The Tarn-et-Garonne is famous for its stunning architecture and arresting landscape. It contains some of France's most historic towns and beautiful, medieval villages.
Located in the South West of France in the region of Midi-Pyrénées, Tarn-et-Garonne is bordered by Lot in the north, Aveyron in the east, Tarn and Haute Garonne in the south and by Gers and Lot-et-Garonne in the west.
The department was created in 1808 during the First French Empire and was formed from the territories of neighbouring areas. Legend has it that Napoleon drew up Tarn-et-Garonne's boundaries by laying his open hand on a map of France. More than half of the territory was taken from the Lot, over one-third from Haute-Garonne and the rest from the department of Lot-et-Garonne, Gers and Aveyron.
Major towns and villages
• Montpezat-de-Quercy • Montricoux
During the summer the climate is sunny and warm with temperatures commonly ranging from 25 to 30 degrees, though sometimes reaching as high as 40. The winters are mild and most of the rainfall occurs during the spring, including spectacular thunderstorms. The rest of the year is generally rain free with plenty of sunshine.
Montauban, with a population of around 53,000, is the capital of Tarn-et-Garonne and is a great place to stroll around, containing many museums and ancient buildings to explore. Founded in 1144 it is known as the pinkest of pink towns, built of the famous red Toulouse stone. The town boasts many points of architectural interest such as the church of Saint-Jacques, with its 13th century steeple, the 14th century Pont Vieux bridge and the 17th century Episcopal palace, now a museum for Montauban's most famous painter, Jean Ingres (1780-1867). A highlight of the town is the Place Nationale, a brick market square lined with arcades with vaulted ceilings containing cafés and shops. Montauban also hosts an annual jazz festival, held in July, which attracts internationally known artists.
The small town of Moissac, once an important Roman centre, is a must for any visitor to the Tarn-et-Garonne due to its rich architectural heritage. The central attraction is the Abbey of St. Pierre, originally founded in the seventh century, which contains many fine sculptures, including a statue of a three-armed Jesus. It also boasts a stunning carved tympanum and Roman cloister, with 116 pillars, which is said to be the most beautiful in the world.
Auvillar and Lauzerte are listed among the most beautiful villages in France and are well worth a visit. Due to their high position, both offer spectacular views. Many of Lauzerte's medieval buildings have been lovingly restored and the village holds a weekly market on Saturday mornings. Auvillar has some remarkable architectural features, including its three ancient doorways, 17th century clock tower and 12th century church.
Other towns and villages of interest include Montpezat-de-Quercy, with its 14th century medieval gate; Bruniquel, overlooking the Aveyron and Vère rivers, which features an imposing ancient fortress and sixth century château; Montricoux, another picturesque medieval town, with a 13th century dungeon and St. Antonin, which possesses the 12th century hotel de ville, the oldest in France, and where the 2001 film, Charlotte Gray, was shot.
Food and drink
Tarn-et-Garonne offers a wide range of restaurants, from simple village bistros to elegant gourmet establishments. Local specialties include foie gras and duck and goose dishes. The region is also one of France's biggest producers of fruit. Plums, apples, melons, peaches, prunes, cherries and table grapes are grown locally and used in an array of deserts. Garlic, goats' cheese and truffles are also specialties of the area. Tarn-et-Garonne's produce is best purchased fresh from the many markets and fetes held in the local towns and villages.
Due to its abundance of natural beauty, Tarn-et-Garonne is an ideal place for walking and has been recognised by the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (the national walkers association). The area is a haven for wildlife which includes kites, falcons, eagles, the striking gentle golden oriole, hummingbird hawk moths and even tree frogs. Particularly recommended is the famous pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela which crosses the department via Lauzerte, Moissac and Auvillar.
Sports and activities
As can be expected from a region with three rivers running through it, Tarn-et-Garonne offers a wide variety of water based activities. Canoes and kayaks can be hired on the Aveyron and Garonne rivers. The water sports centre at St Nicolas de la Grave offers a sailing school and various craft for hire. Permits for fishing can be obtained from angling stores and tourist offices. There are also many lakes to choose from for swimming, water sports and pedalo hire.
To view the countryside at speed, two-seater quad bikes can be hired near Montauban. There are many mountain biking routes, usually marked by coloured arrows, and bikes can be hired locally. Horse riding and pony trekking, tennis and golf can also be enjoyed in Tarn-et-Garonne.
The main wine growing areas are found in Cahors and de Quercy and many vineyards offer tasting and tours. The wines of the Côteaux du Quercy have been awarded AOVDQS status (Appellation d'origine vin délimité de qualité supérieure) in recognition of their quality. The red and rosé wines of the Côtes du Brulhois are also recommended. Each year the village of Auvillar holds a wine festival the weekend following Pentecost.
Ease of access
The nearest airports are Toulouse and Rodez and a wide range of airlines fly to both from around the UK. For access by rail the TGV trains are recommended. Connections to the region can be made from Toulouse train station.
From its historic towns and medieval hillside villages to its varied scenery of open plains and rugged gorges, Tarn-et-Garonne constitutes the perfect sight-seeing holiday. Its tranquil atmosphere and natural beauty make it an idyllic place for relaxation but the department also offers a wide range of activities to keep even the most energetic occupied.