What to visit in the department of Tarn ? The Tarn is one of my favorite regions of France. The landscapes are magnificent, the gastronomy excellent and the sun is as much in the heart of its inhabitants as in the sky. To visit this territory, the best is still to plan a route between its towns and villages to alternate the visit of atypical cities and the discovery of natural landscapes.
How to prepare your discovery of the Tarn ? Which are the cities to discover ? What are the good addresses? What is there to see around the Tarn to extend your stay ? You will find in this travel guide many advices to prepare your next stay.
The Tarn in brief
- When to go? The Tarn is a very natural destination where each season has its strengths. I personally have a preference for summer to enjoy the sunny days or autumn for the glowing landscapes!
- How long will I stay there? At least 2 days to discover Albi and its close surroundings but ideally plan 5 days (and more if affinity) to be able to visit several towns and villages without too much hurry.
- For whom ? In the Tarn, we take the time to live and admire the landscapes so the discovery of the villages listed in this article is suitable for everyone, solo, couple, friends or family, by organizing your program at your own pace.
How to get to the Tarn ?
To visit the Tarn, the easiest way is to go to the city of Toulouse. From the north of France (Paris, Nantes, Rennes, Lille…) the plane is the fastest and cheapest means of transport: for example, it takes only 1h20 and 75 € to go from Paris to Toulouse and back.
For a greener mode of transport there is of course the train, it takes 4h30 to get from Paris to Toulouse and at least a hundred euros for the return trip.
Once you arrive in Toulouse, you can reach Castres, Albi or Mazamet by TER but for more freedom, the best is to rent a car on the spot which will give you the freedom to go easily in the cities as well as in the villages.
Towns & villages of character to see in the Tarn
The gateway to discover the Tarn is of course the beautiful city of Albi and capital of the department. Typical by the bricks that make up most of its buildings, this ochre city is particularly exotic.
After strolling through the streets to feel the peaceful atmosphere, you can discover a magnificent cultural heritage, starting with the impressive cathedral, nicknamed the “fortress of God” because of its very rough appearance that contrasts with the delicacy of its interior. Just next door, push the door of the Toulouse-Lautrec museum which pays homage to the local child.
Best places to go in Albi
I fall in love with Hotel Alchimy, a 4-star establishment located in the heart of the old town with spacious and tastefully decorated rooms.
The guest house l’Autre Rives allows you to enjoy a stay in an idyllic setting with swimming pool and gardens. The owners, very welcoming, will have many advices to give you to discover the city.
The restaurant “L’Epicurien” is undoubtedly the best restaurant of Albi, a gastronomic establishment where you can taste tasty dishes sublimated by a well-stocked cellar in a refined setting.
Close to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum, you can settle down at the Pont du Tarn to enjoy a local cuisine made with fresh products.
To see near Albi :
The mine museum of Carmaux-Cagnac and its impressive reconstitution of an underground gallery which allows you to dive, helmet on your head, in the fascinating industrial and human epic of the mining basin.
Gaillac is a little sister of Albi, also built mainly in brick, it is poetically nicknamed ” The Rose of the Midi “. Wine lovers will probably associate it with the appellation of the same name since a large vineyard spreads out around the town. Impossible to come here without dipping one’s lips in a glass (always with moderation of course!). For a visit of a wine domination, I recommend you to go and discover the Lastours castle.
Best places to go in Gaillac
Big (very big!) crush for the Domaine de Perches, a charming guest house ideally located between Albi, Cordes-sur-Ciel and Gaillac. This former wine estate has been entirely refurbished by its new owners who have made it a restful, luxurious and elegant place in the middle of the vineyards. Apart from the rooms, the common areas (lounges, library…) are freely accessible and a swimming pool makes it possible to take advantage of the sunny climate of the south! For the evening, it is possible to dine on site with a refined menu in the company of your hosts. A beautiful moment of sharing.
The Table du sommelier is, as its name suggests, an address that gives pride of place to wines. Here, the dishes are chosen according to the wines rather than the other way around. A nice way to discover a few bottles of the region.
To see around Gaillac :
Don’t miss the Cayla castle-museum. This House of Illustrious was the birthplace of the poet Maurice de Guérin (1810-1839) and his sister Eugénie (1805-1848). Today it is a museum that valorizes the archives of the Guérin family and shows the Tarn life of the 19th century.
Penne is a village that does not go unnoticed! The reason for this is its 12th century fortified castle whose ruins stand proudly on a rocky spur. This castle was the stake of wars during the Albigensian crusade (13th century) and then during the Hundred Years War. Left abandoned for 450 years, its ruins are the subject of a restoration campaign.
Here is a unique place rightly classified among the most beautiful villages of France. Built high up on a rocky spur, the fortified village of Puycelsi can be seen from afar. Here, one takes pleasure in strolling through the narrow streets and, along the ramparts, contemplating the view of the surroundings. Remember also to push the door of the church, a little jewel to be seen absolutely.
Not far from Puycelsi, Castelnau-de-Montmirail is also classified among the most beautiful villages in France. It was built at the beginning of the 13th century inside ramparts pierced by six gates. Nowadays there are still three but the castle that gave its name to the village was destroyed during the Revolution.
Did you know that the narrowest isthmus in Europe is in the Tarn? And it is here that the village of Ambialet stands, which seems to be surrounded by the river. Classified “Small cities of character”, it is located in the heart of nature.
At an altitude of 295 meters, the priory of Ambialet dominates the region and offers a breathtaking view of the surroundings. This former monastery belonged to the less Benedictine monks until a few years before the French Revolution. In the 19th century it was bought by Father Clausade who recreated the Franciscan Third Order Regular there. The monastery became a private property and is now the property of the Mato Grosso Association. The 11th century chapel can be visited free of charge.
If you want to contribute to the safeguarding of this site, you can give your support through the Heritage Foundation. Your donation will help finance the restoration of the chapel.
Best places to go in Ambialet
For lunch, stop at the Hotel du Pont. You will be able to enjoy a local cuisine with a superb view on the river (don’t forget to ask for a place on the terrace). You will fall in love with the “Poule Célestine”, a recipe from the chef’s great-grandmother!
To see around Ambialet :
Only a few kilometers away, don’t miss the discovery of the church of Alban. If from the outside this church is rather banal, the inside is sumptuous. One finds there indeed large frescos realized by Nicolaï Greschny.
ALSO READ: The (very) astonishing church of Alban
Built during the crusade against the Albigensians, this city was quickly enriched, allowing the construction of sumptuous Gothic palaces. As you wander through its winding streets, you will embark on a true journey through time, to the 13th century. But Cordes-sur-Ciel is not called like that for nothing: it is built on a hillside and you will have to force a little on the gambettes to reach its summit. However, the reward is worth the effort: one can enjoy a beautiful view of the surroundings.
In this charming city I recommend you to go and have a look at the town hall which takes place in the former bishops’ palace since Napoleon confiscated the bishoprics and which adjoins the French gardens designed by Le Nôtre. On market days, take the time to talk with local producers and taste the local specialties: nougatine, blood sausage, pink garlic, shuttles…
Best places to go in Castres
I recommend you the Grand Hotel which is located in the city center, on the banks of the Agout river. Ask for a room that overlooks the river so you can enjoy the magnificent view of the colorful houses facing it. In good weather, breakfast (copious and delicious) is taken on the terrace by the water, a delight!
For dinner, you just have to cross the bridge to reach the “Part des Anges“. This beautiful address classified in the Bib-Gourmand (the Michelin reference for restaurants offering the best value for money) offers seasonal cuisine that sublimates the products of local producers.
To see around Castres :
The Mazamet footbridge, an impressive 140-meter long facility suspended 40 meters high, accessible free of charge. It offers a breathtaking view of the Arnette valley.
In Sorèze, visit the Abbaye-Ecole, a former place of worship that became a school, a royal military school and then a museum. There is now a museum on the life of a pupil in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the Dom Robert museum on the life and work of this monk-artist.
Around the Tarn
The beauty of these landscapes does not stop at the border of the Tarn, there are also other charming villages to be discovered in the surroundings! A glance at some of the wonders to see in the Tarn-et-Garonne and Aveyron.
In the Tarn-et-Garonne
Near Penne and Puycelsi, make a detour to see the village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. This medieval village is dominated by the Roc d’Anglars, an impressive limestone wall, and promises a total change of scenery in the middle of its alleys where one likes to take one’s time.
If possible, go there on Sunday morning (between 8 and 1 pm) to take advantage of its impressive market (reputed to be one of the most beautiful in France) where you can discover regional products: cheeses, delicatessen, fruits and vegetables, wines… Be careful, this market is very busy, especially on sunny days, it is better to go before 10 am.
Bruniquel is a place full of histories! In addition to a cave that was visited 176,000 years ago under Neanderthal, there are also two castles that dominate the town: the “young” castle and the “old” castle built on old walls from the Middle Ages. From the top of these impressive monuments, you can enjoy a superb view of the Gorges de l’Aveyron. These two castles hosted the shooting of the film “Le vieux fusil” with Philippe Noiret and Romy Schneider at the beginning of the 70s. An exhibition of photographs allows to discover the backstage of this shooting.
When you leave the visit of the castles, take time to stroll through the streets of this beautiful village founded, according to legend, by Queen Brunehaut, daughter of the King of the Visigoths. Pebble-paved streets, old houses and ornate facades have allowed Bruniquel to obtain the label “Most beautiful villages in France”.
In the Aveyron
On the Aveyron side, don’t miss Rodez to discover its impressive cathedral but also (especially?) the Soulages museum. Born thanks to several donations from Pierre and Colette Soulages, this museum presents numerous works by the artist, from 1946 to 2012, which allow you to discover the evolution of his art.
Classified “Most beautiful villages of France”, Sauveterre-de-Rouergue is a city founded in 1281. This royal bastide has many stone or half-timbered houses as well as a superb square surrounded by 47 arcades.
To see, a few kilometers away: the Viaur viaduct, a superb railway bridge created in 1902 to cross the Viaur valley, between Rodez and Albi.
The map of the good addresses
To better prepare your stay, you will find on this map all the best places listed in this article.
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Thanks to Tarn Tourisme and especially to Christian for his warm welcome in this beautiful region.