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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The Big Bridge

I’d like to stake a claim for the A75 in France as the greatest road in Europe. Admittedly the first time I drove down it I had been on the road for nearly 24 hours and was possibly slightly delirious. But I did then travel back up it at a more leisurely pace and was similarly impressed. The southbound journey will forever be burned in my memory though.

The conditions were perfect — bright, clear sky and high sun in the early afternoon. And there was almost no traffic. I went nearly 100k without seeing another car at one point. The road winds its way through the foothills of the Pyrenees, up and down valleys. Until it gets to one valley in particular, where the road builders decided just to go point to point, rather than up and down. Here is the Viaduc de Millau, the single most amazing bridge ever built. I am a big fan of Brunel and all his work, but this is something else.

Fans of Top Gear will be familiar with the Viaduc de Millau. It was used by the team as the location for a side-by-side comparison of supercars in the last season. But however fantastic the camera work of the Top Gear team, to drive over it is something else.

About 20k before I reached the bridge I began to realise that I might be heading in its direction. My total absence of any sense of direction, and my resulting total reliance on SatNav meant I really had no idea that it was on my itinerary. Coming over the crest of a hill and seeing confirmation that I was to cross it was a very pleasant surprise.

The relevance to the future of all this? Ambition. There was no need for the builders of the Viaduc to recruit Richard Rogers to create a piece of artwork, rather than throwing up a functional concrete span. But they did, and in doing so created something that enhances an already beautiful valley and has become a tourist attraction in its own right. This is the future of responsible construction.

Tom Cheesewright