Conquer the Tarn’s Bastide Villages this Spring
As Spring approaches and the temperatures start to rise in south west France to a comfortable 16°c, it is the ideal time for visitors to discover the beautiful countryside of the Tarn and its splendid bastides. Built between the 13th and 14th century, these hill top villages are typical of the region, and have retained much of their medieval character.
The region of Tarn is a beautiful department which lies just north east of Toulouse. One of the most preserved parts of France, its beautiful countryside earned it its affectionate nickname of the ‘Tuscany of France’, due to its rolling hills covered in sunflowers, its preserved authenticity and its outstanding local gastronomy. This includes the pink garlic of Lautrec, the spice saffron, Foie Gras, as well as the charcuterie.
Here are three bastides which aren’t to be missed:
Cordes sur Ciel
Cordes sur Ciel is perhaps the best known bastide in Tarn – it was crowned France’s best loved village in 2014, and it’s not difficult to see why. Sitting on a large hill, the village– whose name literally translates to Cordes on the Sky- is a striking site which dominates the landscape. Visiting Cordes sur Ciel is a trip back in time- the paved streets have remained unchanged since the middle ages, and not a car is to be seen. Cordes is home to many authentic small shops which sell the best of the local arts and crafts of the region, offering the chance for visitors to purchase authentic and unique souvenirs.
Not to be missed are the beautiful gardens of Jardins du Paradis, whose many species of plants and flowers create a haven of peace and which offer outstanding views over the surrounding countryside.
Cordes sur Ciel is also home to its very own Musée Les Arts du Sucre et du Chocolat, a museum dedicated to chocolate and sweets art, which was established here by a local chocolate maker. The museum’s exhibitions feature artworks made entirely of chocolate, and the Museum’s shop give visitors the opportunity to try delicious locally made products, from French specialties like macaroons to the local croquant, a specialty of Cordes made with almonds and sugar.
Castelnau de Montmiral
Smaller than Cordes sur Ciel, Castelnau de Montmiral is much appreciated by locals and visitors alike who enjoy its peaceful atmosphere away from the crowds. The village is perhaps best known for its stunning Place des Arcades, the village’s central square. Bordered on all four sides by Tudor style houses on vaulted arches, it is a small marvel of 14th century architecture and one of the best preserved medieval squares in south west France.
Today, the square is home to many traditional restaurants, providing the ideal location for visitors to discover the rich gastronomy of the Tarn’s countryside, such as Fois Gras, Pink Garlic, and the famous Charcuterie. Visitors also love exploring the narrow streets which have also retained their strong medieval character and discovering the many beautiful gothic facades, statues, gargoyles, and wells.
Castlenau de Montmiral is also surrounded by the Foret Gresigne, a large forest known for its large deer population, which visitors can see by following the many walking trails.
Straight out of a fairy-tale, the village of Puycelsi is perched on a large, perfectly flat rock and overlooks the Vère Valley below. The village boasts some of the best preserved medieval ramparts and gates in France, and the battlements, drawbridge and imposing gates make visitors instantly feel transported back in time.
Entirely made up of 14th and 15th century stone buildings, the village is a wonder to walk through and its church Sainte Corneille is a must see. Its vivid ceiling paintings are dazzling and offer a magical sight for everyone, and those with a keen eye for details might also spot a small statue of a pig on one of its wall. Indeed, Puycelsi boasts its own legend; during the middle ages, the town was sieged, and its food supply was made dangerously scarce. One of the villagers, unwilling to surrender, came up with a cunning plan – she made a pig repeatedly run along the battlements, painted a different colour each time. Seeing so many pigs let loose around the town, the assailants thought the villagers too well-fed to be likely to surrender, and left, freeing the town.
Just outside the village, visitors can also visit the Conservation Orchard, which aims to preserve and promote ancient local variety of fruits, most of which date back to the medieval times. This makes a unique occasion for visitors to have a taste of the rich culinary heritage of the region, as well as to discover rare and unheard of species of fruits.
For more information please visit Le Tarn Tourisme, www.tourisme-tarn.com/tarn/en.