwhile - and don't forget to bring your camera! Also it can be quite windy at the viewing area so bring appropriate clothing and a tripod for your camera to ensure a steady shot. The official visitor centre at the base of the bridge (on the D992 road) gives a completely different perspective on the Millau Viaduct and is where you can truly appreciate the full height of the towers.
The Millau Viaduct toll charge to cross the bridge is € 5.60 for cars, rising to € 7.40 during the peak summer months of July and August. You cannot walk across the bridge as it part of the motorway system. Even though it is the tallest bridge in the world, crossing it is not a problem for people who suffer from vertigo. This is because passengers cannot look down from the bridge as the vehicle roadway is kept a good distance from the edge of the bridge platform.
The Millau Viaduct bridge was conceived as a means to alleviate traffic congestion, as every year kilometers-long traffic jams would form as tourists made their way south during summer, descending the valley into the town of Millau which became a notorious bottleneck on the A75 autoroute.
Construction in this area is difficult as the region is known for high winds and the valley is very deep, resulting in an extended period of research and planning, investigating various potential routes, and taking 10 years before construction began on the Millau Viaduct. A competition was established to elicit the best solution and in July 1996 the design of a cable-stayed bridge by Foster & Partners was awarded. After a few modifications the final design for the Millau Viaduct was approved in 1998 and an international call for tenders made in 1999. The primary contract was won by Compagnie Eiffage du Viaduc de Millau and construction began in October 2001, finishing in December 2004.
The Millau Viaduct Information Centre is located in the small village of Cazalous at the base of the bridge on the RD 992 between Albi and Millau, and is well worth a visit particularly as admission is free. It opens daily at 10am, and closes at 7pm in summer and 5pm in winter. In addition to the souvenir shop at the Cazalous visitor centre there is also one at the Brocuéjouls A75 motorway service station situated between exits 45 and 46, which sells some excellent books and photos of the Millau Viaduct, plus viaduct-themed souvenirs such as pens, mugs and placemats.
Millau itself is home to a number of interesting attractions such as the Glove Museum, the botanical garden "Jardin Botanique des Causses" and the Micropolis "City of Insects". This charming town also has some attractive architecture centered around the 12th century Place du Maréchal Foch including ancient arcades, beautiful frescoes in the Notre Dame de l'Espinasse church and the Belfry, a 12th century square tower. And of course everywhere there are views of the magnificent Millau Viaduct. A number of annual festivals and events are held in Millau and the surrounding region, including a Jazz festival "Millau en Jazz", Festival a Millau, the Cardabelles Car Rally and the Mineral Fair.
A visit to the Millau Viaduct is also an opportunity to enjoy other nearby places of interest, such as the underground caves where the famous Roquefort cheese is produced. Make sure you try some of this pungent delicacy fresh from the region where it is created. Only 2km from Millau are the remains of Condatomagus, a center for Roman pottery which produced terracotta items with a distinctive red glaze. The region of Lozère is also home to the spectacular Tarn gorge, an area of outstanding natural beauty over 80 km in length and famous for its sheer cliffs up to 500 meters high, and where activity holidays such as hiking and kayaking are extremely popular.
Click on the photos below of the Millau Viaduct bridge to view the full-size images, which open in a new broswer tab/window.