The most beautiful places in the Tarn: charming towns in Occitania
From the pink garlic of Lautrec to the Cathedral of Albi and towns that reach almost to the sky. A trip through the Tarn region leaves you with a lot of beautiful memories. Are you looking for a wonderful trip for the coming spring or summer? Then take a look at this beautiful region in the south of France. I show you the most beautiful places in the Tarn, France!
Tarn in Occitania Midi-Pyrénées
After my city trip to Verona I travel directly to the French department Tarn in the Occitania region, Midi-Pyrénées. I visit the most beautiful towns on the meandering river Tarn: Albi, Castres, Cordes sul Ciel. I taste countless French dishes. One thing is certain: culinary enthusiasts will certainly find something to their taste with the famous confit de canard, foie gras, elegant wines and the famous pink garlic from Lautrec. But you can also enjoy hiking, cycling, workshops and museums. Tip: watch the video at the bottom of this page to see it with your own eyes.
The historic center of Castres
Castres lies on the banks of the river Agout. One of the biggest attractions of this small town is the row of overhanging houses along the Agout. The picturesque and colorful houses on the river date from the Middle Ages and were used by tanners, weavers and painters in the seventeenth century.
Nearby is the Goyamuseum in the former episcopal palace. It only has three paintings by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, but apparently this was enough to dedicate a museum to it. The famous palace garden behind the museum was designed by André Le Nôtre, the gardener of Louis XIV, in the style of French classicism. A quiet spot in the town, which is also worth exploring.
Accommodation in Castres
A good accommodation in Castres is Mercure Hotel Castres. A bit outside the city you will find Domaine Le Castelet, Chambre d’hôtes (Lieu de Castelet, 81100 Castres), a stylish historic mansion surrounded by nature.
The colorful Pastel of Tarn
The Tarn is known for its Pastel de Tarn, the blue dye that is made in this region in order to paint fabrics with it. During a workshop I discover how the painting of the fabrics works and how this particular craft was kept alive in this historical region. You can follow different workshops at Château des Plantes and also color your own shawls. Recommended!
Medieval town of Lautrec, in the heart of the Pays de Cocagne
In the heart of the Pays de Cocagne lies the medieval town of Lautrec, voted one of the ‘most beautiful villages in France’ (Les plus beaux villages de France). Lautrec is the paradise of the pink garlic: the ail rose. You will see the strands of garlic in baskets at many stores. When the garlic is harvested in August, the smell of garlic will probably meet you from afar. The garlic is less sharp than the regular white variety and it is processed in all kinds of local dishes. The Soupe à l’ail rose de Lautrec, for example, which is made with lots and lots of garlic cloves.
The name of the town already betrays that the ancestors of the famous painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec once lived here. Walking through the medieval streets you also go back in time. You walk on cobblestones, between old half-timbered houses and picturesque churches. The town hasn’t lost its medieval appearance!
Accommodation in Lautrec
A good accommodation between Lautrec and Albi is Domaine du Buc (Route de Lagrave, 81150 Marssac sur Tarn). This Chambres d’hôtes is located in a 17th century castle and the rooms are decorated with beautiful antique furniture and are full of peculiar details.
Albi: Highlights and points of interest
Albi is the Cité Episcopal, the episcopal city of the Tarn. A charming city in the south of France, with sunny terraces and colorful markets full of local produce. It is the perfect point of departure to discover the Tarn. This place was already inhabited in prehistory and changed in the Middle Ages in a fortress that was protected by high city walls. Thanks to the trade in saffron, but especially the trade in pastel, the rich city could expand further and further.
From the right bank of the Tarn, the view over the ancient city is breathtaking. You can see almost the entire episcopal city with the Pont-Vieux (Old Bridge), the ramparts along the water, the Palace of La Berbie and above all the great tower of the cathedral. If you walk over the old bridge, a walk through the old alleyways of the city is the best way to discover the medieval neighborhoods. A special building is the Maison du Viel Alby, one of the oldest buildings in Albi. You walk through the narrow alleys, discover the peace of squares and courtyards.
Many of the half-timbered houses are made of bricks, the briques foraines. In the stones you often see the impressions of the fingers of the workmen who made the stones.
Must-sees in Albi:
Perhaps the most beautiful cathedral in France: the Cathédrale Saint-Cécile of Albi. In the 13th century, the bishops started building a sober, but imposing cathedral, intended to show the victory of the church over the Cathar heretics. Inside, the cathedral is richly decorated, with more than 18,500 square meters of paintwork. It leaves an indelible impression. The 8th century Mappa Mundi is preserved in the library of the chapter, the oldest map in the world.
Toulouse Lautrec Museum
The Palais de la Berbie, the former episcopal palace, is one of the most striking buildings in the old town. The palace looks like a military fort. Since 1922 you can find the Toulouse Lautrec Museum in the palace, with a large part of the work of the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born in Albi. Not only his paintings, but also the posters he made for the stars of the Paris nightlife. In the 17th century, in addition to the palace, gardens were created by the well-known French landscape architect André le Nôtre. Here you have a fantastic view over the right bank of the Tarn.
The Marché Couvert is the monumental covered market of Albi, built between 1901 and 1905 by André Michelin. The market hall is open every day except Mondays. You will discover many stalls selling merchants in local products. You will be surrounded by the delicious smells and colors of the specialties from the region and hear the cheerful buzz of the market vendors.
The Pont-Vieux was built in the 11th century to accommodate all traffic that wanted to enter and leave the city thanks to the growing trade. The bridge created a new neighborhood on the right bank of the Tarn, now called la Madeleine. Along the banks of the Tarn you have a beautiful view of how high the walls of the cathedral and the episcopal palace are and you see the old water mills that are driven by the waters of the Tarn.
Accommodation in Albi
If you want stay in Albi, then there are plenty of choices. In the middle of the city center you will find l’Hôtel l’Alchemy (12 Place du Palais), where you can also enjoy a delicious meal in the hotel’s brasserie. The Mercure Albi Bastides hotel (41 Bis Rue Porta) perhaps has the best view. Housed in a former watermill on the banks of the Tarn River, the hotel overlooks the Pont Neuf and Sainte Cécile Cathedral. Just outside the center you will find the quiet Bed and Breakfast / Maison d’Hôtes Design l’Autre Rives (60 rue de Cantepau).
Along the meandering river Tarn you will find the idyllic Ambialet peninsula. The area is dominated by a slate rock, with an old Benedictine monastery on the top of the rock and a small 6th century Romanesque church, Église Notre Dame de l’Auder. From the foot of the rock you can cycle or walk to this church, beautiful views over the valley are guaranteed. (hikers follow the signs l’Ambialade, Sentier du Patrimoine, Route Médiévale) A bit further you see the ruins of the castle, which can also be visited.
Accommodation in Ambialet
An ideal point of departure for cycling in the surroundings of Ambialet, swimming in the river, hiking or canoeing, or simply exploring the surroundings, is the Hôtel du Pont, Ambialet (La Moulinquié 81340 Saint-Cirgue, Ambialet). It has been in possession of the Saysset family for seven generations. In the restaurant you can taste delicious regional dishes such as magret de canard.
Cordes Sur Ciel
The well-known medieval town of Cordes Sur Ciel is located on top of a hilltop and if you park the car in the lower city you have to climb the hill. But then the view is rewarding! Cordes Sur Ciel is one of the most beautiful towns in the south of France, founded in the 13th century by count Raymond VII of Toulouse as a refuge for the Cathars in the region. Rich merchants settled here and filled the small town with impressive Gothic palaces. Nowadays hardly anyone lives on the hilltop, since the town is largely focused on tourism.
The town is especially nice to stroll around and imagine yourself in the Middle Ages. You walk from the lower city over the steep cobblestone road to the old city center. From one of the old city gates you walk along the main street past beautifully preserved patrician houses and imposing Gothic palaces, shops and restaurants. Near the old market hall is the highest point of the town where you have a beautiful panorama of the area. Tip: visit the Musée les arts du sucre & du chocolat.
Accommodation in Cordes Sur ciel
On the edge of the old city center on top of the hill, you will find the extraordinary Boutique B & B / Chambres d’Hotes de Charme Le Secret du Chat. A wonderfully quirky decorated B & B, with charming rooms and a spacious apartment.
I visited the Tarn and Albi at the invitation of Tarn Tourisme and Chambre de Commerce d’Albi. All tips and opinions that I share here are of course mine. More information about collaborations can be found in the disclaimer.