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
text has been kindly provided by
On Your Own
2005 by Cold Spring Press - All Rights Reserved
The photo is from the web site of www.tourisme-mid-pyrenees.com