Transcript for Episode 494: Exploring the Treasures of Tarn: A Comprehensive Guide

Categories: Occitanie, Toulouse Area

Discussed in this Episode

  • Tarn
  • Albi
  • Cordes-sur-Ciel
  • Lautrec
  • Castres
  • Gaillac
  • Mazamet
  • Pont Suspendu
  • Gorges du Tarn
  • Les Gorges du Tarn
  • Massif Central
  • Black Mountains
  • Gaillac Wine Country
  • Carmaux
  • Cagnac des Mines
  • Saint-Sulpice-la-Pointe
  • Saint-Juéry
  • La Bruguière
  • Rabastens
  • Lisle-sur-Tarn
  • Ocillon
  • Giroussens
  • Jardin des Martels
  • Soreze
  • Dom Robert Museum of Tapestry
  • Ambialet
  • Castelnau de Montmiral
  • Lacaune
  • Forest of Grésigné
  • Sidobre Forest
  • waterfalls of Arifat
  • Passerelle de Mazamet

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 494, quatre cent quatre-vingt-quatorze.

Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent, and Join Us in France is the podcast where we take a conversational journey through the beauty, culture, and flavors of France.

Today on the podcast: A Comprehensive Guide for Exploring the Tarn

[00:00:31] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about the Tarn Department, a wonderful place in France.

Whether you’re hiking through the Grésigné forest, exploring the medieval villages like Cordes sur Ciel or Lautrec, or savoring the flavors of the Gaillac wines, the Tarn offers a delightful escape into the heart of French country living.

We share tips, tales, and insights for what I am sure will inspire your next travel adventure.

Podcast supporters

[00:01:03] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service, my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app, or take a day trip with me around the southwest of France in my electric car.

You can browse all of that at my boutique

Patreon supporters get new episodes as soon as they are ready and ads free. If that sounds good to you, be like them, follow the link in the show notes.

No Magazine segment

[00:01:34] Annie Sargent: There will not be a magazine part of the podcast today because I am scheduling this episode early, and it’ll come out when I’m leading the Bootcamp 2024 edition and we’ll spend several days in the Tarn, as a matter of fact with the Bootcamp.

You’ll hear all about that soon and I’ll be back to report on how things went next Sunday.

Welcome to the Tarn: A Hidden Gem in France

[00:02:04] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse.

Bonjour Annie.

Today we’re chatting about the department of the Tarn. I think it’s a treasure trove of, you know, cultural things, natural things.

You have all the red brick architecture, you have some chateaus, you have perched villages, you have structures like the Pont Suspendu in Mazamet, lots of hikes, lots of bikes, I think there’s something for everyone in the Tarn, really.

Exploring the Natural Beauty and Topography of the Tarn

[00:02:34] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely. I took a look at a topographical map yesterday because it’s basically, for those who’ve never been in this part of France, it’s north and northeast of where we are in Toulouse. And it’s very interesting because it’s not that, it’s a kind of average sized department, but topographically it’s got two series ofsmall mountains that kind of cut it east west, like two folds.

It’s very pretty to actually see, and part of that is the beginning of what’s called the Black Mountains, and then it goes up into the very end, the last northern most part of Tarn, is actually the beginning of what’s called the Massif Central.

[00:03:14] Annie Sargent: Right, so lots of hills, forests. you have Les Gorges du Tarn, which are gorgeous. So, so much. And we’ve done other episodes specifically about places in the Tarn, I’ll list them in the show notes, because I, of course, I forgot to make a note of all the ones, but you know, it’s always a good bet to search the website for previous episodes, because we do a lot.

Highlighting Tarn’s Must-Visit Medieval Villages and Cities

[00:03:36] Elyse Rivin: And of course, the most famous places that are in the Tarn are places that we have done episodes about because they are that important. And one of them, of course, is Albi, which is the entire old city center is a World Heritage UNESCO site. It’s a massive draw for tourists, and I don’t think anybody needs more information about it, unless you’ve never been to the Southwest of France. And it is gorgeous, it’s of course, one of the famous brick cities on the Tarn River, and it is a must.

[00:04:08] Annie Sargent: Right. Albi is a must in the Southwest. Yeah.

[00:04:11] Elyse Rivin: It’s one of those, it’s like going to Carcassonne, which is of course in the Aude, but it is something that is extremely famous. And so I don’t think we need to talk too much about it, because we’ve already spent time talking about it before.

[00:04:25] Annie Sargent: Right, and we also did an episode about Cordes sur Ciel.

[00:04:28] Elyse Rivin: And about Lautrec, which are the two Cordes sur Ciel and Lautrec are, in my opinion, the two most spectacular and beautiful medieval villages perched up on top of hills in the Tarn department. They’re not quite the same, but they’re both gorgeous.

[00:04:48] Annie Sargent: Right. In different ways. Yeah. The Lautrec is not quite as perchy.

Not as perchy! But I mean, yeah, hills. It’s a hill. But not as perchy.

[00:04:59] Elyse Rivin: It’s not as perchy. Lautrec is a bit bigger actually, I think in the amount of buildings and everything, it’s all beautiful, well restored, medieval and Renaissance houses. It’s, famous for being the center of the huge garlic growing area, you know. In the summer, if you drive through this region, especially in August, and you won’t be hallucinating if you smell garlic as you’re driving your car.

[00:05:23] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:05:24] Elyse Rivin: And on the top is a windmill that actually still functions, that grinds flour, that grinds wheat for making flour.

[00:05:31] Annie Sargent: I’m not sure that’s true. I was inside. It doesn’t look like it’s working.

[00:05:35] Elyse Rivin: Well, it does, I think maybe in high season.

[00:05:37] Annie Sargent: Okay. So it, they can operate it, it will, they run it to demonstrate it, but I don’t think they make flour there.

[00:05:44] Elyse Rivin: Well, they do, but I don’t think they’re allowed to sell it. When I was there with my husband, they showed how it worked, but it’s very beautiful. It’s relatively big. It’s very beautiful. And then Cordes sur Ciel is very, very famous.

It’s closer to Albi. Lautrec is actually closer to the second biggest city in the town, which is Castres, but Cordes sur Ciel is famous, first of all, for being the first of what is known in the Southwest as the famous Bastide, these medieval villages that were built specificallyto protect people after the war between the French and the Cathars, but it’s famous for having what are now basically remnants of five sets of ramparts.

And it is like looking at a kind of spiral. It goes up, up, up, up, up, you know, to the top. It’s kind of impressive.

[00:06:30] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and that one is very hilly.

[00:06:32] Elyse Rivin: And very hilly, to be warned, and it’s all cobblestone and stone. You can actually do a walk up or you can take, in high season there’s this kind of little choo choo train and that will take you up, yeah.

[00:06:44] Annie Sargent: And the other thing I forgot to mention in my introduction, it was too brief, is that they also have wine in the Tarn.

Gaillac is a major wine producing area. So you have, it’s really everything.

[00:06:58] Elyse Rivin: It’s everything.

One of the things that’s interesting about the Tarn and I was, for those of you out there, I was just saying to Annie that it’s actually a department that I’ve visited a lot because number one, it is very close.

It begins very close to Toulouse, it begins with the Gaillac region, and that’s what about 25 kilometers away. But also, there are lots of different things to see and do there. So it’s a place where you can say, oh, if I feel like going on an excursion for the day, what do you want to do? You literally have a choice between visiting a beautiful old village, visiting vineyards, doing a hike in the forest, visiting a town.

And the three cities basically, of course, are Albi, Gaillac, which is relatively small, but it’s still considered a city, and Castres.

Museums in Castres

[00:07:42] Elyse Rivin: And I’ve just been now to Castres again for, actually twice in the last couple of months, because it’s actually very charming. I have to admit that my original opinion of it has changed since going back.

[00:07:54] Annie Sargent: Yes, it is way better than it was, what I remembered as a kid, you know, I think they’ve really improved the city a lot. And the city center is charming.

[00:08:04] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely charming, and it has two very interesting museums. One is called the Goya Museum. And of course, those of you out there may know that Goya was in fact a Spanish painter, but it is a museum that is dedicated to his work because there was a very rich industrialist who was from Castres, who had collected a lot of his work and gave it to the city of Castres when he died. And so it was originally, I guess just considered to be a fine arts museum, but they did name it after the person who gave the work, which I think is interesting. They named it after Goya, the painter. And so they have a huge, huge collection of his prints, which are, he did series of engravings, an enormous, complete series of engravings that had to do with things like war and things like that that are very famous, and then a few very huge paintings of his. And they’ve just redone the museum, modernized it, it’s air conditioned on the inside, it’s really nice now on the inside.

[00:09:03] Annie Sargent: Have you been, have you seen it since they re-opened?

[00:09:05] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, I was just there a few weeks ago. And it’s really lovely. It’s easy to go through and figure out where you are. And you can even do something that’s sometimes hard to do in other museums, which is sort of backtrack on things that you want to go see again and not get yourself confused about where you are.

[00:09:21] Annie Sargent: So I personally think that they did a really good job of modernizing it on the inside. Very nice. Yeah.

[00:09:27] Elyse Rivin: And then there’s the small, but very interesting museum about Jean Jaurès.

[00:09:32] Annie Sargent: Right. And we did an episode about that as well.

[00:09:35] Elyse Rivin: Who was a native son, you know, and of course it’s a museum that’s basically about his life and his politics, but it’s very interesting.

And I agree with you. They’ve spiffed up the old city center and the river, which is the Agout, which is actually a big tributary of the Tarn River, cuts right through it. Amazing. The houses along it are very colorful and it’s kind of very, very nice. It’s very small, but very nice old city centre.

[00:09:58] Annie Sargent: Yeah. So I actually printed out the population by city of the Tarn. So Albi is the biggest city in the Tarn. It’s got just under 50,000. Castres second withmore like 43,000. That much? Yeah.

Gaillac is almost 16,000 Graulhet, which is, as far as I remember it, not very interesting.

[00:10:26] Elyse Rivin: Well, it’s, this is another place that’s changed a lot in the 10 years, in the last 10 years.

So, it is one of the, in part of the show notes that I wrote, I mentioned the fact that the time is very interesting, because it has two or three places that are known for crafts.

And Graulhet is one of them, because it was for several centuries the center of leather work, and so it is still, where they do make beautiful, like, bags and gloves and things like that, but not on a high mass industrial volume level.

[00:10:59] Annie Sargent: So not like Millau?

[00:11:00] Elyse Rivin: No, but it’s known for that. And so what has happened is, because I remember in fact about 15 years ago, driving through there going, ooh ducks, like everything was in ruin and depressing and everything, and again, maybe because it’s kind of halfway between Albi and Toulouse, a lot of people have gone to places like that to live because at the time I bet they were less expensive.

So what they’ve done is they’ve fixed up the old medieval city center and spiffed it up and really fixed up all of that part and made a beautiful little museum of the history of the work in leather.

[00:11:37] Annie Sargent: Interesting. So that’s kind of the sort of town that I think is a sweet spot for a lot of people who are looking for a place to live in France that’s not too expensive. Because Graulhet has 13,000 inhabitants more or less, which means it’s going to have all the services. I mean, it won’t have a major hospital or anything like that, but it will have a little bit of everything.

So it’s a good place…

[00:12:02] Elyse Rivin: Is it more populated than Lavaur?

[00:12:04] Annie Sargent: It sure is. Lavaur is,just over, almost 11,000 inhabitants.

[00:12:11] Elyse Rivin: That is very surprising.

[00:12:13] Annie Sargent: And where my godson is establishing his new dental practice.

[00:12:17] Elyse Rivin: And Lavaur, which we’ve been to together, is a very charming small brick city, really.

Has a fabulous, fabulous, huge market on Saturdays and has a very interesting old cathedral called Saint-Alain, all made out of brick. It’s one of the brick cities and has a very interesting history connected to the Cathar.

It’s a kind of bedroom city for a lot of people who work in Toulouse, but it’s really quite charming.

[00:12:43] Annie Sargent: Yeah, yeah.

And then almost the same population is Mazamet, which I visited recently and I thought was a cute little town. I mean, it’s not very big, the city center, but it’s fine. And it’s got a friendly market. One guy yelled at me in the church because I didn’t genuflect in front of, when I walked, yeah. When I walked past the center of the church, whatever that’s called, I didn’t genuflect and he was not happy with me.

[00:13:10] Elyse Rivin: Mazamet is basically, the beginning of the Black Mountains. So it’s a good place to stop if you’re going to go and do some walking or hiking up in the mountains or in the area called the Sidobre area.

[00:13:26] Annie Sargent: Right, right. That’s really for a great place for bike rides, hikes. You have the Passapais bike ride, which goes between Mazamet and somewhere in the Aude, near Béziers, it ends. It used to be a railway, and it’s now transformed into a bike path.

Yeah, yeah. And it starts in Mazamet, well, one of the ends is Mazamet, and you also have the suspended bridge, which is fun.

I went with David and he walked it.

I was too chicken to walk it. I’m afraid of heights. I’m just afraid of heights.

[00:14:04] Elyse Rivin: I wonder if I would be afraid, I don’t know.

Does it move?

[00:14:07] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it swings a little bit. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But I mean, it’s metal. It’s perfectly safe. It’s just that I’m a chicken. I’m afraid. So I didn’t want to do it, but we do, you kind of take a hike up there. You can park a little closer. If you park it as close as you can, it’s not very much of a hike.

This is back when my knees were hurting a lot. We tried to start the hike from the parking lot in the city and it was, the start of it is really, really steep. And I, I did like a hundred meters and I was like, okay, I can’t do this. My knees are gonna die. So then we got back in the car and drove up to another parking lot that’s a little closer. And there you, I mean, you have a bit of a walk, but when you get up to the top on the one end, you are in this cute medieval village, I’ll find the details and put them in the show notes because that was an interesting day. And when we got there we just walked around.

I mean, it’s a tiny little village, medieval village up there. And then I waited until my husband went across the bridge and back and took photos of him. I just, I was like, ah, no, I’m not doing this. So there you go.

The Charm of Lesser-Known Towns and Their Unique AttractionsCarmaux

[00:15:16] Annie Sargent: Then the next town is Carmaux, which is not quite 10,000 people. This was a industrial town withmines, coal mines. There are no more coal mines there, but there’s a museum.

[00:15:29] Elyse Rivin: There’s a museum. It’s actually in what’s called Cagnac des Mines, which I think is an extension of Carmaux, to be honest, I’m not sure. I think it’s just on the outside. And that is where there is a museum that I haven’t been to, that I would really love to visit, because apparently, the museum includes a visit to some of the tunnels. So that you actually see where the coal miners worked and some of the places that, obviously, it’s been secured. Because, of course, there were lots of dangerous things and it was, of course, one of the reasons that Jean Jaurès became very active as a politician, was because this region around Carmaux was famous for being one of the places, one of the parts of France that had a lot of mines and the conditions were abominable in the 19th century, you know?

And now, of course, there are no more. It’s a city that lives on basically, it’s past in that sense, you know?


[00:16:20] Annie Sargent: Yeah, so, going down, less than 10,000 inhabitants, you have Saint-Sulpice-la-Pointe, which I don’t know anything about.

[00:16:29] Elyse Rivin: It’s very pretty.

Oh, is it?

[00:16:31] Annie Sargent: It’s very pretty, yes. And it has ruins of a chateau, which has an underground, I don’t, honestly, don’t remember now if it was cut out to be a place for people to hide in the early Middle Ages, or if it’s just a natural formations in the rock, there are certain times of the year when it’s open and you can go in and it’s kind of spooky, but it’s kind of a fun thing to do. Huh. See, I don’t recall ever going there. Another one that I don’t remember anything about, if I ever went, is called Saint-Juéry.

[00:17:01] Elyse Rivin: Oh, that one, I don’t know.

[00:17:02] Annie Sargent: Yeah, la Bruguière is next.

[00:17:05] Elyse Rivin: Which is much more of a suburb now than anything else.

[00:17:08] Annie Sargent: Okay, so that’s 5,000 people, more or less.


[00:17:12] Annie Sargent: Rabastens.

[00:17:13] Elyse Rivin: Now, Rabastens, I love. I love. I’ve guided there. I’ve actually taken groups there. Rabastens is very interesting. It’s bigger than a village. It’s built right up on the river.

[00:17:26] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it says it’s about 6,000.

[00:17:29] Elyse Rivin: It gives the impression of being bigger than that. See, this is very, what I find very interesting about some of these places, it’s a town, I wouldn’t call it a village.

It’s built up on high up above the river. It has a beautiful, beautiful old medieval section that’s been well restored and taken care of. That’s absolutely lovely. It’s built more or less as a Bastide. In other words, it’s built more or less on a grid system and it has this really gorgeous cathedral that they’re in the process of restoring.

And it has this funky museum. When I was there with a group, which was, maybe about a year and a half ago, but I’ve been back since just to walk around. There was this old lady who was probably a native of Rabastens, you know, who was delighted to be able to chat us up, you know, and talk about things.

And it’s one of these museums that has a little bit of everything. It has stuff from prehistory up through some very bad art, local, some local artists, but it really kind of gives you an idea of what’s going on there. But it’s a charming, charming place. And honestly, me who is a real big city girl, if I could ever imagine living outside of Toulouse, it’s a place I would go to live.

Is that right?

[00:18:39] Annie Sargent: Because it feels like a nice place.

[00:18:41] Elyse Rivin: It feels like a nice place. It’s mostly brick, the older part, I love the old medieval section. And there’s a path, because most of the city is built really high up on one side of the river, and I discovered last year when my stepdaughter was here, she and a cousin of hers, they had discovered that there’s a kind of beach down by the river, and with, they have little kids and, you take this walk that’s about like a half a mile walk and it takes you right down under the big bridge that goes across the river there and there’s this beach. I didn’t go in the water, it’s still what, it’s running water, I mean, it’s not swimming pool water, but it’s a river swim.

And it’s also, I think the other reason I love it is because there’s a road called the D18, which is a departmental road that you take from Rabastens and takes you through a bunch of the chateaus of the Gaillac wine.

[00:19:33] Annie Sargent: Ah. Yeah.

[00:19:34] Elyse Rivin: So you can go right from there to Gaillac by going through vineyards.

So it has everything for me, except the fact that it doesn’t have massive public transportation.

[00:19:45] Annie Sargent: Right, right. Well, obviously. And of course, this is a sort of town that’s really charming, but if you go in the dead of the winter, it’s not going to be that interesting. So if you’re planning a visit, it’s best to go on weekends or during school vacations, or when they have some special event going on, because it is quiet, much of the year.

[00:20:08] Elyse Rivin: Of course, I think some of these places are places to do, like, if there’s a day trip where you do three or four of them in the same day. Like, if you’re going to visit Gaillac, going to visit some of the vineyards, you can make a stop in a place like Rabastens or Lisle-sur-Tarn,

[00:20:23] Annie Sargent: Right, so that one was, so after Rabastens, I have Aussillon, which I don’t know anything about, also around 5,000 people.


[00:20:30] Elyse Rivin: Lisle-sur-Tarn so it’s just under 5,000. Sleepy little’s very pretty. It’s another one of these classic bastides that is built on a grid system and still has maintained a lot of the old medieval houses.

It’s a nice place to do a short stop where you can get something to eat. There’s actually a little chocolate museum there, of all things. Yeah. There’s a chocolate maker who decided that I maybe, I don’t know, I’m conjecturing that he wasn’t making enough money selling his chocolate, so he decided to turn his chocolate into sculpture. And so now he makes money because people come in groups to go see the sculptures he’s made out of chocolate.

[00:21:11] Annie Sargent: That’s fun. That’s fun.

[00:21:12] Elyse Rivin: But it’s also a place, I’ve been through there on a Saturday, it’s another one, there are lots of towns that have Saturday markets, and they, it fills up the huge square, the central square is famous for being very big, It’s got galleries that are covered galleries all the way around it, but it tends to be one there that it’s mostly local producers.



[00:21:32] Elyse Rivin: (Mid-roll Ads) Do you have Giroussens on the list?

[00:21:36] Annie Sargent: I don’t, the next two are Lescure-d’Albigeois, which I don’t know, with aboutjust under 5,000. And then Saïx, which I know nothing about, 4,000. And that’s all my list.

[00:21:54] Elyse Rivin: There’s another town that’s very close to Graulhet.

Jardin des Martels

[00:21:59] Elyse Rivin: Which means it’s basically between Graulhet and Lavaur. So it’s about 35 kilometers from Toulouse. And I was again, just there, because we went to visit one of the other things that you have in the Tarn, which is they have some very beautiful, what are called remarkable gardens. And one of them is the Jardin des Martels, which is a private one.

We were just there two weekends ago. It’s very beautiful. . I think it’s about five hectare. I’m not sure. I think that’s about it. It’s a horticulture center that was been turned into a beautiful landscape, private garden with a part of it that’s got pagodas, part of it, that’s got a mini farm with animals, and it has a huge,like most of these gardens, every time of the year, there are different things in bloom.

So we were there with the azaleas and the rhododendrons. And unfortunately, I think if I went back this weekend, I’d see most of the roses. It’s a huge part that’s rose garden that was, you could see the flowers were just about to open. Budding. And it was like, oh, I wish you were open now. But it’s very lovely.

And I even bought a couple of plants there. You can do that. They have a little cafe and they also sell plants that they grow there. That is technically in Giroussens, which is really close to Lavaur. But Giroussens is famous for its ceramics.

[00:23:16] Annie Sargent: Uh huh.

[00:23:17] Elyse Rivin: It’s a town that’s perched up on top of a big hill.

And it’s been famous for its ceramics for almost 500 years. And now there’s a ceramic center there.I’ve been to two shows there. It’s free to go in. Beautiful ceramics by different artists, different artisans, and it’s famous. And every year, people come from all over Europe to show their work there. And like Graulhet, it’s very interesting because it part…


It’s varied ceramics. You have leather ceramics. It’s very interesting because they’re very close together. And it’s the kind of thing, if you go to stop in Lavaur, if you’re interested in ceramics, it’s a wonderful place to stop and there are a couple of restaurants where you can just get a bite to eat.

So it’s very small, but the ceramic center is really wonderful.

[00:24:06] Annie Sargent: I see, I never heard of it. So…

[00:24:08] Elyse Rivin: And it’s very close to Lavaur.

We did that, and we did the Jardin des Martels in the same day. And it was very nice.

[00:24:16] Annie Sargent: You had made a list that we haven’t gotten to yet. Shall we get back to your list?

[00:24:19] Elyse Rivin: Sure.

Soreze and Its Attractions

[00:24:20] Elyse Rivin: Well, we’ve talked about all the towns, and pretty much all of the towns and villages, except for Soreze.

You didn’t mention Soreze, which is kind of, I don’t know whether it’s considered to be a village or a town.

[00:24:32] Annie Sargent: It’s got to have fewer than 5,000 people because it’s not in my list.

[00:24:37] Elyse Rivin: It probably does. It’s small, but I’m not sure how small, to be honest, but it’s alsovery pretty and it is famous for the school there, that was once a big military school, that is now the Dom Robert Museum of Tapestry. It used to be a Royal College, and part of it is visitable as a museum, where you can,we walked through the entire building, which is quite big, and you can see the history of what was considered to be a royal college. And then they have pictures, or names of the various people through the last few centuries who have gone there, including a couple of people like pop singers who won’t admit to the fact that they grew up in a military family and stuff like that, because… like Hugues Aufray, who is now very old, but who apparently went through his entire scholarity in this military school, but it’s very interesting to see.

[00:25:30] Annie Sargent: He’s a hippie!

[00:25:31] Elyse Rivin: He’s a hippie, right? He’s a hippie. He left this school and he went, I’m going somewhere else. I’m going to push my, I’m going to let my hair grow. And it’s been turned, half of it’s turned into a tapestry museum.There was this monk named Dom Robert who became a fabulous tapestry artist.

I don’t remember the story of how that happened, but anyway, it’s got an exhibit of his work and it’s absolutely gorgeous. And also in this, it’s a very small town, it’s got a glass museum.

[00:25:59] Annie Sargent: That’s weird. First, I mean, like, Soreze I’ve barely heard about it, how can there be all these things there?

[00:26:06] Elyse Rivin: They just are, you know, and it’s also…

[00:26:08] Annie Sargent: This is what you do. You listen to Join Us in France. So we tell you about all these places that you’ve never heard of.

[00:26:14] Elyse Rivin: Basically, it’s very close to the road that takes you up into the Black Mountains, it’s very much on the edge of the mountains and the forest there. One of the times I was there, I don’t, the glass museum obviously is only open, I think high season and maybe on weekends or certain times of the year, but it’s small, but it talks about, this is how I found out the whole thing about what are called the Gentlemen Glass Makers that were the Protestants that went to hide in the forest during the War of Religion and wound up becoming glassmakers.

They have a whole history of that and a collection of these very cute little old pieces of glass. It’s kind of nice. It’s just, I don’t remember even paying anything. I don’t know if I had to pay anything to go into it. Maybe a euro or two. But both of those things are in Soreze, which is really very, very pretty, actually.

[00:27:02] Annie Sargent: Sounds like I should check it out someday.

[00:27:04] Elyse Rivin: You should check it out someday, right? And then, of course, you know, Wine Country, we know we’re in Gaillac Wine Country.

[00:27:12] Annie Sargent: Wait, wait, before you move on, we didn’t mention Ambialet.

A Journey Through Ambialet and Castelnau de Montmiral

[00:27:16] Elyse Rivin: Ambialet. Okay. Ambialet is a place I would never have known about except that my husband, this is already going back a couple of years, one day said: we’re going to Ambialet.

And I went, You know, it’s like: Why? Yeah, why? It’s just beyond Albi, so it’s really not something that you would know about unless you’re in the Albi area. People in Albi know a lot about it. It’s known for two reasons. A tiny little medieval town that has a beautiful abbey that’s still more or less intact. But it’s down,the region right around the abbey is hilly, you know, I mean, if you go in one direction, you go towards Corde and you keep going up, and up, and up.

Well, this is a part where you go down and it’s this road that takes you down to the very bottom of the valley. And Ambialet is famous for being on the tightest meander of the Tarn River.

It’s like a teeny, almost little peninsula kind of thing. And half of the village is on one side and half of the village is on the other.

And there are these little hikes and bike rides. And so it’s really something that’s more known by the people around Albi than anything else. But I have to admit that, I have a booklet at home about the Tarn and they talk about it in the booklet and they mention the fact that if you want to do some interesting biking and hiking, it’s a place that you can go to for that.

[00:28:38] Annie Sargent: Go to Ambialet.

Castelnau de Montmiral

[00:28:40] Annie Sargent: And then the last one you mentioned here is Castelnau de Montmiral.

Yeah, I don’t think I, do I know this one?

[00:28:47] Elyse Rivin: Well, yes, you do, but you don’t realize you know it.

[00:28:49] Annie Sargent: Oh, okay.

[00:28:50] Elyse Rivin: It’s on the road when you’re in Gaillac, one of the roads that takes you to Cordes, you have two roads that will take you up towards Cordes.

[00:28:57] Annie Sargent: One,that veers off a little bit to the northeast, and then the other that goes a little bit towards the northwest that will eventually take you to Pré Sur-ciel Pin. Which we’ve podcasted about Pré Sur-ciel Pin. Yeah.

[00:29:09] Elyse Rivin: Right, and we’re not talking about them because they’re technically not in the Department of the Tarn, you know, they’re just a little bit further up. But Castelnau is the first of the medieval villages that you come to before, on the same road, if you keep going, winding road, you keep going up.

[00:29:24] Annie Sargent: And it’s a bastide. I remember now. I’ve been.

[00:29:28] Elyse Rivin: With a beautiful central open square and galleries.

[00:29:31] Annie Sargent: And the guy that was at the tourist office was pleasant to look at.

[00:29:34] Elyse Rivin: Ah, oh I wasn’t there that day.

[00:29:37] Annie Sargent: I remember that. Yes.

[00:29:39] Elyse Rivin: It’s also interestingly, because I now know, personally, two people who live there. It is a village that is more than half English speaking people now, so much so that the local elementary school had to adjust, I don’t know how they did this, because obviously it’s a public elementary school in France, but they, because it’s not just retired people, but younger families that are from the UK that moved into the area, that they had to make some kind of language adjustments in terms of the school. But it is famous for being one of the first of the beautiful bastides that you go up that area.

[00:30:12] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and they’re famous with their pilory. That’s just right off of the main square, the main square is cute. I know it’s, I totally remember it now, yeah, yeah.

And we’ve even talked about it on the podcast.

Lacaune and Its Surroundings

[00:30:23] Elyse Rivin: And Lacaune.

[00:30:24] Annie Sargent: Lacaune, yeah.

[00:30:25] Elyse Rivin: So Lacaune is really in the Black Mountains. It’s really almost the extreme edge of the Tarn.

[00:30:32] Annie Sargent: You mean the North edge?

[00:30:33] Elyse Rivin: Yes. The North. North, North- East, I’m pretty sure it there’s Mount Lacaune, which is right there. It’s really in the middle of the mountains on the forest.

And it’s a place that people go if they want to go hiking up Mount Lacaune. But it’s also famous, thanks. I know this from my husband, not me, for its charcuterie.

[00:30:52] Annie Sargent: Aha.

[00:30:52] Elyse Rivin: They’re famous, famous for the quality of their charcuterie there.

[00:30:57] Annie Sargent: Oh, I wonder if my dad worked there, because he, he did a lot of work in the Black Mountains installing industriallines for the charcuterie makers.

[00:31:07] Elyse Rivin: I bet he did.

[00:31:08] Annie Sargent: Yeah, he might have.

[00:31:09] Elyse Rivin: I bet he did.

[00:31:11] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Interesting.

[00:31:12] Elyse Rivin: And it’s on the, this famous Agout, which I don’t know if the locals pronounce it Agout (silent t) or Agout because we’re in the Tarn.

[00:31:18] Annie Sargent: I think it’s Agout (silent t) but who knows.

[00:31:20] Elyse Rivin: The Tarn is a very big river, which empties into the Garonne just before it arrives in Bordeaux. I mean, it’s a very big, big, big river, but the Agout is actually relatively big as well.

And it’s the big tributary. I’m not sure exactly where, but it’s somewhere close to Albi, that it becomes part of the Tarn, but this is Lacaune is, like Lavaur, it’s actually on the Agout, it’s not on the Tarn directly as a river.

[00:31:44] Annie Sargent: So I interrupted you, we’re about to talk about the wine.

The Gaillac Wine Country

[00:31:47] Elyse Rivin: Well, I was just going to say that, yeah, for those who are interested in wine, I’m sure many of you have visited lots of the wine regions in France, and of course there are many, but if you come to this area here around Toulouse, it’s really worthwhile to visit the wineries in Gaillac.

They’re really interesting wines. It’s a small region compared to the Bordeaux’s to the Burgundy’s and all of that. But personally, I really like them a lot. And it’s a very old historic wine growing area. And it’s very interesting because it’s just about halfway between Albi and Toulouse.

[00:32:20] Annie Sargent: Yes, so last year for the bootcamp, we had a visit at the Château de Lastours. And of course, that name is very common, there’s also a Château de Lastours in the Aude, which is a ruin, a Cathar ruin. This is not what I’m talking about here. This is the winery near Gaillac. And this year we’re going to a different one, and can’t remember the name of it, but we’re going to a different winery near Gaillac, kind of a small family, very, very small family owned this time.

But there’s a bunch of them. And in the city center of Gaillac, which is not really a city, it’s a village. Well, it’s a big village. They have a kind of a wine discovery store. So you can go and you can taste wines from different producers and you can arrange for wine tastings and things like that.

And I tried to arrange that for one of the bootcamps, but the lady wasn’t very responsive and so I just gave up. But it’s probably a fine thing to do, because when I stopped they had a big group of French people who were enjoying tasting there, so why not?

[00:33:22] Elyse Rivin: Who knows, but, you know, sometimes they just don’t have somebody available who’s going to be able to do it in English, and that’s why they don’t really want to do it.

You never know.

[00:33:29] Annie Sargent: You never know. Yeah. It is a very nice place right by the river inGaillac, which is a cute little town too.

[00:33:37] Elyse Rivin: It’s another brick town.

[00:33:39] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:33:40] Elyse Rivin: Very much another brick town.

[00:33:41] Annie Sargent: And with a good train. So that’s one where you can get to on the train and then walk around and enjoy the winery, I mean, the wine store. And if you go on market day, it’s cute, you know? Yeah.

[00:33:54] Elyse Rivin: Exactly.

The Forests of Tarn

[00:33:55] Elyse Rivin: And then the other thing that we mentioned very, really at the beginning, but it is really, there are two forests that are really wonderful in the Tarn. I mean, the forests don’t end exactly, I guess, when the lines of the Tarn department end, You know. I mean, you know, it’s not like oh, I have to stop.

My trees can’t grow anymore, you know, this is the other forest. But, one of them, which is very close to Castelnau de Montmiral, is the very wonderful, beautiful forest of Grésigné, which was for centuries a royal forest, filled with these beautiful oak trees that were used and made into the ships for the king, for the royal family.

And, you know, the story of royal forest is such that, if you were caught as a peasant cutting down a tree, you could get executed for that. You know, the trees belonged to the king. Everything in the forest belonged to the king.

However, now you can hike. I’ve done this.

[00:34:50] Annie Sargent: They won’t kill you.

[00:34:51] Elyse Rivin: They won’t kill you.

You can even pick up a few of the leaves and dead branches and nobody’s going to bother you. It’s a gorgeous mixed forest. It’s, you know, not just oak, but it’s very, very big.

And there are lots of trails, lots of hiking trails, lots of, I think people who have, you know, VTT who really are adventurous can do some of that too.

It’s a bit up and down. It’s not particularly flat. It’s very close to some of the medieval villages. And it has a couple of parking lots. So you can come in from a couple of different sides and walk around there. And the part that I know about the entrance that I’ve been to is close to what is actually a horticultural center where they do experiments with making new varieties of apples and pears.

[00:35:36] Annie Sargent: Interesting.

[00:35:37] Elyse Rivin: I was only there once at a time of the year when they actually had stuff available because, you know, just show me an apple and I’m a goner, I like them, you know? But other times of the year it’s, they don’t have it really open to the public, but it’s very interesting to know that that’s one of the things that they do there, they have this experimental station.

And then the other, which I’ve been to several times, is the Sidobre.

[00:35:58] Annie Sargent: Yes, that one’s that one I’ve been to and they have these beautiful little, well, not even little, big, big, big, boulders, very round, beautiful shaped.

[00:36:09] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. This is the equivalent in the south of parts of Fontainebleau in the north. It’s a forest of granite. And according to what I was reading yesterday, it’s one of the areas that has the most granite, which is left from the last Ice Age.

These huge boulders that are granite because a lot of the stone around here is either limestone or sandstone or things like that. I don’t understand why this place is granite and the others aren’t. I’m really not. But what you have is these incredible formations, you know, with boulders that are one on top of the other and next to each other.

And so it’s become an enormous hiking area. It’s in the middle of the forest there, it’s very well marked and you can find your way through the trails. And then there are some signs that indicate, you know, maybe there’s fantasy names for things and stuff like that, but it’s kind of a fun place to go with kids.

[00:37:01] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. That’s for kids. It’s great.

Because you have easy paths and easy walks to something interesting,

[00:37:09] Elyse Rivin: And you can climb the rocks. I mean, this is a place, you know, you can scramble. I think that’s the right word, you know, you can go up and down on these boulders and it’s really quite impressive to see. I have to admit the last time I was there was in the fall. I don’t think it was this year. I think it was maybe last year with my husband and it had rained a few days before, I was a little prissy. I didn’t really want to go.


It gets a little wet and muddy, and then lots of fallen leaves and stuff like that. But it’s wonderful, wonderful in the summertime, especially if it’s been hot out and you go into this forest and it’s refreshing.

[00:37:43] Annie Sargent: It’s on a hot day. It’s lovely. Yeah.

[00:37:47] Elyse Rivin: So those are two really great forests, there’s a lot of hiking and biking in these different places.

[00:37:52] Annie Sargent: I should mention that if you want very granular details about hiking and biking, you need to know about the Komoot, it’s a website, I think it’s an American site, but French people use it a lot and they create kind of destination. So they mark the path and they will tell you, okay, to do this, you park here and it’s well marked, or it’s not well marked. You have this restaurant, or this and that along the way. And you can decide if you want, you know, how challenging you want it to be, if you want it to be a loop or not.

Komoot is very, very helpful to find bike rides and hiking paths in France.

[00:38:36] Elyse Rivin: Oh, good to know. Very good to know. There’s the cascades of the Arafat, that my husband wanted us to go.

[00:38:43] Annie Sargent: Not Arafat. Arifat. It sounded like you were talking about a Palestinian leader.

[00:38:48] Elyse Rivin: Yes, that’s true,that’s true, that’s true. My husband was there a long time ago, and he said it’s these beautiful waterfalls and everything, but what I was reading about it made it sound like it’s a kind of place to go when it’s a bit dry because otherwise it’d probably be very slippery.

I don’t know. It looks very pretty. The pictures I saw of it look very, very beautiful, but I’ve never been there, so I don’t really know.

[00:39:10] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I haven’t either.

[00:39:11] Elyse Rivin: I mean, let’s face it, you have villages, you have vineyards, you have forests, you have, I don’t know, there’s just about everything you want.

[00:39:19] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it’s just a, one of those places where it’s fun to go for a week or two if you want to take it easy. This is not for people who want to go from museum, to museum, to museum. This is more for people who want a relaxing vacation, take a bike ride, take a hike, perhaps go swimming, you know, just easy things like that.

And especially very, very good for people with kids. Because kids do love a good, you know, they don’t want it too long, too arduous, but they would, they love to do something a little bit every day.

And there’s plenty that you can do every day in the Tarn.

[00:39:57] Elyse Rivin: And there are people who decide to spend a few days staying in Albi, I’ve met people like that, who, you know, not just people who stay in Toulouse, you can stay in Albi, you can rent an apartment or a gîtes in one of the villages that’s in the central part of Tarn, and then you can go and do lots of different visits and you can spend the time in the history part and you can spend time in the nature part.

And interestingly enough, I find it in that the fact that it has two or three villages that are concentrated on crafts, which you don’t find all the time in France, you know, so you really have something for everybody.

[00:40:29] Annie Sargent: We have this all listed in the show notes for this episode because, you know, we like to chat. So this is a conversation, but if you want to see it written down, it’s all in the show notes for this episode.

Thank you so much, Elyse.

That was a very fun conversation.

And again, you told me about places I didn’t know, even though they’re right next to me.

[00:40:48] Elyse Rivin: Oh, but you know so many things, Annie!

[00:40:50] Annie Sargent: Yes, I know so many things. Yes. Merci. Au revoir.

[00:40:54] Elyse Rivin: Bye.


[00:40:55] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France travel podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2024 by AddictedToFrance. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.

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Categories: Occitanie, Toulouse Area