Tarn in the Occitanie region, (formerly Languedoc Roussillon), borders Toulouse in southwest France. It’s a land of open spaces and glorious unspoiled countryside, perfect for cyclists and hikers. Covered in lush forests and vineyards, rivers, including the Tarn which gave it its name, and lakes, the area is peppered with castles and beautiful villages. With the golden sandy beaches of the Mediterranean within easy distance, a holiday in the Tarn offers something to please everyone.
Here are some of our favourite things to do and see in the Tarn…
Enjoy the glorious countryside
Think Yorkshire Dales meets Cheddar Gorge and the Peak district, mixed in with the Cotswolds for good measure – you have the Tarn. Picturesque, green and rolling, dramatic, and brimming with things to see. It’s perfect for lovers of the great outdoors. Cyclists will find the roads are scenic and traffic-free. And, the region has plenty of sunshine.
The capital of Tarn, Albi, is about hour west of Toulouse. The city is dominated by the monumental 13th century Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, part of the UNESCO listed Episcopal City. The listing also includes the Palais de la Berbie, the palace’s riverside gardens, the Saint Salvi church and the Pont Vieux. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the famous artist, was born here and there is a wonderful collection of his work in the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. The old quarter is enchanting, the perfect place to take a break at a café and watch the world go by with a glass of local wine from the world-famous Appellation Gaillac vineyards.
Cordes-sur-Ciel is a medieval hilltop town, it’s buildings are literally in the clouds…
“One travels over the years without quite knowing what one is searching for, wandering amid the clatter, caught up with desires or regrets, and one arrives unexpectedly in one from those two or three places which await each one of us in this world. The traveller who, from the terraces of Cordes, looks at the summer night sky, knows that he needs to travel no further, because the beauty here, day after day, will remove any loneliness.” So said Albert Camus. The French philosopher and writer fell under the spell of this town in the sky like many artists over the years.
The town’s narrow cobble-stone streets, arches and winding lanes lined with beautiful stone buildings, art galleries and craft shops are truly charming.
Around 45 minutes south of Albi, the city of Castres, is well worth visiting. There’s a fabulous Saturday morning market which fills the whole of Place Jean Jaurès. Head to the Quai des Jacobins for wonderful views over the medieval multi-storey tanners' and dyers' houses which line the River Agout, AKA the Venice of Languedoc. The Goya Museum is superb. Castres is the gateway to the Montagne Noire.
Get off the beaten track | Les Cammazes
In the Tarn’s Montagne Noire, Les Cammazes is a tiny but very surprising village. Here you can see the UNESCO listed Rigole de la Montagne, or Mountain Channel, which supplies water to the UNESCO listed Canal du Midi. Built in 1666 by the 122m underground aqueduct is open to the public. Beware, if you’re claustrophobic you won’t enjoy the dark narrow tunnels but it is a unique and unusual experience.
How to get to the Tarn
By air: Blagnac Airport, Carcassonne Airport and Rodez Airport make travel by air easy from the UK and Ireland.
Autoroutes serve the area from all directions. High speed trains run to Albi, the capital and there are local connections to main towns.
We have lots of fabulous holiday rental listings in the Tarn, check out our great selection here: frenchconnections.co.uk/accommodation/tarn
The Gers department in south west France is at the heart of historic Gascony. A land of valleys and vineyards, forests and fields of sunflowers, medieval villages and exquisite hamlets.
If you yearn to visit an authentic part of France where the food and wine are second to none, the people are friendly and the wide open spaces of glorious countryside leave you feeling refreshed and tranquil – then the Gers is for you…
Discover the stunningly beautiful, pinch-yourself-it’s-so-pretty area where Armagnac is made. In the Gers department, the locals make Armagnac, a world famous brandy. But this is not just any brandy. It’s the oldest French eau-de-vie.
A craft brandy, it’s not produced in industrial quantities but lovingly made by family-run wine growers, small producers and artisans. Many of them are open to the public for tastings and to buy direct. Don’t miss out on the chance to but Armagnac orange liqueur while you’re there, it’s hard to get outside of the area and utterly delicious.
You’ll find plenty of wine and Armagnac tasting opportunities en route – the perfect opportunity to try and buy.
Tip: Chateau Millet Winerie and Armagnac distillery in Eauze is sensational.
Gers is not highly populated with around 200,000 people in the whole department. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of small towns, villages and hamlets. They are dotted along the river, around lakes, hidden in forests, perched on hills, overlooking vineyards and laid out around cobbled squares.
The people are famous for their friendliness, hospitality – and love of good food! There are markets galore and seasonal dishes are de rigeur. Gascon wines, Floc de Gascogne (wine fortified with Armagnac) and Armagnac feature on every menu alongside local favourites. Duck, foie gras, Melons from Lectoure, garlic from Lomagne, Gascon apple pie. The food here is generous and the love of gastronomy celebrated.
There are officially six of the prettiest villages in France in the Gers department, jewels amongst a treasure trove of pretty villages. Larressingle, the smallest fortified town in France, and Montrèal-du-Gers, a medieval gem. Lavardens with its beautiful castle, Sarrant, La Romieu and Fourcés, with the only “round” square in France! But the fun of visiting this area is the discoveries you make for yourself.
Tip: The market at Samatan is the oldest and biggest in the area. Held on a Monday morning, it’s superb.
Auch, the capital
The small city of Auch is the capital of the area and like everywhere, it’s not highly populated. Famous for its incredible Cathedral (don’t miss the carved wooden seating area – it’s exquisite) which has a treasure museum of more than 200 objects of religious art. You can’t fail to spot the statue of Gascony’s famous musketeer d’Artagnan which keeps a watchful eye over the Grand staircase which connect lower Auch to the upper part of the city.
A warren of streets filled with great restaurants, friendly bars, boutiques and bookstores will keep you entertained.
Tip: Don’t miss La Table d'Oste restaurant, 7 rue Lamartine, right by the Cathedral. You’ll enjoy home-cooked Gascon food and a very warm welcome.
A place to get in tune with nature, enjoy the most delicious food and wine, discover the most beautiful countryside, historic towns and much much more
See our holiday home selection in the area here: https://www.frenchconnections.co.uk/accommodation/gers
Fougasse bread is a French flat bread, a typical staple of Provence. It comes from the Latin panis focacius meaning bread baked in the ashes as it was once used to assess the temperature of a wood fired oven. The time it would take to bake gave the baker an idea of the oven temperature and whether the rest of the bread can be loaded. It’s a flat bread and traditional to make it in a grain of wheat shape
You can make it plain or add a few chopped olives and/or sundried tomatoes to the mix. It’s also really good with toppings like grated cheese (25g per loaf in this recipe), minced garlic, grilled bacon, caramelised onions, anchovies, and a sprinkling of herbs like rosemary or thyme.
Simply bake the bread as below but take the loaves out 5 minutes early, add the toppings and bake for 5 minutes more.
Ingredients: Makes 3 loaves
400g strong white bread flour
1 x 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
100ml olive oil
200ml warm water
Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas mark 5.
Place the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and water (plus herbs if you’re using them) in a mixer and use a dough hook to form a dough, starting on a low speed. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for about 5 minutes. It should feel smooth and elastic. Then put it in a large, oiled bowl and a warm place for about an hour in which time it should rise to about double in size.
Split the dough into three pieces and spread them out in flat oval shapes. Make 3 slits across the bread with a knife, cutting right through the dough. Stretch the bread to emphasise the holes. You can make a leafier shape than in the photo, and you can also make 2 loaves instead of one, with more cuts in. You need to not have too much bread without a cut, it keeps it crispy.
Put the loaves on to greased baking trays, cover with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in volume. Allow 20 minutes to an hour.
Drizzle a little olive oil over for extra crispness. Bake for about 20 minutes but check at 15 minutes. The loaves should be a beautiful crispy golden colour when cooked.
If you’re adding the cheese or another topping, take the bread out of the oven 5 minutes early, sprinkle the toppings evenly, and return to the oven for 5 minutes.
Eat warm or cold. Great dipped in olive oil or dips, and it makes for excellent sandwiches!
Everyone loves a French street market - from the visitors who flock to France to experience the good life to the locals who shop at their favourite each week. In France, markets are so popular there’s even an annual TV competition for the best market in each region.
There are markets in almost every town and village or at least there will be one nearby. From the grand street markets, to covered markets, usually called Les Halles, to the markets of Paris and those in tiny villages where there may be only a few stalls.
Here are just a few of our favourite markets in France…
Sanary-sur-mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
The colour, scents, sounds and flavours of this vibrant market on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea make it really stand out. The town is located in the heart of Provence, between Marseille and Toulon and its wiggly streets are filled with old houses, boutiques and gourmet food shops. At the market you’ll find around 300 stalls – enough to keep even the fussiest market shopper delighted. Honey, olive oil, wine, cheese, spices, fruit and veg plus of course the freshest sea food are on offer. And you’ll find colourful baskets, flowers, pottery and tablecloths. Wander under the shady plane trees along the Allees Estienne d'Orves and soak up the ambiance. It gets busy in the summer months so get there early to avoid the crowds and get a parking space.
Sanary-sur-Mer market day: Wednesday mornings
Versailles Market, Ile-de-France
More than 350 years of trading have taken place at the city’s Notre Dame Market. A short walk from the famous Chateau de Versailles, it was created by Louis XIII and is the second largest market in France. Open daily from Tuesday to Sunday, the best days for food are Tuesday, Friday and Sunday when the whole market heaves with stalls selling the most superb quality produce.
This has to be not just one of the best markets in France, but one of the oldest, mentioned in a Papal document of 1155. Visit Carpentras on a Friday morning and you’ll get to witness the vibrant market day. Some 350 stalls snake their way along a warren of streets and plane tree shaded squares. You’ll find everything from clothes to baskets, shoes to cakes, fruit, veg, truffles, olives marinated a dozen different ways, pungent herbs, tangy cheese, aromatic lavender and mouth-watering street food….
Cours Saleya, Nice
Cours Saleya market in Nice is at the heart of the Old Town and it’s always pulsating with life. Striped awnings cover its centre and shelter the products on offer in the daily market. Crowds of locals and tourists come here to do their shopping or sometimes just to look and snap photos of the colourful displays. The scents of fresh produce and flowers seem to put everyone in a good mood and the atmosphere is friendly.
Cours Saleya hosts several markets. The most well-known is the Marché aux Fleurs, or Flower Market, held Tuesday through Sunday. The largest part of the market is made up of colourful fruit and vegetables, often quite artistically displayed. The only day you won’t find flowers and food in Cours Saleya is Monday. That’s the day for the marché à la brocante, the antiques/flea market. Here you can find all manner of items, such as furniture, jewellery, books, vintage clothing, bric-a-brac, etc.
Saturday mornings in Sarlat mean only one thing – market day. Stall after stall covered with brightly striped awnings, laden with huge cheeses, locally produced saucisson, gleaming vegetables, huge sacks of walnuts, pastries and nougat. This place is a gastronomic delight and the market is the perfect way to while away a morning in a beautiful and historic town filled with friendly people, bars where you can sit outside and watch the world go by over a pastis, or inside if it’s cold, with a chocolat chaud. The food here is of the best quality, the sellers are truly involved with the sourcing and production and can tell you what they are selling and where it is from.
On market days (Tuesday and Saturday), the queue for fresh cooked bread at La Maison Du Pain in Place de la Trémoille where the market is based, just keeps growing. The locals know that it’s worth the wait. Great steaming vats of paella, roasted chickens and huge bowls of buttery new potatoes stop you in your tracks. Jet black shiny mussels are bagged up by vendors at a rate of knots, shaded from the sun under blue and white striped awning, the salty scent of the sea fills the air. Plump Oysters from Cancale are fast emptied from baskets on stalls as savvy locals buy weekend delicacies fresh from the sea. Locals will tell you, go to L’Escargotiere for all things snail. Don’t miss the artisan made cider stall where you’ll also find the most delicious beer jam to drizzle over a slither of Camembert on a thin slice of baguette – it makes for a mouth-watering starter or canapé. This is the perfect market for anyone who loves good food. (Tuesday and Saturday)
In May, when the strawberries start to ripen, our thoughts turn to sweet, scrumptious desserts. In France, as in the UK, strawberries are a firm favourite, a taste of sunny days and summer breezes.
Inspired by French classic strawberry desserts, these super easy to make recipes for Strawberry Pie and Strawberry clafoutis are mouth-wateringly delicious and quite irresistible.
Ingredients for 4 strawberry lovers!
75ml fresh milk, full-fat
75ml single cream
1 vanilla pod, halved and seeds scraped out
1 large free-range eggs
50g caster sugar
125g fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half
Icing sugar, to sprinkle
1 Pre-heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Butter a medium gratin dish or 4 small ramekins.
2 Pour the milk, cream, vanilla pod and the seeds into a saucepan; bring to the boil and then take off the heat and allow to infuse for around two hours.
3 Beat the eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until thick and frothy, add the corn flour and continue to beat until smooth.
4 Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and cream mix and pour into the egg mixture, whisking all the time.
5 Arrange the fresh strawberries in the buttered dish/dishes and then the custard over the top. Place the dish into the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the custard is golden brown and set in the middle.
6 Sprinkle icing sugar over the top and serve just warm or at room temperature with cream and fresh strawberries.
Strawberry and cream Pie
Ingredients: serves 6
1 packet of shortcrust pastry
240 ml whipping cream
40g cup caster sugar
500g strawberries, halved
1 Bake the shortcrust pastry blind. Let it cool.
2 Whisk the cream until it starts to thicken and then add the caster sugar. Keep whisking until the cream is fluffy.
3 When the pastry is cool, spread the whipped cream on the bottom, then arrange the strawberries as prettily as you can on top.
3 ways to enjoy the wide open spaces of France
Take a gulp of fresh air, escape the crowds and discover the wide open spaces of France. More than three times the size of the UK and roughly the same population, there’s plenty of room for everyone to enjoy their own space and explore glorious countryside and fabulous beaches.
Famous for its vineyards, Burgundy in east-central France is a land of wide open spaces, perfect for a tranquil get-away.
Morvan Regional Natural Park (Parc naturel régional du Morvan) is a protected area of woodlands, lakes and traditional farmland that covers a total area of 430,000 acres. Sitting in the centre of the region, the Morvan forest is considered a jewel in the Burgundy crown. Highlights of the villages include Anost, Château Chinon, Lormes, Montsauche-les-Settons, Quarré-les-Tombes, St-Léger-sous-Beuvray, Saulieu and Vézelay. Mountain bikers will love the 330km route the Grande Traversée du Morvan and there are wonderful hiking trails too.
Or why not follow the Dukes Trail for a trip back to Burgundy’s regal heyday: this trail takes in castles, towns and vineyards. Whether you’re travelling by car, bike or on foot, follow in the footsteps of the Dukes through stunning countryside. Details: www.burgundy-tourism.com/discover/travelling-in-and-around-burgundy
Just a short hop across the Channel, Normandy lies on the Northwest coast of France. It’s beaches stretchefor many miles from the UNESCO-listed Mont-Saint-Michel on the border with Brittany to the stunning chalk cliff formations of the Alabaster coast near Dieppe.
Inland, its verdant countryside offers something for everyone, from cheese and cider to cycling and châteaux, remembrance tourism and medieval towns.
There are more than 300 miles of cycle paths and routes to suit all levels of ability, a terrific way for the whole family to enjoy the great outdoors. Why not try cycling part of the 230km route that links the world famous sites of the D-Day beaches and the iconic Mont-Saint-Michel? It takes in some of the key sites in Normandy and runs through glorious countryside. Details: www.manche-tourism.com/cycle-route-landing-beaches-normandy
After all that activity you’re sure to have worked up an appetite and Normandy is truly a food lover’s paradise. There are plenty of local specialities to sink your teeth into, from a crisp apple tart to Mortagne black pudding or an eye-catching, mouth-watering seafood platter. As for the region’s world-famous cheeses – including Camembert, Neufchatel and Livarot – they are best enjoyed with a fresh, crusty baguette on a picnic blanket, washed down with a local cider or Calvados!
Authentic France at its best can be found in the Gers department, southwest France, also known as Gascony.
Famous for its Armagnac production, the wine of the Gers are also superb. And the food! Let’s just say, don’t go on a diet when you visit this region because you’ll be fed and watered like royalty. This is a land which has always had respect for the environment and there are endless possibilities to enjoy the natural beauty of its valleys, forests, lakes and vineyard. There are some 3,000 km of walking and hiking trails including the Ways of Saint-James and the Green Way of Armagnac and many of them are also accessible by bike.
The Gers is the perfect place to leave behind the pace of everyday life, reconnect with nature, enjoy fabulous gastronomy, water sports, wide open spaces and explore country trails.
The famous Tarte Flambée, or Flammekueche as it’s known in Alsace where the dish originates, is a French classic. A literal translation is a “flaming pie” but it’s neither. It’s a cross between a tart and a pizza, you don’t flambee it - and it’s very easy to make at home. Mouth-wateringly moreish, choose your favourite toppings and get stuck in!
Tarte Flambée dough
260g/9oz All-purpose flour
150ml/5 fl oz water at room temperature
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Teaspoon salt
It’s very easy to make. And, you don’t need to wait for the dough to rise which makes it very quick to prepare.
Make the dough with a mixer or by hand. Mix the flour, oil, and salt in a large bowl and stir to together. Slowly stir in the water and knead for a couple minutes. Leave in a bowl, covered with a cloth of cling film while you prepare the topping.
Tarte Flambée topping
1 medium onion
3-4 strips streaky bacon or 120g lardons ( 4 oz)
120g/4oz crème fraiche
½ Teaspoon salt
Optional: Handful of grated cheese, handful of thinly sliced mushrooms, handful of sliced spiced sausage (cooked) or whatever topping you like.
Preheat oven to 500˚F/ 260 degrees/ gas mark 10
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Peel and chop the onion into very thin slices and sweat them on a low heat with a knob of butter for 5 minutes but don’t brown them.
Cut the bacon strips into 1/4-inch-thick strips (or use lardons) and fry gently but don’t brown them.
Mix the sour cream, salt, pepper with a tiny sprinkle of nutmeg in a small bowl and stir.
Roll the dough out on a floured work surface and cut to fit your baking tray.
Spread the sour cream mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border.
Sprinkle with the onions and bacon lardons. And if you’re using them, sprinkle with other ingredients ending with the cheese.
Bake for between 12-18 minutes – the pastry edges should be golden and crispy.
Eat immediately. Preferably with a glass of Alsace wine.
Love French food? See our recipes for:
French pancakes – crepes and galettes, simply irresistible