The Tarn et Garonne falls into five distinct areas.The Quercy Hills are to the north of the department. Places of note include the church and Roman apse at Valeilles, Lauzerte, a town dating from the Middle Ages and Montpezat de Quercy, once encircled by ramparts, with its covered square, many attractive old houses and the nearby leisure centre at Faillal. In this region are many wine producers where you can taste the local wines, prune making establishments and also a hat maker renowned for the famous boaters of Maurice Chevalier. The variety of produce in this department is extensive ranging from apples, prunes, peaches, nectarines, cherries and kiwis, to garlic, especially l’ail de Lomagne, black truffles, the familiar dishes featuring duck and goose, patés, terrines, cassoulet and a variety of wonderful meat dishes, wines, cheeses, snails and fish – the array is endless.
To the South in the Gascogne Hills, Beaumont de Lomagne is famous for its garlic market which takes place from July to December. Here, too, is a lake where you can hire pedalos and sailing boats in July and August and play golf and tennis and a hippodrome where you can ride from April to November. Founded in 1215, the Bastide of Beaumont has a gothic church and a market dating fromn the 14th century. At Bouillac there is an ancient cystercian abbey, Granselve. Chateaux are to be found at Gramont, Larrazet and Labourgade. In the Valley of the Garonne is the pretty little market town of Auvillar which has a circular covered market around which all life revolves and the town of Moissac with its Roman origins including the St-Pierre Abbey and its cloister dating from the 12th century. Moissac is also the capital of a famous desert grape called the Chasselas. The bastide of Castelsarrasin was the home of the famous singer Pierre Perret and is noted for its flowers. At St Nicolas de la Grave is a lake where you can sail, swim, canoe or visit the bird observatory, as well as a museum in the birthplace of Lamothe Cadillac (16-17th century) who went on to found Detroit and after whom the car was named.
In the “Causses" and gorges of the Aveyron, the medieval village of Caylus has a fortified church and clings to a rocky cliff side above the river. Whether you approach from the north or the south, you cannot fail to be impressed by this attractive village which dates back to Gallo Roman times and has a long and fascinating history, situated as it is at the border of the Quercy-Rouergue. A mark has been made on the town of St Antonin Noble Val at each century in its development but the most notable is without doubt the Middle Ages. Around its Benedictine Abbey, the fortified village developed. The lovely buildings dating from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries remain to be marvelled at by tourists to this day along with the impressive bridge across the River Aveyron. Recently the town and its surroundings was the setting for the filming of Sebastian Faulks’ novel, ‘Charlotte Gray’ starring Cate Blanchett as a British Spy working in France during World War II.
On the borders of the Quercy and the Rouergue, at the mouth of the gorges of the Aveyron, the fortified town of Bruniquel is in an exceptional setting, overlooking the River Aveyron. The original chateau was first built in the 6th century and was subsequently altered in the 12th, 13th, 17th and 19th centuries. Here it was that the film ‘ le petit fusil’ was shot starring Romy Schneider and Philippe Noiret. Montauban, the prefecture of the department, is where the celebrated artist Ingres was born in 1780. Known as the pinkest of the pink towns, Montauban has a fascinating history, best known of which is the origin of the ‘boulets de Montauban’ when, during a long siege by Louis 13th, he finally launched 400 rounds of cannon fire against the inhabitants of Montauban to try and break the siege. During the night they retaliated by manufacturing piles of black ‘sugared ‘ cannon balls which so scared the King he beat a hasty retreat, little realising that these presented no real threat, so convincing was their appearance. Today the ‘boulets’ are hazelnut sweets covered with chocolate with a hard sugar coating. Copyright: Sarah Francis