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Living France - - DESTINATION -

Top to bot­tom: One of France’s Castel­nau-deMont­mi­rail is an his­toric vil­lage with a strong lo­cal com­mu­nity; colour­ful houses over­look the River Agout in Cas­tres along both banks of the River Tarn to pro­duce de­li­cious vin­tages of in­ter­na­tional ac­claim. Am­ple tast­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties arise while ex­plor­ing the way­marked Route des Vins, which is lit­tered with in­de­pen­dent wine-pro­duc­ers who wel­come in passers-by for cel­lar tours.

Right in the heart of the depart­ment, on the banks of the River Agout, lies Cas­tres – home to top-level rugby club Cas­tres Olympique. It’s one of the Tarn’s most unas­sum­ing towns, with a gen­tle pace of life that feels au­then­ti­cally French. The sense of lo­cal ca­ma­raderie is pal­pa­ble at its morn­ing mar­ket, which spills over Place Jean Jau­rès; the cen­tral square named af­ter the so­cial­ist leader born in Cas­tres. Here you’ll find lo­cal ven­dors ex­chang­ing bises with pass­ing pun­ters and sell­ing sun-swollen fruit and sea­sonal veg­eta­bles, for­aged ceps and dusty-pink gar­lic from the nearby vil­lage of Lautrec.

The mar­ket is where Chef Si­mon Scott of­ten picks up in­gre­di­ents for his lo­cal restau­rant Le Bistrot des Saveurs. He’s famed in the area and be­yond for be­ing the only Bri­tish chef liv­ing in France to have been awarded a Miche­lin star; no small feat in a coun­try famed for its culi­nary na­tion­al­ism. Si­mon has been liv­ing in the area for more than a decade af­ter mov­ing from Lon­don with his wife, Marie-Hélène, who is from Cas­tres. “At first, be­ing a chef in France was a bit daunting,” he re­calls, “but once we got past the ini­tial pe­riod, and got the Miche­lin star, it got much bet­ter.”

The cou­ple opened their first restau­rant in the foothills of the Mon­tagne Noire be­fore de­cid­ing to move to a more cen­tral lo­ca­tion in Cas­tres six years ago. “Liv­ing here is great,” Si­mon says. “We’ve got a good cir­cle of friends and strong links to the rugby team, an­other great pas­sion of mine. There are many in­ter­na­tional play­ers liv­ing here, who we’ve got to know. This is partly why we close the restau­rant at week­ends – to go and watch the rugby.”

Aside from rugby, a favourite Cas­tres pas­time is pack­ing up a lunch ham­per and head­ing down to the river. Over­hang­ing the wa­ter are pic­turesque houses painted in multi-colours that are ves­tiges of Cas­tres’ for­mer tex­tile trade. Here, in warmer months, you can board a tra­di­tional miredame wooden boat for a leisurely 20-minute me­an­der down­stream to the Gour­jade Park – a fan­tas­ti­cally ver­dant ex­panse of grass­land per­fect for a pic­nic. Like much of the Tarn, it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence to be savoured as an ex­am­ple of the end­less joys of ru­ral France at its very best.

Tourist In­for­ma­tion

Tarn tourist of­fice Tel: 00 33 (0) 5 63 77 32 10 tourisme-tarn.com

Fact file

Where to stay

Hostel­lerie du Grand Saint-An­toine 17 Rue Saint-An­toine 81000 Albi Tel: 00 33 (0) 5 63 54 04 04 ho­tel-saint-an­toine-albi.com

Hostel­lerie du Vieux Cordes 21 Rue Saint-Michel 81170 Cordes-sur-Ciel Tel: 00 33 (0) 5 63 53 79 20 hostel­leriehvc.com

Where to eat

La Ta­ble du Som­me­lier 20 Rue Porta 81000 Albi Tel: 00 33 (0) 5 63 46 20 10 lat­able­du­som­me­lier.com

Bistrot des Saveurs 5 Rue Sainte-Foy 81100 Cas­tres Tel: 00 33 (0) 5 63 50 11 45 bistrot-saveurs.com

Get­ting there

The near­est air­port is Toulouse. Reg­u­lar flights run from var­i­ous UK air­ports by car­ri­ers in­clud­ing Flybe, easyJet and Air France.

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