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The Tarn

We arrived in the Tarn from the north, from the département of Aveyron, having caught the tip of the Gorges du Tarn on

the N88 even further north near Florac in the Lozère - a sinuous and breathtaking drive with stupendous views.

The area is dotted with small rivers with names like Céret, Cérou and Céroc, and the first large town you come upon is Carmaux, but the highway slices through it with little notice, and you

are on your way to Albi about 16 kilometers further along the route.

Albi's famous Cathédrale de Sainte-Cécile, was built as a statement by the Catholic church -- in the aftermath of the Albigensian Crusade -- beginning in 1282 and continuing until completion in 1480. The cathedral is huge -- not especially religious in appearance, but certainly imposing. It was built in such a size and manner to remind potential heretics of the power of the church. From its tall, stark exterior to its overwhelming and ornate interior - actually quite a beautiful interior - it is different from anything you will see in France. Decorated by painters from Bologna in Italy and sculptors from Burgundy, it is rich with frescoes and intricate carvings -- and in pristine condition.

Just next door to the cathedral, literally, is the Palais de Berbie, which had been a bishop's residence in the 13th century. Today it is Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, with a collection of over 600 of the painter's works -- the world's largest collection. A visit there will open one's eyes to Lautrec's earlier accomplishments before he created all those well-known music hall scenes and posters representing French cabaret life of the late 19th century. In fact, if you are seeking those more popular and famous of his works, you will be sorely disappointed because few are displayed in this museum. Instead, there are self-portraits and smaller paintings and drawings -- several floors of them. It provides a different perspective of a man who later became as famous for his lifestyle as his art.

Castres is another of the Tarn's larger towns, most well known for its Musée Goya, with three major works by the artist on exhibit. Next to the museum on the way to the River Agout are formal gardens designed by André Le Notre in the 17th century -- he is most famous for his designs of the gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte, Dampierre, and elsewhere in the Île-de-France, with his most impressive and well-known accomplishment the gardens at Versailles.

A few miles south of Castres you will find the Parc Régional du Haut Languedoc on the borders with the Aude and Hérault. This is country created for those who are fond of the outdoors and trekking -- there are only about three minor roads within the westernmost park, one following the Gorges de l'Arnette. Black Mountain is a ridge running east to west and is the dominant feature of the park.

Drama lies to the north of the département as well. It may not be the Gorges du Tarn, but the Gorges de l'Aveyron on the border with that département and just to the north and northwest of the town of Vaour is spectacular. Oddly, the Gorges du Tarn is in the Aveyron and the Gorges de l'Aveyron is in the Tarn -- each, of course, named after the river that courses through their depths and not the département where they are located.

Not far from the Gorges de l'Aveyron is the town of Cordes-sur-Ciel, a village at the crest of a hill so typical in the south of France. A town excommunicated by the Church during the Cathar wars, Cordes was later devastated by the plague and was
barely in existence at the beginning of the 20th century. One Yves Brayer, an artist, took charge of the restoration of Cordes in the 1940s -- working around the well-preserved ramparts and gates built in 1222 by Raymond VII of Toulouse. Visitors will enjoy houses from the 14th century. The streets in Cordes are extremely steep and cobbled and its hilltop location undeniably beautiful

All text has been kindly provided by

FRANCE On Your Own

copyrighted 2005 by Cold Spring Press -  All Rights Reserved

The photo is from the web site of  www.tourisme-mid-pyrenees.com

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