Sud Ouest or southwest magic of France

Ok  I am going to talk about a large area covering many villages and town of old, known to my family as they are from there on the father’s side . These are all in cathar country in the Sud Ouest or south west region of France, in the Tarn department no 81 region of midi pyrénées. The towns are Gaillac, Montans,Giroussens, Graulhet, St Lieux les Lavaur, St Paul Cap de Joux, and Castelnau de Montmirail.

It is a beautiful region best done by car, you get the feel of the local people, the sceneries, the smell of the good wine of Gaillac made mostly with ingenious grapes of the regions. I will try to hit the highlights of each to help in your future travels but of course one blog cannot cover them all in detail.

Let me start with Gaillac, this is a wonderful laidback country town but the center of one of the best wines in France. One of the red grapes Duras is one of the oldest in the world, and the Mauzac for whites is typical of the area. The official webpage is at http://www.vins-gaillac.com/ .  The best way to reach it and the other towns is by car of course, the D988 or old N88 link Toulouse with it which links with the N20/A20 from Paris or the autoroute A68 from Toulouse. The best way is to seek a route planner for all these towns the best available is viamichelin, however, if one more details on driving in the area than a route planner will give you dont hesitate to ask me specific questions. www.viamichelin.co.uk . The D112 from Toulouse thru Lavaur and the D631 to Graulhet, the D12 /D87 to Giroussens etc etc. Parking is always very easy to find as these are smaller town with nice plazas.

The train stations are easily found on the TER midi pyrénées site, but I have not use the train nor bus in the area yet, car is king for me… http://www.ter-sncf.com/Regions/Midi_Pyrenees/fr/Default.aspx ,again if difficulties with the site in French, let me know and will help you.  The above site covers for all the towns mentioned here.  bus transportation is available but less frequent in my opinion, the bus site for all the Tarn towns is TarnBus at http://tarnbus.tarn.fr/index.php?id=2742

What is there to see in Gaillac, other than the wineries, and the wine center at the historical Abbaye Saint Michel , by place St Michel and behind it the river Tarn flowing freely ;it is also the tourist office. Built in 972AD and rebuilt in 1221AD,it is very nice to visit for the architecture alone. Here is the Maison des Vins de Gaillac  on the above Gaillac vins webpage. Many battles between the royal forces and the cathars were held in the town, one of the principal reminder is the rue de l’Anquillé very quaint old medieval and site of hand to hand combats, headquarters of the order of Chevaliers of St Jean de Jerusalem.  The place d’Hautpoul where the hotel de ville is located is big and wonderful plaza. As well as the picturesque and nice plaza the place du Griffoul with a nice fountain typical of the area. To follow is a webpage that covers the bastides or fortified towns of the area in which Gaillac was one, but ,also, some of the other towns that will be mentioned here such as Giroussens, Graulhet ,etc. http://www.tourisme-vignoble-bastides.com/

Montans is a very small village, this is where the family has uncles and my wife grew up going to the local wine cooperative nearby. The only and biggest and wonderful place here is the Archiosite de Montans, an excavation that found many objects as it was one of the most important centers of Roman pottery ,and you will be able to see it as it was back then with ceramics making shops. The webpage is here http://www.archeosite.com/

Giroussens, has the magnificent Jardin des Martels, founding plant and flora of all types in a huge park, considered one of the most beautiful in France, the webpage is here http://www.jardinsdesmartels.com/liens.php  . The place of making pottery for the kings of France and as far as Louisiana in the USA and Quebec in Canada. You have the Church of Saint Salvy from the 14C, with a chapel dedicated to Sainte Rufine the patron sainte of potters. The castle of  Chateau de Bélbeze, built in 1640 by the master water and forest of Toulouse, and sold as national property at the French revolution.  The Maison de la Ceramique Contemporain at Place Lucie-Bouniol  is wonderful to see the different shades and shapes of ceramics, no web admission is 2,50e email them for info at ceramique.giroussens@cc-rabastinois.fr . You have a nice tourist article in pdf file for the city here http://www.tourisme-vignoble-bastides.com/index.php3?id_gmenu=13020&code_menu=bastide&langue=fr

Graulhet, has a wonderful market days in the lower city of ville basse which you descend by steps of stone from the high city or ville hausse, location is Place du Jourdain.  The grandparents of my wife used to come here for shopping, and its a major center of tanners for leather goods in France.  Discoveries in the area dates the city from about 500BC.  It did not suffer much in the war of religions in the area as it remain neutral!!! You can see the Pont Vieux or old bridge built in 1244AD and the walk rue Panessac, but the main action is in the market as beforemention. You have an pdf file for the city here http://www.tourisme-vignoble-bastides.com/index.php3?id_gmenu=13020&code_menu=bastide&langue=fr

Saint Lieux lés Lavaur, has an interesting real train ride from the old days, and still kept alive by enthusiasts, the ride is wonderful for the entire family. Its call  the chemin de fer touristique du Tarn . It is listed as an association of Acova ,and has five locomotives of vapor, 3 locomotives electric, and 25  locotracteurs or road switchers. The webpage is http://www.cftt.org/ . The tourist office in the pays de la cocagne as well as the nice town of St Sulpice is at http://www.bastidecocagne-tarn.com/a-voir-aux-alentours/st-lieux-les-lavaur/

Saint Paul Cap de Joux, it has a beautifully built church, and the historical fact that in 1585, Henri of Navarra the future king Henri IV signed the Manifest of Saint Paul with the governor of the Languedoc, Henri Ier, Duke of Montmorency, adding the territory which later came to the kingdom of France. It is here, also, that in 1145AD  St Bernard de Clairvaux came to preach what would later be the Cathar heresy. It is also from here that the Cathar community was installed in the north of  Italy,  the chapel from the 14C of  Sainte-Cécile de Plane Sylve, where there is now a cross tell us that it was here the center Cathar of Saint Paul . Tourist page for the city in the pays de l’Agout river is at http://siagout.free.fr/

Castelnau de Montmirail, this is a fortified town or bastide ,one of the famous one in the southwest of France. It was here that the Catholics of Gaillac took refuge after been expelled by the Cathars. Here is a ramparts and hilly streets many with beautiful views over the river Tarn and tributaries . It has been classified as one of the most beautiful villages of France! La Croix reliquaire des Comtes d’Armagnac is a cross relics that has been displayed in Paris at the Grand Palais, and you can see here at home inside the Church Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. official tourist webpage for the town is at http://www.castelnaudemontmiral-tourisme.com/

You have the help of the tourist office of the department of the Tarn, as http://www.tourisme-tarn.com/ , and the region Midi Pyrénées, http://www.tourisme-midi-pyrenees.com/fr/index.php .

The shopping here is the wonders of French gastronomy, its wonderful cassoulet,foie gras, sausages, pigeons,  are all sublimes. The best for these are the marchés and all towns have it. For good on Saturday mornings then sometimes on wednesdays and others on fridays. You can buy ceramics at Giroussens, and leather good at Graulhet at the only stores selling them.

For lodgings the choices are endless from hotels to gîtes to rural houses, the organisation gites de France is wonderful here at the Tarn dept and you can narrowed it down further http://www.gites-de-france.com/liste-hebergement.html. I stayed with family or rent the Accor hotels if not too many of us, many good ones Ibis, Mercure, and Novotel hotels, the webpage http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/usa/index.shtml . I never go wrong with them anywhere.

For eating again mostly with the family here, but we have venture out to some over time. Creperie Saint Michel , 46, Place griffoul – 81600 Gaillac
Tél: +33 05 63 81 46 93 , love those crêpes anytime! for traditional southwest cuisine try the Le Saint Pierre, 50 Place Libération 81600 Gaillac -+33  05 63 57 03 03.  For a real country cooking like you have not seen even in France, and great prices  try at Saint Lieux les Lavaur ,Le Colvert just outside of the town, webpage with directions here  http://www.restaurantlecolvert.com/contact.php . For a night out with the family and splurge try the Opera Prestige at Graulhet, 5, rue Docteur Rouzet 81300 Graulhet , very modern and inventive gastronomy here and local. And follow that at Castelnau de Montmirail for the La  Tables des Consuls, in season, fresh and many bio with a family touch and again very local, the webpage http://www.lesconsuls.com/ . For light days try the boulangeries they can be wonderful in the region, the one at Jose Azzolin in Gaillac is very good, 14 Rue Joseph Rigal, 81600 Gaillac.

Hope you will come and drive to enjoy this region is full of history, genuine people, and great food in addition to some interesting places to see. Cheers!!!

 

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