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Have you ever explored France’s Tarn valley?

PUBLISHED: 12:30 29 May 2015 | UPDATED: 16:25 06 January 2016

Albi's Pont Vieux © CDT Tarn/Christian Rivière

Albi's Pont Vieux © CDT Tarn/Christian Rivière

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From the magnificent bridges that soar above the valleys to the charming facades in its lively villages, Carine Bar explores her personal highlights of this area of France

The fortified village of Lagarde Viaur © CDT Tarn/Christian RivièreThe fortified village of Lagarde Viaur © CDT Tarn/Christian Rivière

In the heart of south-west France in Midi-Pyrénées lies the department of Tarn. The department has managed to keep a perfect balance with its seductive landscapes, historic monuments, traditional communities, museums, gastronomy, vineyards, villages and all its small corners of paradise.

The Tarn landscape is marked by the episcopal city of Albi which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourists from around the world come to admire its treasures, such as the Ste-Cécile Cathedral (the only cathedral in the world to be entirely built of brick), the Berbie Palace (the lavish episcopal palace, now hosting the Toulouse-Lautrec museum), the wonderful St-Salvy church and cloister in the old city, and the oldest bridge in France, built in 1040.

Red bricks are everywhere in Albi and they set the tone of the city. The atmosphere changes along with the daylight, from a delicate pinkish hue in the morning, to warm orange under a scorching summer sun, to red in the evening.

Place des Arcades, Castelnau-de-Montmiral © CDT Tarn/Isabelle GuellePlace des Arcades, Castelnau-de-Montmiral © CDT Tarn/Isabelle Guelle

Albi has the leisurely pace of the south-west. You will enjoy the easy-going atmosphere found along its old cobbled lanes, at one of its sunny café terraces or while tasting its local delicacies. Festivals, events and exhibitions throughout the year invite you to stroll around or take a break by the river.

At the heart of Albi flows the River Tarn. You can still board a gabarre for a river ride along the valley to change the way you look at our Tarn heritage: the sluices, the bridges and the mills of Albi and Rabastens.

In Trébas-les-Bains, a small peaceful village 38km from the city, you can enjoy leisure activities including canoeing, swimming and fishing. In this valley, the small town of Ambialet is a real little paradise with exhilarating views.

Celts, Romans and the English in turn settled on this unique piece of land to look for iron. The counts of Albi built a fortress, while the monks erected a priory and a Romanesque chapel. From the top of the priory, to the plateau of Albi and the hills of Ségala, the view is breathtaking.

The River Viaur flows from its source on the Lévézou plateau in Aveyron to Laguépie, a town in Tarn-et-Garonne. The Romans, who once called this river ‘the way of gold’, provided the name of Viaur. This waterway’s famous viaduct is a metal giant which creates a harmonious manmade association between technology and nature.

Montirat, close to the river, was a stop for pilgrims on the way to Conques and its origins date back to the 9th century. More recent chapels and churches from the 16th and 17th centuries remain to this day.

The fortified village of Lagarde Viaur is a place that attracts many visitors in search of living heritage. This place is a haven of peace and quiet, and the surrounding scenery is a source of inspiration and creativity.

The villages here which belong to the Plus Beaux Villages de France association have achieved a harmonious balance between their remarkable heritage and the development of sustainable economic activities, and are certainly worth a visit.

Castelnau-de-Montmiral, whose name means ‘mount of where we see’, is now a particularly attractive holiday destination. Its houses and narrow streets are a marvel of medieval architecture, as is the central arcaded square. Intimate and friendly, it is the place where people like to meet for lunch or coffee on one of the terraces. Nature lovers will discover beautiful hiking trails through the forest of Grésigne and walks beside the famous Gaillac vineyards.

Monestiés is ideally situated between Albi and Cordes-sur-Ciel and is a pretty medieval village nestled in a bend of the River Cérou. You will be charmed by the St-Jacques chapel with its 20 statues representing the passion of the Christ. Monestiés still retains its medieval appearance with narrow streets of timbered houses, its feudal castle and the old fountain.

Cordes-sur-Ciel gives you the chance to rise above the skies in this hilltop village that seems suspended between heaven and earth, and on misty mornings in particular it appears to float magically in the air. There are signs of its rich heritage everywhere, from the ramparts and sculpted façades to the former manoirs of wealthy merchants, and you almost feel as though you’ve been transported back to medieval times.

Inspired by Cordes-sur-Ciel, numerous painters, writers, ceramicists, sculptors and jewellers have settled here, and the cobbled lanes leading up to the top of the village are lined with art galleries and craft workshops. And the view from the top really is breathtaking, so you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts.

Carine Bar works as a sales advisor with Selection Habitat

Tel: 0033 (0)5 65 70 10 49

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