We have visited St. Martin-Laguépie, a village in the Tarn district of southern France, about 4 times since 2002. Louise's cousin Amanda owns a farmhouse near the town, which she uses as a family retreat away from Scotland. Our periodic visits have given us a chance to explore an area of France that's off the busy tourist path, although it is within easy driving distance from Toulouse and Carcassonne. Brian's job during our visits has included chauffeuring, because Louise's cousins don't like driving in France.
Laguépie has about 1000 people and is not touristy at all. It's very quiet and peaceful, and is nestled in a valley with tree-covered hills on every side. It's bisected by two rivers, the Aveyron and the Viaur, which meet and merge into one.
Swimming at the public dock in Laguépie
The river with ruined castle above
A ruined castle which was built in 1175 overlooks the town from the top of a hill above the river. (It is accessible by the public, but there is nothing to see inside the castle. The views from it are very nice though.)
The country around Laguépie is all farmland with crops of hay, grain, grapes, sunflowers and wild flowers. We've always gone in the summer to get the best weather.
The village is served by an unmanned train station. You can take the train from Paris or Toulouse. Tickets can be booked on the SNCF France or Deutsche Bahn web sites. However, we have more frequently taken the train from England to Toulouse (EuroStar to Lille or Paris, then switch to the TGV which takes about 8 hours to get from Paris to Toulouse). We then rented a car from the Hertz outlet at the Toulouse railway station. It takes 1 hour and 25 minutes to drive to Laguépie from Toulouse. Alternately, you can fly to Rodez which is a shorter drive to Laguépie, but we haven't done that yet. Toulouse airport is well-served by many airlines and we have flown there on Air France (via Amsterdam) from Copenhagen.
You really need a car to see the area (more below), because there are no bus services. It's possible to bike, but the roads are really hilly and can be busy.
We usually dined at the two-star "Les Deux Rivieres Hotel" which is across from the train station, up the road from the church. The chef has won all kinds of prizes and the meals were excellent. We usually sat outside on the front patio. The hotel has several rooms which are fairly basic. We've also stayed at "Les Cerisiers" bed and breakfast home which is just up the street from the Two Rivers Hotel.
Dining outside at Les Deux Rivieres Hotel
You can browse through various galleries and shops in the village. There's a weekly farmers market and occasional festivals throughout the summer. There's a small tourist information office in Laguépie (open in the summer) and the town has a web site with tourist information. We picked up a map of hikes and have walked along the river and through the countryside.
The village has a hardware store, quite a few restaurants and convenience stores, but no big grocery store.
Louise on the path leading up to the castle
Heading out by car, you can visit any number of wineries and small French villages with lots of history and antique stores. There's a driving tour called the historical towns tour which covers several of them.
The closest bigger tourist town to Laguépie is Cordes sur Ciel (7 km to the south) which has a tourist information office that's open in the summer. Cordes has a big farmers market on Saturday. You can park in a free parking lot way below the village, but be prepared for a very long walk uphill. Cordes is a major tourist destination and has lots of restaurants and hotels. The main pedestrian street zig-zags uphill past gift stores and restaurants to the top (good walking shoes recommended due to cobblestones), where there are lovely views over the surrounding countryside. Some of the houses were built in the 1300s. If you like shopping for hand-made crafts and mingling with a more sophisticated breed of tourist, Cordes is the place for you.
The pedestrianized main street at the top of Cordes sur Ciel
Najac - A lovely town about 5 km to the north. It is situated on the top of a ridge and has an old castle at the end of a pleasant walking street. The main street looks like it's right out of Disneyland, with picturesque old shops and houses. The area has nice views, narrow and hilly roads through pastoral farmland.
On our 2008 holiday, we took Louise's cousins Sonia and Amanda to this viewpoint. The historical town of Najac is half-way up the next hill.
The charming main street of Najac
Gaillac - The closest market centre about 35 km south. It is near the freeway that connects Toulouse and Albi.
St. Antonin - A pleasant touristy and historical town, nestled in a deep valley of the Aveyron River. You can get a walking map at the visitor centre. The town hall was built in 1125. St. Antonin is the starting point for self-conducted kayak rides, which we did twice:
July, 2002: "Went to the Leisure & Pleasure kayak rental place at 2 o'clock. They had photos of the river on a map showing the bridges, waterfalls and cliffs. A girl explained the route and told us how to navigate around the hazardous parts. Then walked across a field and she lowered us into the Aveyron river in our kayak. Louise sat in the back. We put our camera and shoes in a plastic canister and strapped it in. The river was very wide and didn't flow too fast. The first obstacle was a 3' high cement dam which we had to ride over at its mid-point. It took a couple of tries but we did it. Then we rode down a 3' wide chute beside the power dam, falling about 6' into the river below. It was fun! The boat got grounded on a rock so Louise jumped out and pushed. I was nervous of getting a sunburn as I didn't have enough lotion on. Stopped at a stone beach and swam in the river. Saw big white cliffs all along the river and lots more rapids. We passed through most of them quite well, got onto it quickly. All went well until the kayak got lodged between 2 big rocks. I jumped out but the force of water tipped the boat over and Louise fell in. Fortunately, an athletic-looking French fellow was at the side of the river with his girlfriend, so he waded over to rescue us and the boat. It was a bit traumatic but at least we weren't hurt and didn't lose anything. Pressed on, resolving to be more cautious. Even so, we got snagged over a pointy rock in the middle of the river for a minute. I discovered the trick to getting free was to stand up in the boat and push on the bottom of the river with my paddle, like a gondolier! The water was nice and warm and we enjoyed the boat ride alot. It took over 3 hours; finally came into sight of a mill with big mill pond. Stopped and got out. Some American folks we talked to earlier decided to try riding down the overflow river (despite the signs warning you not to) and promptly capsized, so they got an extra swim. The French girl came to get us in a white minibus and drove 10 km back to St. Antonin. She then said you should sleep well tonight -- a prophetic statement indeed."
August, 2004: "Louise and I decided to go kayaking on the river. I phoned the kayaking place in St. Antonin and the owner said to come at 11. We packed up a lunch and our swim suits and took off in the car. It was sunny on the way, but clouded over and looked like rain. A couple of English families were hiring kayaks as well, 4 adults and 5 kids. It turned out the men were high-powered London businessmen. Because of all the rain, the water in the river was much higher than when we went 2 years ago. Had a great time. Got stuck going over one dam but roared down the flume chute and Louise got soaking wet. Only got stuck on rocks once -- in the same place as 2 years ago! The sun came out. The ride was very leisurely because the current carried us along quite well. Got to the end point 10 km downstream at 1:30. The English man said he jumped out before the flume chute and hurt his arm walking down it. They weren't very experienced, not like us hardy Canadians. Waited a long time for the man to come in his truck but he finally did. The English people, kids especially were laughing and joking about the whole experience. On returning to St. Antonin, walked around for an hour. It rained so we were glad we kayaked in the morning (and it was cheaper too!)."
Albi - A major market centre about 45 km to the southeast. A pleasant, bustling town on a river with a huge cathedral, well worth visiting. The cathedral has the biggest pipe organ in France. Saw the wax museum which told about famous characters in Albi's history. Saw a small museum about Henri Toulouse-Lautrec who was born there. It included a slide show about the town's sites. Walked over to see the river and the old bridge built in 1000.
Milhars - Drove there from Laguépie by the back road, very quiet and good for cycling. Stopped at the tourist information centre which was unmanned and in a small stone building that smelled like a chicken coop and had some dusty brochures including a walking tour of the town. Drove up to the castle. Wandered around, very quiet. Saw fig trees and ate some fresh plums. Petted the cats. Drove up to some camping chalets and asked the owner about his swimming pool but he said it wasn't open yet. Returned to the main highway and drove through Varen, another little village that had an old church built in 1100; picked up a brochure with a walking tour of the town, saw the castle gate, old timber and red brick wattle and daub houses from the 1300s, 3 storeys high. On another drive, stopped at Castelnau, a little town on the historical towns tour. Walked up to the very pretty town centre.
At all of the public swimming pools in southern France, men have to wear skimpy swim suits. Cut-offs, long pants or Bermuda shorts are strictly forbidden. Before I knew about this rule, I improvised by wearing the bottom part of Louise's swim suit, thus imitating "Borat". And that seemed to meet with approval.
In Toulouse, we stayed at the Citodel President hotel. Buffet breakfast cost €7.50 each. It's a short walk from there to the city centre. The second floor of the city hall has huge painted murals on the walls and ceiling depicting the city's history (free admission). It was worth the trip just to see that.
The city has nice boulevards lined with trees on both sides, a lush round park (called Grand Rond Park) with huge trees, flowers and a fountain in the middle. There were displays of 3' wide blow-ups of old postcards from the 1900's mounted on sign-posts, showing what the park was like 100 years ago. Lots of just-married couples were having their pictures taken. Watched children on a mini bumper car ride.
The park covering a small block in front of the city hall was a pleasant place for a picnic lunch. Saw beautiful fountains and statues, shady trees and an old dungeon building that is now the tourist office. Walked up to see St. Sernin cathedral (started in 1080) where a college-age girl was pounding out romantic French songs on the grand piano; the sound resonated all through the church.
The 2 of us at the Japanese garden in the city park in Toulouse in 2008.
Another worthwhile excursion is to the suburb of Colomier near the airport. We booked and took the Airbus factory tour. It was in French but was still interesting to see the factories where Airbus passenger planes are assembled. They use a fleet of huge cargo planes called Belugas to bring in fuselages from England, Germany, Spain etc. and then assemble and test the planes. Each one uses 156 miles of electrical wiring and over a ton of paint. The main assembly plant is enormous and can hold 10 airplanes. The tour cost €9 each and lasted 2 hours. An important point for visitors: it is mandatory for all visitors to show passports before you are allowed to take the tour.
Cycling along the Canal du Midi - We rented bicycles (self-service racks throughout the city of Toulouse) and set off to the south, along the treed boulevard, through the Big Round park, then along a recreation path beside the Canal du Midi. The canal was built in the 1600's and connects Toulouse with the Mediterranean Sea 150 miles away. It's a world heritage site. The path was busy with joggers, people on roller-blades, hikers and lots of cyclists. The path has London plane trees on both sides, making for a very pretty as well as a shaded ride. Needed the shade in July because it was sunny and 77 deg. out. Had our picnic lunch beside the canal, then continued riding south for another hour. Could see the Pyrenees in the distance and imagined the Mediterranean beckoning beyond, but didn't get that far. Returned to Toulouse at 3:45; the ride back didn't take as long because it was downhill and the wind was at our backs. The bikes were a great deal sponsored by the Mayor of Toulouse -- only €2 each for the whole day! (Prices are more than that now, because a new system has been instituted.)
Louise beside the Canal du Midi.
Brian picks up a subtle message from the newspaper.
Sonia and Amanda enjoy a beverage before dinner. Sonia wondered if a face-lift was in order.
Return to home page
Page last updated: Aug. 2, 2010