Quick guide to... Montauban
On the banks of the River Tarn, an hour’s drive north of Toulouse, lies Montauban, one of the finest bastides in France. Founded in 1144, the fortified town is distinguished by its arcaded walkways and tall, pink-hued buildings.
What can I see and do? Wander around the attractive historic centre, the focal point of which is Place Nationale ( main picture). The late-17thCentury square is accessed by gateways at each corner, and enclosed by grand, pinkstone houses set above fine arcades.
A five-minute walk takes you to the white-stoned Cathédrale Notre-dame de l’assomption ( pictured inset), which stands at the highest point of the town. The baroque building dates from the mid-18th Century and displays a masterpiece by the Montauban-born artist Jean-augusteDominique Ingres. Entitled Le Voeu de Louis XIII, the painting depicts the king pledging France to the Virgin Mary.
A museum dedicated to the town’s most famous son stands next to the 700-year-old Pont Vieux, but is closed until 2019 for major renovation work. In the meantime, some of the neo-classical artist’s paintings are on display at the Ancien Collège, which also houses the tourist office.
Where are the best places to eat? Sample traditional Gascon cuisine served in a relaxed setting at the Du Nord au Sud brasserie (mains from €15, tel: (Fr) 5 63 20 62 69). Highlights include scallops with mushrooms, and herb-infused lamb accompanied by mustard-glazed carrots.
Another great place for regional cuisine is La Cave Ô Délices (mains from €10.50, cave-o-delices.fr). Set in a vaulted cellar, the cosy restaurant serves dishes such as beef fillet steak in a wine sauce and rack of lamb served with crushed chickpeas.
For a touch of indulgence, head to Au Fil de l’eau (menus from €28, aufildeleau82.com). Dishes include asparagus feuilleté with crayfish; turbot fillet with a sweet potato purée and fennel; and pigeon in a creamy sauce with a leek glaze.
Where should I stay? Book into the Hôtel Mercure Montauban (doubles from €99, accorhotels.com), which is housed in an 18th-century building in the historic centre. The 44 rooms have satellite TV and Wi-fi, and the restaurant offers gourmet dining.
Get me there!
Toulouse-blagnac airport is 52km south of Montauban and is served by various UK airlines. Direct trains from Paris Montparnasse to Montauban take around 3hr 50min (tel: 0844 848 5848, voyages-sncf.com).
For more information, visit montaubantourisme.com