Some of the most spectacular scenery in France can be found along the Tarn River as it descends from the precipitous landscapes of the Gorges du Tarn down to its confluence with the Garonne. Near this junction is the “Ville Rose” Montauban, the second oldest bastide town in southern France, and birthplace of the painter Ingres; the fine museum dedicated to him now stands in the former episcopal palace. At Moissac, the 12th century cloister and south porch at the abbey church of St-Pierre are famous throughout the world. A number of “plus beaux villages de France” are within reach: Auvillar, dating back to Roman time, is a fortified village overlooking the Garonne with a pretty circular covered market; Lauzerte was a stop on the pilgrim’s route to St-Jean-de-Campostelle. Albi is home to a stunning Gothic cathedral, built in red brick between the 13th and 15th centuries, and a fine museum devoted to its most famous native son, Toulouse-Lautrec.
Rodez, the capital of the Aveyron, was founded by Celtic tribes and has been occupied by just about everybody since, including of course the English during the Hundred Years’ War. Its fine cathedral of Notre-Dame boasts a magnificent 87m belltower. Further east, in the midst of the vast Regional National Park of the Grands Causses, Millau is one of the earliest French commercial centres, having been a thriving commercial centre for two millenia, manufacturing pottery and later, gloves, and now looks up onto a true wonder of modern engineering, the Millau Viaduct. The vast limestone plateaus of the Grands Causses have been over the years the hideout for Knights Templar and modern antimilitary activists, but nowadays are fine for peaceful outdoor pursuits.