Short break in Tarn

Albi © T. Joly
Awesome monuments, art museums, picturesque villages stepped in history,.. The Tarn department has lots to offer. Along with an enjoyable climate and contrasting landscapes, it also has gastronomic restaurants and produces excellent wines.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
700 km from Paris to Albi on autoroutes A10, A71 and A20 till exit 63, then on D999, D968 and N88.
- By plane
Airlinair flights from Paris Orly to Castres - Mazamet.
- Albi
Hôtel Les Pasteliers
Hostellerie du Vigan
Mercure Cité Episcopale
- Castres
Hôtel Renaissance
Logis L’Occitan
Hôtel de l’Europe
- Cahuzac sur Vère
Château de Salette
- Cordes sur Ciel
Hostellerie du Vieux Cordes
B&B La Maison au Puits
B&B Aurifat
- Albi
L’Esprit du Vin
La Table du Sommelier
Le Lautrec
- Castres
Bistrot des Saveurs
Le Médiéval
- Cahuzac sur Vère
La Falaise
Château de Salettes
- Cordes sur Ciel
Hostellerie du Vieux Cordes
L’Escuelle des Chevaliers
Getting around
It’s necessary to have a car. Car rental at Castres – Mazamet airport.
Travel agency
Sélectour Tarn Voyages
Tel : 0563615995
Wine estates
Domaine Plageoles
Château de Salettes
Tarn tourist office
Tel : 0563773210
Stretching from the last foothills of the Massif Central to the Lauragais plain and the Mediterranean hinterland, the Tarn offers a great diversity of scenery and a relaxing pace of life. However, many people think it is a destination too far away for a short break because there are no TGV lines to reach this region. But it’s a false feeling. French airline Airlinair indeed operates daily flights between Paris Orly and Castres costing from €69 one-way and the journey takes a mere 1 hour 40 minutes.

Castres © T.Joly
 Large Hispanic art collection
So, it’s perfectly possible to visit the region’s main sights over a weekend particularly as they are not far from each other and there are no traffic jams on roads. Only a kilometres away from the airport – where check-in and luggage delivery only take a few minutes - Castres is a pleasant town to stroll around. Its historical centre indeed boasts 17th century private-mansions, old weaver and tanner houses lined along the river Agout, a beautiful French style garden, a former cathedral, now the church Saint Benoit, and a 17th century bishop’s palace built by Hardouin Mansart, one of Versailles’ architects. This building is now home to the city hall and the Goya museum which houses France’s second largest Hispanic art collection after the Louvre. Murillo, Velasquez, Ribera, Alonso Caro, Goya,… all great Spanish masters but El Greco are represented.

Sorèze © T.Joly
In the same area, the abbey-school of Sorèze is also worth a detour. Situated in a picturesque little village full of 16th and 17th century half-timbered houses, it was founded in the 8th century but several times destroyed and the present buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries. A renowned school from 1757 to 1776 and from the Revolution to 1991, one of France’s 12 royal military schools under the reign of Louis XVI, it trained many French and international celebrities. Let’s name sailor and exploratory La Pérouse, several Napoleon’s generals, singers Hughes Auffray and Claude Nougaro, politician Gilles de Robien, TV presenters Julien Lepers, Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff, African statesmen,… Listed as an historical monument, it now houses two 2* and 3* hotels as well as a museum tracing back its history. It also hosts cultural events including a music festival in July.

Albi © T.Joly
 Red town
If you have never travelled in this part of France before, don’t miss Albi, located 70 km up north, with good reason the most famous tourist sight. Nicknamed the red town because most of its ancient houses and monuments are built from red bricks, it is since last year listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. This honour was more precisely awarded to the former Episcopal City, a maze of narrow winding medieval streets nested on the left bank of the river Tarn and clustered around the imposing and outstanding fortress-like Sainte Cécile cathedral. The world’s largest brick cathedral, it’s a masterpiece of the sober Southern gothic architecture style. As to the interior, it presents a striking contrast with the building’s external appearance, featuring a rood-screen, a chancel and a choir famed for their abundance of sculptures, 16th century Italian vault frescoes and a huge 15th century mural of The Last Judgement.

Cordes-sur-Ciel © T.Joly
 The most beautiful bastide
Painted by unknown Franco-Flemish artists, it is considered one of the most important works of art of the Late Middle Ages. But, Albi is also the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec and many tourists come above all to visit the museum devoted to him. Located in the Berbie palace, the former bishop residence, it houses the world’s largest collection of the painter’s works with over 1 000 canvasses, drawings and posters.
About 20 km away, Cordes-sur-Ciel is Tarn’s second highlight. First bastide (fortified town) built by the Count of Toulouse - in 1222 - to replace a village and a fortress burnt down during the crusade against the Albigensians, it is also the finest in France. Perched on the top of a rocky hill, it is amazingly well preserved and narrow steep streets, half-timbered buildings, chapels, ramparts and fortified gates give the visitors the feeling of stepping back to the Middle Ages. Unique in France, it also boasts a collection of magnificent multi storey Gothic style residences built between 1280 and 1350 by wealthy merchants.

Cordes-sur-Ciel © T.Joly
 Little French Tuscany
In addition, there is a superb view from the top and today around 50 artists and craftsmen are breathing new life into the village
Then, if you are a wine lover or simply want to quench your thirst, head to the Gaillac vineyard. One of France’s oldest, it produces a great variety (wide range) of wines: sparkling, sweet and dry whites, roses and reds that pair perfectly with local dishes. Situated West of Albi, this area is called the Little French Tuscany, this goes to prove that is an enjoyable place to live.
Novelty of the year, if you don’t want to bother organizing your weekend, a travel agency named Tarn Voyages now offers four 3 days / 2 nights getaway packages including return flights from Paris, half-board accommodation and various activities. One focuses on the cultural heritage, two combine cultural visits with golf or meals at restaurants with one star in the Michelin guide, and the last one is a well-being stay in the Monts de Lacaune area.

April 21, 2011
Thierry Joly