The appeal of visiting France never gets old- maybe it is because it is right on our doorstep or perhaps (and the more likely scenario) it is because it radiates romance in a way no other country can. Paris is of course the first place that springs to mind when you think of romance in France and although it is beautiful (and oozes romance from every crevice) it is a little cliché. It is time to explore the lesser travelled French destinations and we couldn’t think of a more perfect way to start than Tarn in South-West France.
France doesn’t get much more unspoilt than the Tarn department located in the Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées region in the southwest of France named after the Tarn River; dotted with ancient vineyards, picturesque hilltop villages and rolling sunflower fields. The area provides plenty of opportunities to discover the ‘real France’, from traditional local festivities such as the Pink Garlic festival to staying in grand medieval chateaus and wine tasting in France’s oldest vineyards.
Where to stay…
Chateau de Mayragues: Stay in a fortified chateau that dates back to the Middle Ages. Guests can accompany their stay with wine tasting in the chateau’s own vineyard. A room at Chateau de Mayragues starts from £92 (€120) per night, including breakfast
Chateau de Salettes: In the heart of the thousand years old vineyard of Gaillac, the Château de Salettes’s walls tower in the middle of its vines. Full of character and charm, the Château de Salettes was the house of the youngest branch of the Toulouse-Lautrec family then of the d’Hautpoul family. Today it is property of the Le Net family, renovated into a charming hotel-restaurant, the Château de Salettes has kept the authenticity and the soul of an exceptional age-old Chateau.
Hotel Alchimy: This luxury 4* hotel and brasserie, found its home in an old art-deco building designed in the 1920s. Located in the centre of the medieval city of Albi, the boutique hotel is a stone’s throw away from the cathedral, the Toulouse Lautrec Museum and the Grand Théâtre des Cordeliers. Nestled amongst rustic red brick houses, Alchimy offers guests small scale boutique luxury, combining tradition with contemporary practicality.
Places to see…
The bastide village of Cordes-sur-Ciel sits dramatically crowning a rocky stone summit in the northern reaches of the Tarn, overlooking breathtaking views of the Cérou Valley below. The best time to visit is during the early morning when the mist rises from the surrounding valley, creating the impressive allusion that the town is floating on a cloud.
Listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, the bastide village of Castlenau-de-Montmiral sits on a hilltop overlooking the Vère Valley. Bordered on four sides by houses on vaulted arches, the central square ‘Le Place des Arcades’ is a small marvel of medieval architecture.
Visit the Saint-Salvi collegiate church and its cloisters, hidden away in the back streets of Albi. Over 900 years old, it combines romanesque and gothic elements. With its lush greenery and flowers, the cloister garden offers a haven of peace and tranquillity.
Things to do…
The Gaillac wine region is known as one of France’s premiere and oldest wine regions, with the first vine plantations dating back to Gallo-Roman times. The Gaillac vineyards spread over 3,000 hectares of land and are made up of over 112 vignerons (winegrowers) producing AOP Gaillac wines. Visitors to the region can drive or cycle the ‘Route des Vins’ (the wine route), stopping off at the many chateaux en route for wine tasting.
Local festivities include the Lautrec Pink Garlic festival from the 5th– 6th August. Visitors can sample the pink garlic grown only on the hillsides of The Tarn since the middle ages. A highlight of the festival is the contest between producers to make the longest manouille (a plait of garlic bulbs) in the space of three hours. Other competitions include best sculpture made out of pink garlic, the best pink garlic tart and even a competition for ‘Miss Pink Garlic’.
Eat! The towns are packed full of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers- ok well we don’t know about the candlestick makers but food is definitely a big part of life in the Tarn. Visit the many bustling markets and stock up on the regional delights including wine, cheese, cured meats and of course, garlic.
For more information please visit Le Tarn Tourisme, www.tourisme-tarn.com/en/tarn