With the warmer weather on its way, now is the time to start thinking about a weekend trip in spring. The Tarn is a relatively undiscovered department in south-west France with an average spring temperature of 16°c – a perfect temperature for exploring the countryside. The area is home to a dramatic and varied landscape including expansive vineyards, rolling sunflower fields, beautiful hilltop villages, the winding Tarn River and the Aveyron gorges. Visitors can enjoy the region on foot using the 800km of hiking trails, or take to two wheels on the many traffic free cycle paths, making it easy for families or less confident riders to safely explore the area. The 'Droits de l'Homme' greenway spans for 48km across gentle terrain, taking cyclists on a leisurely ride through some of the Tarn's best countryside.
Cyclists can ride through the town of Castres, also known as 'Little Venice', a reference to its pastel coloured houses sitting on the banks of the Argout River. Other places of interest en route include Lautrec, listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France featuring a charming 17th century windmill, and the city of Albi (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
If cycling is not for you, north of the Montagne Noire in the Haut Languedoc Regional Park lies a mysterious forested area called Sidobre. The area is home to strange rock formations caused by a stream of molten magma three hundred years ago. The area is a natural playground with miles of clearly signposted trails, making it easy to walk amid the trees and fascinating stones. Visitors can take photos hanging off the 'Peyro Clabado', a 780 ton rock of massive granite perfectly balanced on a rock of only 1 m² , or cool off from the spring sun at the 'Blackbird Lake' (Le Lac du Merle).
The Tarn is home to four of 'Les Plus Beaux Villages de France' and it is easy to see why they are called so. Castelnau de Montmiral sits on a hilltop overlooking the Vère Valley. Bordered on four sides by houses on vaulted arches, the central square 'Le Place des Arcades' is a small marvel of medieval architecture.
Lautrec itself is also medieval in origin with several buildings and monuments of interest to discover. Particular highlights include the 14th - 16th century Collegial Church of Saint-Remy with its impressive altar and organ and the 15th century market halls. On the hill above Lautrec there is a 17th century windmill, which is the only windmill still in operation in South-West France.
Monestiés is nestled in a loop of the River Cérou 20 kilometres north of Albi. An old stone bridge spans the river just a stone's throw from the fortified gate that marks the entrance to the village. Although Saint Jacques' Chapel no longer welcomes pilgrims on their way to Compostela, it does house some exceptional furniture including a 15C altarpiece comprising 20 multi-coloured statues
The walled-in town of Puycelsi looks like a village straight out of a Disney fairy-tale and is built on a rocky formation overlooking the Vère Valley and the Grésigne Forest.
The accommodation options in the Tarn vary from luxury chateaus in the middle of the Gaillac vineyards to brand new small boutique hotels in the heart of the city of Albi.
Hotel Alchimy – Located in the centre of Albi, this four-star boutique hotel boasts a stylish and modern design. Guests are conveniently located to the city's main attractions and can make use of the hotel's facilities including the brasserie restaurant and bar.