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Journey in Tarn

the dolce vita in Occitania

Travelling in the Tarn transports us into another world, a world where every nook and cranny hides a story, and where the human element takes center stage.

Albi, a Unesco-listed episcopal city

We begin our journey in the heart of Albi la rouge, an episcopal city that has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 2010, and was named a World Heritage Site in 2015 for its mappa mundi. The city is recognizable by its architectural ensemble, with walls 5 meters thick, which advocated a return to austerity in response to the attacks of the Cathars.

At its heart stands the magnificent Cathedral Sainte-Cécile, the largest brick edifice in the world, built between 1282 and 1492. This southern Gothic cathedral is a prime example of the art of the Tarn region, with 18,500 m2 of frescoes transporting visitors into an august world.

Museums as witnesses

The Tarn region boasts a number of museums that bear witness to an era. One such is the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, located in Albi's Palais de la Berbie. Built in the 13th century, it now houses the painter's most important collection (200 paintings and 300 lithographs) over 3 floors. The collection celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2022.

In Castres, at the Palais de l'Évêché, we find the Musée Goya which, after 2 years of renovation, reopened its doors in April 2023. A former 17th century bishop's palace, installed in 1840 with 9 paintings, the museum now boasts 5,000 representative pieces of Hispanic art, in 23 rooms, and is the only museum in France dedicated to the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya. The museum features three of his works: Self-Portrait, Portrait of Francisco del Mazo and The Philippine Junta. The permanent tour is complemented by temporary exhibitions including Miro's tribute to Gandi and, until October 1, Goya in the Eye of Picasso.

The other highlight was an immersion into the bowels of the former Carmaux-Albi mining basin at Cagnac-les-Mines. Here, six former miners have rescued their equipment and reconstructed 350 meters of galleries to show what it was like to be a miner. In this place, which has seen 7 centuries of mining, emotions are mixed by the presence of a former miner, but also by the photo exhibition on the daily life of the workers and the mining town, the period safety posters or the permanent exhibition room which puts man back at the center of this system. Temporary exhibitions are just as attractive. Right now, Cathy Connan's Bleue, created with former miners' blueprints, takes us into a world where the darkness in which the miner evolved is transformed into a dream world. The museum was bought by the département in 2007, and is now part of the Cap Découvertes site, in a multi-purpose leisure area, as a site of remembrance. If you're a person with reduced mobility, or simply anxious about going underground, don't miss out on this immersive experience: the museum also offers a visit via tablet.

A wonder of senses

Alexis Taoufip, MOF barman, offers ready-to-serve cocktails at his Papilles, cocktails à la française boutique in Albi. After studying in Strasbourg, then obtaining a technical diploma in bartending, the young man worked in Switzerland, Australia, Paris (Le Bristol, among others) and Quebec (Four Seasons, Europea Montreal). Finally, at the end of 2022, he opened his own boutique lab, where his cocktails, made in France, are hand-crafted: fruit pressing, blending, bottling ... Today, Alexis offers 3 revisited classic recipes and 5 created from scratch, such as the Pêche au dragon with French gin, jasmine green tea, absinthe, ylang ylang, peach, lemon, spices and milk clarification, or the Rockin ranch Hii Ha with bourbon, smoked whisky, campari, passion fruit and lemon. A well-thought-out originality!

Looking for a gastronomic interlude, head for L'Intangible, in Lempaut, on the historic site of Château de la Bousquetarié. Here, Emma and Antoine, trained respectively at Alain Ducasse and the Élysée Palace, offer a modern and creative table. We start the ball rolling with an asparagus royale, aïoli siphon and vegetable charcoal crumble, a reminder that the vegetables they cook come from the kitchen garden. Next comes an artichoke tempura with anchovy condiment, leading into a second dance of gnocchi with chives, dill and burnt onion cream. We continue the waltz with line hake, bottarga, miso fish fumet and its partner, Montagne Noire duck, with a beet declension. The evening ends with the sweetness of a floating island, with black sesame-infused milk, followed by a declination of strawberries, caramelized, in a parfait glacé with elderflower mousse or bao with jam. A true delight!

In addition to its great gastronomy, the Tarn region boasts an exceptional sense of hospitality, thanks to its many guest houses.

At the Kassiopée Bed and Spa, in Albi, each room is designed for a true moment of escape, with a private spa on the terrace, a warm atmosphere and a heated swimming pool set in 5,000 m2 of grounds. A quality breakfast is served in each room, and visitors can enjoy a rich selection of local cheeses, charcuterie and other local produce at the table d'hôtes.

At Domaine d'En Maury, in Marzens, you'll enjoy a beautiful 18th century residence surrounded by wooded parkland, where you'll find the perfect place to rest. With 13 bedrooms, a 100 m2 lounge, a fully equipped kitchen, an indoor pool and a spa, this property is ideal for family reunions or seminars.

At Guest room le Parc, in Labruguière, you'll receive a warm welcome from Christophe and Patrick (not forgetting their dog Oscar!) in a house where modern and old combine to create a sophisticated decor. In addition to 5 air-conditioned rooms, a swimming pool and 1.2 h of wooded parkland, a table d'hôtes is available on reservation.

Discovering endemic grape varieties

Beyond its 2,000 years of history, the Gaillac vineyards, awarded the Vignobles & Découvertes label in 2010, boast a rich and diverse range of wines. We experienced this first-hand during a wine initiation by Anne Gruau, sommelier and WSET 4 holder. A wine and cheese/cooked meats pairing workshop, to discover endemic grape varieties. Domaine Carcenac Frénésie en Bulles, Gaillac méthode ancestrale 2021, a Mauzac grape variety, offers white fruit and quince notes to which the cheese (a Tarn cabécou or a crottin de chèvre) presents a fine structure. Domaine Gayrard Gaillac 2021, 100% Duras, with spices and cherries, is perfect with Lacaune ham. Domaine Al Couderc Suspresa Gaillac 2019, Braucol, with blackcurrant, spices (pepper), sees its aromas blossom on a Grande Réserve ewe or a Vieux Berger Roquefort. Finally, the superb late-harvest Domaine René Rieux Harmonie Gaillac 2016 white, with its lovely freshness, yellow fruit and candied fruit notes, also reveals itself with Roquefort.

At Château de Salettes, which once belonged to the Comte de Toulouse and then to Toulouse-Lautrec, we step straight into the Gaillac vineyards. The property, bought in the 90s to make wine, has now become a true retreat. Here, 18 rooms, a restaurant and a spa delight travelers. Surrounded by 10 hectares of vines tended by Jérôme Bezios, we enjoy the freshness of Effervescence by Salettes Gaillac Brut 2022, a Gaillac method wine.

After a generous lunch, we set off on an electric bike tour of the Gaillac vineyards, surrounded by breathtaking estates and panoramas. It's an opportunity to get to know the local grape varieties: Braucol, Duras, Prunelart for the reds; Mauzac, Loin de l'oeil for the whites. On arrival, the central square of the village of Castelnau-de-Montmirail boasts magnificent medieval architecture. History is here!

Unique experiences

The Tarn is rich in unique experiences. Sidobre, Europe's largest granite park (100 km), is one of them. Before your eyes, monumental rocks, sculpted by time, give way to legends, on more than 60 marked trails. Granite river, trembling rock, wonder trail, goose or elephant rock, these unusual landscapes are a paradise for geographers... and dreamers.

Another curiosity: the Mazamet footbridge, the only one of its kind in Occitanie, celebrates its 5th anniversary this year. This Himalayan footbridge, 70 m high and 140 m long, overlooks the Arnette valley and leads to the medieval hilltop village of Hautpoul, with its exceptional view of the Montagne Noire.

The Tarn is a land of mysteries and evasion, where legends, art, gastronomy, architecture and history combine to create an ideal well-being score. If you're looking to recharge your batteries, the Occitanie region is waiting for you.

SommelierS International would like to thank Tarn Tourisme and the AiRpur agency for this sensational trip.

Sandy Bénard Ravoisier