“Traditional and innovative, rebellious yet warm-hearted, and with a penchant for celebration, Tarn-et-Garonne shares a whole culture with its South-Western neighbours, an art of living that has been carefully maintained since time immemorial. Does this art of living have its roots in the varied landscapes, the region’s richness, its mild climate, its welcoming population? Tarn-et-Garonne has always been a welcoming region and remains so today. In less than a century, this region has taken in Italian immigrants, refugees from the Spanish Civil War, 60,000 Belgians in 1940, repatriates from Algeria, workers from Algeria, Morocco, Portugal… and today, residents from abroad, half of whom are British. So you see how you will be welcomed in this region and invited to share its landscapes, its heritage of the past and its art of living in the present.”
The art of building beautiful towns
Since prehistoric times, those who have lived here have left their mark, creating a whole heritage, a legacy of their talents and tastes. Montauban, the pink town, a Town of Art and History (Ville d’Art et d’Histoire), which was for a long time Protestant, looks very attractive despite being nearly nine centuries old. It offers visitors its Place Nationale with its splendid archways, its old pedestrian streets, its picture postcard view of the former episcopal palace, now the Ingres museum, and from the old bridge, its François Mitterrand rose garden. Another jewel in the Tarn-et-Garonne crown is Moissac, whose abbey cloisters and tympanum are listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. More modest testimonies to human genius are the 'bastides', the walled towns from the Middle Ages: Beaumont de- Lomagne, little Montjoi, Castelsagrat, with its 13th century well, Réalville, founded by Philippe le Bel and Lauzerte, a strategic border town during the Hundred Years War. Not to mention the churches – St-Martin in Montpezat, St-Pierre in Lachapelle – and the abbeys of Beaulieu or Belleperche. The castles in Bruniquel, Gramont, Cas and Brassac. And all the old villages like Bruniquel, Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and Montricoux, in the Aveyron Gorges, or Auvillar, a stopping place on the road to Santiago de Compostela.
The art of appreciating diversity
A wide plain, fed by alluvial deposits from the Tarn and the Garonne, surrounded by hills. The Quercy hills to the north, on the edge of the Massif Central. The Gascony hills beyond which, on a clear day, you can see the snowy summits of the Pyrenees. The Aveyron Gorges, carved out of limestone at the foot of an imposing limestone plateau. On this canvas created by nature, man has added his touch: orchards flowering as far as the eye can see in springtime, vineyards – the famous Chasselas grapes – and woods, meadows full of garlic and sunflowers, cereals, saffron, etc. Dotted about, on all sides, in this agricultural landscape and typical of Tarn-et-Garonne are dovecotes made of stone, brick or half-timbered, round or square, on stilts, with two-sloping 'mule’s foot' roofs, hundreds of them. These give the landscape its particular characteristic appearance. The wild-looking Causse itself is man’s handiwork, created by the hands of the shepherds who built dry stone walls and huts, and the appetite of their sheep!
The art of discovering gourmet fare
Rich and fertile agricultural land covers the Tarn-et-Garonne. A fruit paradise, with its jewel, the golden Chasselas grape from Moissac. A leading region for goose or duck foie gras, preserves and breast. A little slice of truffle, a plate of porcini mushrooms seasoned with garlic and served with chestnuts. A good glass of wine: Côtes du Frontonnais, Côtes du Brulhois, Quercy or Lavilledieu, a local wine. Everywhere you go here, the art of tasting is being encouraged. At the table, on the farm: five (soon to be six) "Circuits des saveurs" (tasting tours), combining gastronomy and heritage, lead food enthusiasts to visit the area’s producers and restaurant owners. At the markets: from foie gras to porcini mushrooms, to truffles, to garlic, organic, night markets in the summer. The famous markets include Castelsarrasin, Caussade, Montauban and Valence-d’Agen, where you can hear the Langue d’Oc being spoken and sung. At Belleperche Abbey, which houses the Centre for Taste and Arts of the Table, old tableware and cooking traditions are on show. Every summer, you can dine on dishes of the region to the sound of traditional music.
The art of inspiring artists
Art from the recent past, art from yesteryear and art of today can be seen. The artistic richness of Tarn-et-Garonne is just as remarkable as the richness of its landscapes. From yesteryear, the Moissac illuminations are exhibited in the Marcel Durliat Centre of Romanesque Art. From the recent past, there are 4,000 drawings that Dominique Ingres bequeathed to his home town Montauban. The collection is unique in the world and exhibited in the Ingres Museum. The sculptures of Antoine Bourdelle are also dotted around Montauban – "The dying centaur" is opposite the museum or "Penelope" in front of the Tourist Office. Also from the recent past are the works of Marcel Lenoir, an admirable cartoonist and unrecognised painter. They can be seen in the Montricoux chateau which is worth a visit. Contemporary art can be seen at both changing exhibitions and permanent collections at Beaulieu-en-Rouergue Abbey (a modern arts centre). All the artists – and there are many of them – live, work and exhibit in Tarn-et-Garonne.
The art of active days out
Who would have imagined when only the railway line came through there, hardly fifty years ago, that the Aveyron gorges would one day be a permanent playground for rock and water enthusiasts? Canoeing and kayaking, climbing and potholing are all equally popular. Others, more interested in art and a slower pace, come and discover the Aveyron gorges and the whole of Tarn-et-Garonne on foot. Every year, several thousand hikers follow in the footsteps of the pilgrims from the Middle Ages heading for Santiago de Compostela, via Lauzerte, Moissac and Auvillar. Some ride across the plains, gorges and hills on mountain-bikes or horses. They will love the horse-and-carriage competitions and horse shows in Réalville. Then there are those who will choose to paraglide or hang-glide over the patchwork of vineyards and woods. All over the region, in swimming pools, lakes and rivers, people can swim. Rugby rules in the stadiums, as does pétanque in the village squares. These two activities are typical of the South of France.
The art of enjoying the water
Though the Tarn and the Garonne are much respected – oh, the angry outbursts they incur from "Garona" inhabitants – people prefer to keep their distance, safe from the bursting banks. In contrast, Tarn-et-Garonne offers a whole range of tamed waters created by man. Very peacefully, the 'Deux Mers' canal crosses the department, from Pompignan to Lamagistère. One stretch, with its soon to be automated locks, links Montech to the port in Montauban. Sail from Toulouse to Montauban then on to Moissac, Valenced’Agen. Do not miss the canal bridge on the Tarn in Moissac and the original lift in Montech, which replaces five locks. Along the edge of the canal you can run, pedal or ride on the 'green path', which has been created on the towpath, safe from motor vehicles. Go birdwatching at the confluence of the Tarn and the Garonne, near the lake. Go lake or river fishing. Admire the windmills. Lakes have been transformed into leisure centres for swimming, diving and splashing about. A refreshing experience.
The art of celebration
Festive celebrations are part and parcel of tradition in Tarn-et-Garonne. Without these celebrations, why cultivate the art of living? Village fairs take place throughout the summer. Such as craft fairs like the 'Les Estivales' hat fair in Caussade and Septfonds. Agricultural celebrations: for example the garlic fair in Beaumont-de-Lomagne, the Quercy wine fair, the Taste and Flavours fair, the Chasselas grape fair, the South-West fruit and vegetable fair in Moissac. A celebration also means music: the 'bandas' fair, of course and the festivals, like "Alors… Chante !" (So Sing!) that fills Montauban with French songs at Ascension, "Jazz in Montauban" in July and, just before that, "Vibrations" which gives the voice pride of place in Moissac. Bruniquel pays tribute to Offenbach in the summer and Castelsarrasin does Louisiana jazz, in memory of Antoine Laumet, also known as de La Mothe from Cadillac, who governed the former French province in America, then the good town of Castelsarrasin. In Valence-d’Agen too, celebration mingles with history to honour the people living along the Garonne, with "Au fil de l’eau, une histoire", an impressive son et lumière show on the canal.
The art of being from the South-West
In the heart of the South-West, Tarn-et-Garonne shares land and landscapes with its neighbours, in a surprising patchwork of hills, plains, slopes and terraces, limestone plateaux and limestone gorges. From walled towns to chateaux, abbeys to villages, it shares both a history and a heritage. And on its gentle sunny slopes, its squares surrounded by archways, under medieval ramparts, just like its neighbours, it encourages a whole art of living. The art of eating well: what else could you do on this land brimming with fruit and vegetables, unique for its poultry used for 'foie gras', famous for its full-bodied wines? The art of celebrating. The art of being together. The people of the South-West and, among them, the people of Tarn-et-Garonne, have a reputation for being warm, smiling, open and welcoming even if sometimes shy. Can this art of living together in mutual respect be traced back to the "convivencia" of Occitania so praised by the troubadours? Maybe. Surely. It is in any case the most dazzling hallmark of the art of living and living well as demonstrated by the South-West. Which is what will make you want to come back again.