There is a great deal to be said for the lovely department of the Tarn (postcode 81) in south west France.
Possibly slightly less well known than many other French departments, this is a luscious, green, rural department with easy access to the lovely pink city of Toulouse, the Pyrenees and both the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. Even Spain is not all that far away! Who could possibly want more, one might well ask?
The Tarn seems to easily marry both the charm of the rolling green hills of south west France with a hint of that more colourful Mediterranean feel. It is a large department located east of Toulouse, in the Haute Garonne, and north of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Carcassonne in the Aude. Part of the wonderful “Natural Regional Park of the Haut Languedoc” is also situated in the Tarn.
As well as the rolling hills, rivers and forests which abound in this department, there are some simply gorgeous towns and villages. These include Albi; the city of Castres; its sub-prefecture, Lautrec and the mesmerising hilltop village of Cordes-sur-Ciel.
The scenery and colours of the buildings change subtly and gradually between the north west of the region, closer to Toulouse, and the southern part of the department. The whole department is well worth exploring, and with property prices still at a very reasonable level, plus a great variety of property, this may just be the area for you to buy in.
This is a region proud of its wines and gourmet foods. You cannot visit the Tarn without sampling a dish of Cassoulet, a hearty, soul warming dish of duck, goose, Toulouse sausage, beans (recipes vary between towns and areas).
The Gaillac wine region offers up some of the loveliest wines, and with the area being blessed with a pleasant climate that is ideal for the vines, it is a serious competitor to those of the famous Bordeaux region!
The Tarn has a very pleasant seasonal climate with hot, but not sweltering, summers, warm springs and cold, but not freezing, winters. The more southerly part of the department has more sun, but the entire department is reasonably sheltered from the winds which one tends to get further south in the Aude and the Herault.
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Bastide towns and villages
Many of the towns and villages in the Tarn and other departments in south-west France are bastide towns. Bastides were essentially “new towns” in the 13th century, designed to aid security and promote trade. They are notable for their grid like layout and central square, often host to a market and medieval church alongside.
Remarkably, hundreds of years later, many of these bastide towns remain largely untouched and unchanged. Their character makes them very alluring for prospective property buyers.
The best bastide towns in the Tarn
Cordes sur Ciel
A stunning medieval village that oozes medieval charm. It is best explored on foot, but be prepared for some fairly steep cobbled roads. These are well worth the effort if you like browsing amongst boutique arts and crafts shops, galleries and quirky little individual shops.
A beautiful village located between Toulouse and Albi. The central square, Place Paul Saissac, is one of the largest among the bastide towns. It is a lovely spot to linger in with its cafes and restaurants around the sides and the lovely softly coloured arcades, also typical of the bastide towns.
Situated just west of Albi, this charming small village has a fascinating history. It was originally named Castelnou Bonafos from the name of the hill on which it was built. Levis is simply the name of the family who fought along with Simon de Montfort in the 100 years war. Today it is a quaint, quiet rural village with a few restaurants and within easy driving distance of Albi.
Técou is an even smaller village, about 10 kms from Gaillac, but with an equally rich medieval history dating back to the 13th century. The charming village square, dominated by the church, seems to have hardly changed over the centuries, as is the case in so many of these villages, adding to their allure.
Access to the Tarn from the UK
The Tarn is well served for access from the UK by air, train and road.
The nearest airport is Toulouse Blagnac, but it is also within reasonable driving distance from Carcassonne and Rodez airports. There is also Castres-Mazamet airport in the south of the region with regular flights up to Paris Orly airport. There are several airlines serving this area including Ryanair, Easyjet and British Airways.
Looking a little further south, one could fly to Perpignan or Montpellier airports, or even Girona in Spain.
A leisurely road trip down to this area is a great way to travel. The motorway links are great and you can either come down on the A20 to the lovely A75 from Paris, or down the west side via Bordeaux along the A62 and A10.
TGV trains run from Paris down to Toulouse. From here, you can get easy connections to the main towns of the Tarn, such as Castres, Albi and Gaillac.
Taken a shine to the Tarn department? Make sure you’re prepared for a viewing trip with the tips and tricks from our Viewing Trip guide.
Property types and prices
There is a wide variety of types of property to purchase in the Tarn ranging from ancient stone buildings needing renovation to farmhouses, maisons de maitres, chateaux and even some new builds on the outskirts of the main towns.
Prices are reasonable here; you can pick up a small house to renovate for as little as €50,000. At the other end of the scale, there are some wonderful imposing chateaux with land for around the €1 million mark.
In between, for a budget of between €200,000 and €300,000 you will be able to find plenty of two- or three- bedroom renovated character houses with gardens.
The Tarn is an area which is likely to remain largely undeveloped and retain its charm but still enjoys proximity to Toulouse. It us the gateway to the Mediterranean, and the area will doubtless become more widely known in the immediate future, making this an excellent choice of area in which to buy property.