A Tarn, Gard & Camargue Adventure
May 20-29, 2024 Tarn, Gard & Camargue.
The Tarn, Gard and the Camargue are three of the thirteen departments in Occitanie, a merger of the former Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées regions. We’ll visit the best of Occitanie’s sun-kissed regions, famous for beautiful villages, market towns overflowing with character, legendary history, and unique culture.This special twelve day tour takes a serpentine route through some of Occitanie’s most beautiful countryside in southern France beginning in La Ville Rouge, the red city of Albi in the southwest, and ending in the southeastern village of Aigues Mortes, a perfectly preserved walled village set among the salt marshes bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Though none of the tours are strenuous, a few of these will require you to walk up to and through medieval villages on cobblestone streets. While everyone is welcome, please review the itinerary to make sure this tour is right for you.
The history of Cordes-sur-Ciel began in 1222 as the first bastide, fortified village, in France. It was built by Raymond VII, one of the Counts of Toulouse. This charming medieval town is perched on the top of a hill known as Puech de Mordagne, often giving the illusion of Cordes floating in mid-air. By the beginning of the 20th century Cordes had fallen into ruinous decay, but luckily in the mid-1940s the village’s fortunes improved and it became an artists’ center. The writer Albert Camus moved there as well as the painter Yves Brayer, who oversaw the village’s transformation. We’ll also visit Puycelsi, another charming, though smaller, fortified village hidden on the edge of the Grésigne forest and walk its ramparts for spectacular views over the valley below.
* These are hilltop villages with cobblestone streets. In order to fully appreciate the visit you will need to walk up to the historic center.
Comfortable walking shoes are advised.
Amazingly, the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec never visited the village of Lautrec, just a stone’s throw from Albi. Founded in 940 the village developed around its ideal defensive location. From the top of its rocky, windmill-topped peak there is a superb view of the Agout Valley, the Black Mountains, and the Pyrenees. Lautrec gained prominence due to its family of Viscounts from which Toulouse-Lautrec descended The rural area surrounding the village is renowned for growing pink garlic, Ail Rose de Lautrec, as well as for its Bleu de Pastel, the dye made from the woad plant. We will visit a Bleu de Pastel workshop to learn about the process which created the region’s wealth from the 14th to the 16th centuries, and enjoy lunch at Chez Plum.
Classified among the Most Beautiful Villages of France, and a Unesco Heritage site, the medieval, monastic village of Conques-en-Rouergue is a hidden treasure, an exceptionally well-preserved site in the northern Aveyron, Nestled amongst forested hills shrouded in clouds. Conques offers a heritage rich in history, traditions, and cultural life. The village itself was built between the 11th-12th centuries. Conques is also a major stage on the Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle (Santiago de Compostela) pilgrimage route. We will tour the masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, the Abbey of Sainte Foy, and walk along the many cobblestone streets bordered by half-timbered houses. At midday we’ll enjoy a lunch of gastronomic specialties, and browse the village’s many arts and crafts shops.
Saint Antonin-Noble-Val is a geographically beautiful medieval village cradled between the confluence of the Averyron and Bonette Rivers at the bottom of the Averyron Gorge. It is situated on the border of the Quercy, Albigeois, and Rouergue regions. Legend has it that the martyred body of Saint-Antoninus, sailed as far as it could in a boat driven by two white eagles. In the 8th century a monastery was built in his honor. Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val is a jewel that can be visited year round, but it is on Sunday morning, during the weekly farmers’ market, that it is its most colorful. Local producers highlight regional and seasonal products, as well as arts and crafts. The film, Les Recettes du Bonheur, Recipes for Happiness, directed by Lasse Hallström,and starring Helen Mirren was inspired by chefs from this village.
After breakfast we will leave for the Camargue village of
Aigues Mortes, where we’ll stay for the rest of the tour at
the charming Villa Mazarin within the city walls. Aigues
Mortes was built by Saint Louis, King Louis IX of France.
It was the Mediterranean port from which he launched
his 7th crusade to spread the gospel. This appealing
fortified village is full of cafés, restaurants, art galleries,
and shops. After we’ve settled into our hotel we will take
a tour of the Salins d’Aigues Mortes, salt marshes just
outside the village walls that have been cultivated since
antiquity. We’ll learn about the delicate production of
fleur-de-sel, handpicked at dawn in a unique marriage
of the sea, the sun, and the mistral winds.
The elegant city of Uzès is one of the best kept secrets of the Gard, a mere 25 kilometers north of Nimes, set amidst beautiful countryside. This gem of a village is filled with Renaissance and Romanesque architecture and has the best Saturday farmers’ markets held under the arcades of the Place aux Herbes and in the surrounding streets. The medieval town is a maze of alleys and shady squares lined with 17th and 18th century mansions. The prettiest Uzès tower, the Fenestrelle Tower, is the only cylindrical bell tower in France. The former Episcopal Palace houses the Georges Borias museum whose collections retrace the history of Uzès from Prehistory to the present day. There are so many sensual pleasures to enjoy in Uzès it’ll be hard to know where to start.
We’ll spend Sunday in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, just over the
Bouches-du-Rhöne department border. L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue resembles a miniature Venice with it’s canals and bridges.
Of its original 70 water mills only 9 remain, powered by the
crystal clear Sorgue River which cuts an intricate path through the village. L’Isle is the European center for antiques and second hand stores. Every Sunday of the year, the village combines its antique market along the outer ring of the village, while its farmer’s market fills every nook and cranny inside the village’s criss-crossed streets. A day in L’Isle is delightful feast for the senses, and a flâneur’s, strollers paradise.
Today we’re going to dip into the Provence–Alpes–Côte d’Azur region to visit the city of Arles considered the gateway to the Camargue, land of the Gypsies and the Gardian cowboys. Arles was the home of Vincent Van Gogh
during part of his life. We will follow the footsteps of this
renowned painter who settled in Arles in 1888 and painted
over 200 canvases, including his famous Sunflowers. Once a metropolis of Roman Gaul, Arles became a symbol of Christianity which can be seen through the Alyscamps burial grounds, the cloister of St. Trophime, the amphitheater, Les Arenes, and the Roman baths of Constantine which we’ll visit after lunch in one of the many colorful restaurants.
The village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is set against the
backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea located at the tip of the Camargue, the pays sauvage, part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve comprising over 370,000 acres of wild birds, salt marshes, white horses and black bulls. We will tour the Fangassier Pond, a pink flamingo breeding area on the Domaine de Méjanes farm. We’ll visit Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer church, home to Saint Sarah, patron saint of the Gypsies, whom according to legend, accompanied Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome, and Mary Jacobe from the Holy Land, to this now sacred Gypsy site. And we’ll wander Saintes-Maries cobblestone streets brimming with colorful shops and restaurants.
On our last day together we will visit the beautiful city of
Nîmes, an important outpost during the Roman Empire.
Nîmes is known for its magnificently preserved monuments, such as the Arena of Nîmes, a two-story amphitheater built in 70 AD. It is still in use today for concerts and bullfights. We’ll also tour Maison Carrée, built in the first century CE, a white limestone temple in the historic city center. We’ll also visit Les Jardins de la Fontaine, idyllic gardens built in the 18th century, around the imposing Tour Magne, the only vestige of ancient Augustan fortifications, and the Temple of Diana.
After walking through the gastronomic extravaganza of the Les Halles farmers’ market we’ll have lunch at one of Nîmes’ best bistros before heading back to Agues Mortes.
After our last breakfast together we will either drive back to Toulouse for your scheduled departure from Blagnac Airport, or the Gare de Nîmes, in Nîmes to catch your train to Paris. Depending upon your schedule you may want to spend the night in Toulouse, then taxi to the airport, or spend the night in Nîmes, and take an early train to Paris.
13 days and 12 nights