Tarn tri­an­gle

Just an hour’s drive from her home in Lot-et-garonne brings Julie Sav­ill to the borders of Tarn – yet it feels like a beau­ti­ful new world

French Property News - - Contents -

A whistlestop tour of some of the finest towns this de­part­ment has to of­fer

The me­dieval town of Cordes-sur-ciel

Ajaunt down the road into Tarn feels at once fa­mil­iar and ex­cit­ingly for­eign to me. I live in the east of Nou­velle Aquitaine, a well-trod­den, cosy re­gion close to the heart of many seek­ing a more leisurely way of life. If you’ve spent child­hood hol­i­days and sum­mer breaks in the fa­mil­iar rolling hills of Dor­dogne or the vine and sun­flower-filled fields of Char­ente, the more pro­nounced hills and val­leys of Tarn tell you in­stantly that you are on new ground. In­deed, the de­part­ment is named af­ter the ma­jes­tic river that me­an­ders through it.

A re­cent week­end trip took me on a wind­ing cir­cu­lar jour­ney through Tarn, loop­ing round some of the most scenic parts of this in­her­ently beau­ti­ful dé­parte­ment, in­clud­ing three towns so ad­mired that they form an area known as the ‘golden tri­an­gle’.

Mi­ran­dol-bourg­nounac I rocked up in Mi­ran­dol to col­lect a friend and off we set. It is a great work-a-day town sur­rounded by amaz­ing coun­try­side and good value prop­erty. It’s an an­ti­dote for those less keen on the tourist hotspots. Set right on the bor­der of ad­join­ing Avey­ron, Mi­ran­dol is set in an area of wide open and sweep­ing land­scapes. If you are look­ing for a room (or a prop­erty) with a view you al­most can’t fail round here. Prop­erty prices are very rea­son­able and from the quiet of a coun­try­side re­treat you are just half an hour from the na­tional trea­sure that is Albi. Ex­pect to pay €100,000 up­wards for a three-bed­room house with gar­den.

Cordes-sur-ciel From Mi­ran­dol we took the road to Cordes-surCiel which, along with the towns of Gail­lac and Albi, forms Tarn’s so-called ‘golden tri­an­gle’ for rea­sons that should soon be­come ob­vi­ous. As you round a bend and the town comes into sight it takes your breath away, perched on top of its rocky hill. This might not be the only time you lose your breath in Cordes!

If you visit (and I rec­om­mend that you do), leave your car at the bot­tom of the hill, for­tify your­self with a drink at a bar, then take a leisurely wan­der up the steep hill to the bastide at the top. Take it slowly – there’s lots to look at in the myr­iad tiny me­dieval streets – and choose your mo­ment to visit. If you want the (very good) guided tour of­fered by the tourist of­fice, then July and Au­gust is your win­dow.

This is a pho­tog­ra­pher’s par­adise with an­cient stone build­ings, weath­ered door­ways and me­dieval arches fram­ing pretty street scenes. Keen pho­tog­ra­phers and those who dis­like crowds might choose to go in spring or au­tumn when it is still look­ing beau­ti­ful and the tourists have dis­si­pated.

In 2014, Cordes-sur-ciel was voted the favourite vil­lage of the French and it’s easy to see why. The me­dieval stone houses are sought af­ter but the town is big enough to mean that there is al­ways a se­lec­tion of prop­erty avail­able. As with most bastide towns, houses in the cen­tre tend to have lit­tle or no out­side space. A three-bed­room house full of char­ac­ter might cost around €300,000.

St-an­tonin-noble-val

On the River Tarn, but just over the bor­der into Tarn-et-garonne, lies this gem of a me­dieval city. Be­ing this close (30 min­utes away) we bent our Tarn rule just a lit­tle to take in this spe­cial town.

The ap­proach brings you into the spec­tac­u­lar Gorges de l’avey­ron and the town of St-an­tonin nes­tles right in the bot­tom, along­side the river and look­ing up at the tow­er­ing lime­stone cliffs. Con­fus­ingly, the Avey­ron gorges are pri­mar­ily in Tarn-et-garonne while the fa­mous lime­stone Gorges du Tarn are mostly lo­cated in Lozère.

Visit on a Satur­day if mar­kets are your thing – the town cen­tre is taken over by fruit and vegetable stalls, clothes and some re­ally good artists sell­ing paint­ings and other creative good­ies. Over lunch we teased our­selves with the idea of sell­ing up (again!) and mov­ing to this pretty town. A ren­o­vated stone house with its me­dieval char­ac­ter pre­served might cost any­thing from €250,000 to €500,000.

This is a pho­tog­ra­pher’s par­adise with an­cient stone build­ings, weath­ered door­ways and me­dieval arches fram­ing pretty street scenes

Gail­lac

From St-an­tonin we headed off in search of our next photo op­por­tu­nity and pulled into Gail­lac, a town that forms the south-west­ern cor­ner of the golden tri­an­gle and is on the route of ev­ery wine con­nois­seur. With its toes in the waters of the River Tarn, the town orig­i­nally de­vel­oped around a Bene­dic­tine abbey.

The most visit-wor­thy parts are clus­tered be­side the river, in­clud­ing the Abbey St-michel, the 13th-cen­tury St-peter’s church and many note­wor­thy town­houses built in the dis­tinc­tive lo­cal red brick. Pick up a leaflet from the tourist of­fice that sug­gests a very good route around the cen­tre.

These days, Gail­lac is known for its vine­yards and the ex­cel­lent wines they pro­duce; not sur­pris­ingly there are many places where you can taste and buy them. The Mai­son des Vins has more than 100 to sam­ple. And then, of course, there is din­ner to be con­sid­ered, where a glass of red, white, rosé, dessert or sparkling wine would go down well. Book your­self into one of the many very good lo­cal B&BS and try a dif­fer­ent one with each course.

Albi

What can I say? This town is so beau­ti­ful and so ar­chi­tec­turally sig­nif­i­cant that the epis­co­pal cen­tre, around the Cathe­drale Ste-cé­cile, was added to the UNESCO list of World Her­itage Sites in 2010. No won­der it forms the south­east­ern tip of the golden tri­an­gle. Strad­dling the River Tarn, the town is largely built of red brick and de­serves a whole day to do it jus­tice. Buy an Albi City Pass from the tourist of­fice for €12 if you plan on vis­it­ing the most sig­nif­i­cant build­ings such as the cathe­dral nave and the Toulouse-lautrec mu­seum. The pass also of­fers dis­counts in cer­tain shops and restau­rants as well as river boat trips.

As the dé­parte­ment cap­i­tal for Tarn, Albi has a full cal­en­dar of events. You are in for a treat if you visit in July for Bastille Day. A mag­nif­i­cent fire­work dis­play takes place over the river be­tween two of the bridges.

A three-bed­room house in the im­me­di­ate Albi area might cost €300,000-€400,000. Ven­ture a lit­tle fur­ther afield and you still have all the at­trac­tions of Albi within a 30-minute drive but prices are a lit­tle lower and there are fewer tourists to deal with.

Albi back to Mi­ran­dol was another half-hour drive (the Tarn seems to be quite mirac­u­lous in that ev­ery­where ap­pears to be about half an hour from the next ma­jor point of in­ter­est!) where we re­flected on two days of amaz­ing sights. We re­ally only scratched the sur­face of this beau­ti­ful de­part­ment. Oh, well, we’ll just have to lose our­selves in the Tarn tri­an­gle another time.

Julie Sav­ill is Mar­ket­ing Di­rec­tor at Beaux Vil­lages Im­mo­bilier Tel: 0800 270 01 01 (freep­hone from the UK) beauxvil­lages.com

St-an­tonin-noble-val on the Tarn river

St-an­tonin was the set­ting for re­cent film The Hun­dred-foot Jour­ney

View of Albi on a sum­mer evening

Gail­lac forms one cor­ner of the ‘golden tri­an­gle’

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