Wanting to escape from it all and to find the perfect retreat, Laura Croxford explains why Tarn is the place to go if you are searching for ‘la France profonde’
Looking for wide open spaces, rolling countryside, quiet walking paths, and rivers you can fish and swim in? Would you like to be within reach of the sea, the mountains and the UK? Do you want a pretty stone property with land around it, neighbours not too close but friendly locals in the vicinity? Are you looking for a slower pace of life?
Within 45 minutes of Toulouse international airport, which offers various flights to and from the UK, is the department of Tarn where you will find all of the above without having to pay the earth. Tarn is how France should be: authentic, historic and unspoilt. With easy access to three major airports serving the UK, you can be here within a couple of hours. In fact, many people who live here actually work in the UK and return to their French havens for the weekends.
The most sought-after area is the ‘golden triangle’, the three axes of which are Albi (capital of Tarn), Gaillac (with some of the oldest vineyards in France) and the hilltop medieval town of Cordes-sur-Ciel (which was recently voted by the French as their favourite town).
Albi has recently been accorded world heritage status with its impressive medieval cathedral, Toulouse-Lautrec museum and its numerous restaurants nestling within its cobbled streets. Historically and culturally rich due to the presence and suffering of the Cathars between the 12th and 14th centuries, Albi cathedral and numerous castles in the region date back to this era.
The climate is another huge draw; the seasons being well defined; summer temperatures in Albi have been known to reach 41°C in August and fall as low as –12°C in winter. One notable difference is the deep blue skies and intense sunshine which brighten up even the sharpest of winter mornings. With an average of 2,112 hours of sunshine per year in Albi (as compared to 1,582 in Oxford) the sun cheers up everything and everyone.
In terms of sport, Tarn is dominated by rugby; each village has a club with players ranging from the ages of six to 60. Castres were French champions last year, Albi are in the Pro D2 league and Toulouse, just over the border in Haute-Garonne, is close by so the best of French rugby is right on your doorstep.
Talking of activities, let’s not forget the summer fêtes. Each village holds a festival which lasts a weekend, many based around local free-range produce like duck, veal and cheese. All the commune gets together, old and young alike at the table and on the dancefloor. La Fête du Vin at Gaillac is a particular favourite. Très convivial!
The countryside is varied, the numerous rivers carving out dramatic landscapes and gorges, while the plains of Segala provide excellent grazing land for cattle and views which just go on and on.
Many people are simply looking to escape, and what a wonderful place to escape to. Be it for a holiday home, retirement home or year-round living, Tarn is superb. The roads are quiet, the skies blue, and there is plenty of sunshine, wine and cheese to go round!
With ease of access to the UK assured, Tarn is also ideally situated within France, within reach of the Mediterranean and the Pyrénées. So why not nip off to the ski slopes for a long weekend, or take a day trip to the sea? Steeped in history, rich in architecture and stacked high with gastronomic delights, the Tarn experience is one to behold! Great location, stunning scenery and pleasing climate. Why not come and see for yourself?
Laura Croxford runs Midi French Properties in Tarn
Tel: 0033 (0)5 63 76 92 33