It’s no exaggeration to say that Aveyron is a fairly undiscovered region of France. Spell check draws a blank; when you tell your friends you’re going to Aveyron, they think you’ve mispronounced Avignon. In fact, when you reach the area, you’ll see there’s plenty to shout about – not least in the design stakes – so it’s baffling that this region has stayed under the radar for so long.

Just 90 minutes from Toulouse (or a short flight from Southampton to Rodez airport between June and August), Aveyron is a great weekend break destination, but firstly you’ll need to hire a car – and, if we’re keeping things French, let’s make it a Citroen. As you drive towards the region – and when you explore it – you can stop off at plenty of interesting villages and panoramic viewpoints, embracing the slow travel trend. And seeing as Aveyron is peppered with chateaux, wooded hillsides and dramatic rock formations, so you’ll need a few pit stops to fuel your Instagram feed. The region has the highest number of accredited “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (award-winning beautiful villages), meaning you’ll leave with more #housegoals than an entire series of A Place in the Sun.

Your Aveyron accommodation can be historical, too, but it doesn’t mean you miss out on all the mod cons. We checked into Castel d’Alzac: a traditional French gîte with a twist. The building is an old castle, complete with turret, but inside it’s modernised to cater to groups with serious design nous: think hip furnishings, freestanding staircases and a sauna, hot tub and an outdoor swimming pool to boot. Deep within the Grands Causses Natural Park, Castel d’Alzac is a real escape from the rat race.

For the foodies amongst you, you’ll want to know about eating locally – and being in France, there’s ample fare to sample en route. Roquefort cheese is the most famous local product – like Champagne, only cheese made in this area can use the Roquefort name. Take a tour of the Roquefort Société caves: a hidden subterranean network where the cheese itself is carefully created. Next up, discover what goes into harvesting saffron at Safranière des Privats, in La Roque-Sainte-Marguerite, which makes a range of gourmet products including saffron salt, saffron mustard and saffron tea.

Afterwards, continue the foodie theme in St. Eulalie de Cernon, where the Biscuterie Templiere (open from mid-June to September) can provide you with a locally-made snack fix: the perfect fuel to explore this village and its commanderie, where the Knights Templar and Hospitallers ruled the roost for centuries and made the fortress and grounds their own. Alternatively, take in a vineyard tour at Domaine Matha – between the historical hubs of Conques and Rodez – or perhaps consider following the ‘route des vins’ (wine route) of Marcillac wines, near Conques. Or there’s the Domaine du Miola to try, in Salles-La-Source. Suffice to say, if you’re into your food and vin, you’ll love Aveyron!

Millau is a true design hub, well-known for its craft heritage, and also its ultra-modern viaduct, designed by Lord Norman Foster. This is the world’s tallest bridge, and a slick piece of engineering (try the Millau Viaduct entry with guided tour, or take a boat ride underneath with Bateliers du Viaduc). However, if you prefer your design on a smaller scale, don’t miss Causse Gantier, the prestigious glove-making factory now owned by Chanel, where you can browse handmade designs, spot old factory machinery, and sneak a peek at the manufacturers on the ground floor. Today, the company makes pieces for Dior, Louis Vuitton and Hermès, as well as Chanel – and oui, it’s responsible for Karl Lagerfeld’s iconic gloves.

Two must-see northern villages on your trip are Conques and Estaing, both part of the Camino de Santiago, so you’ll see plenty of rucksack-clad pilgrims as you wander around. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Conques caught the eye of Beauty and the Beast film producers, who were captivated by its architecture and cobbled streets. Whilst the village turned down live filming opportunities, it was happy to lend some design inspiration. The huge St. Foy Abbey takes centre stage, with its glittering treasury and modernised glass windows. Meanwhile, Estaing boasts a hilltop castle, cute cafes, and tongue-in-cheek street art sculptures by local artist Norbert Kriger.

To explore these villages, a great dependable choice is the Hotel Mercure Rodez Cathédrale, a stone’s throw from Rodez’s imposing Notre-Dame Cathedral. Rodez is a great base, as its Old Town is full of well-preserved buildings, but its new attractions include the award-winning Soulages Museum, built in 2014 to celebrate local artist Pierre Soulages. This year’s major temporary exhibition, on world-famous sculptor Alexander Calder, runs from 24th June to 29th October 2017. As you drive back towards Toulouse, you’ll get a final glimpse of Aveyron’s beauty and its creative talent.

Aveyron might not be well-known just yet, but it won’t stay secret for long. Make time to discover it now, before everyone else has designs on this distinctive region.

For more information, visit Tourism Aveyron. Prices for Castel d’Alzac accommodation, for two to six people, start at €245 per night for a minimum two-night stay. Double rooms at the Hotel Mercure Rodez Cathédrale start at €100 per night, including breakfast.