Le Pays Lauragais is the region that encompasses the Haute Garonne(31), Tarn (81) and Aude (11) departments in the South of France.
I would imagine that most people are aware of Tarn, with it’s capital Albi, as an area of outstanding beauty but may be less familiar with the Aude and Haute Garonne departments, until of course the fabulous cities of Carcassonne and Toulouse are mentioned.
Carcassonne is the capital of the Aude department and home to 2 world heritage sites, and Toulouse known as the ‘Ville Rose’ Â is of course the capital of Haute Garone and is one of the principle cities in the South West of France. It is also home of France’s aerospace industry and the headquarters of Airbus.
All three departments are named after the primary rivers that run through them and two of them also play host to the famous Canal du Midi which was championed into existence by Pierre-Paul Riquet, France’s answer to Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The main feed reservoir for the Canal du Midi is a gorgeous lake, St FÃ©rreol, that sits above the market town of Revel famous for its food market and furniture industry. To form the lake, a large dam that is 30m high, 10m thick and stretches some 871m in length was constructed in the 17th century.
Today the lake is used as a recreational area providing a beach from where you can swim, sailing, fishing and walking facilities in a very pleasant and attractive part of France, it has also been made more interesting through the provision of an arboretum around it’s shores that has over a 150 different varieties of trees including one which is circa 400 year old . It has been classified as a Worldwide Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO
The lake has become a natural attraction for leisure facilities and there are a number of restaurants, shops, a large hotel, an equestrian center, camping site and cafes with views over the lake. The most recent addition being a museum dedicated to Monsieur Riquet (opened in 2008 overlooking a large fountain) which provides a detailed insight into his life and works, you can also get a nice lunch in it’s new restaurant if you want to make a day or half day of it.
Castelnaudary of cassoulet fame, is a little further south from Revel and actually sits on the Canal du Midi, it also has a very good food market which takes place on a Monday morning. There are boat trips along the canal from the port in the summer months and some fine examples of the locks of the Canal du Midi can be found here.
Going towards Toulouse from Castelnaudary you will find Villefrance de Lauragais and opportunities for hiring bikes to cycle the paths of the canal and explore the small villages, restaurants and a little bit of wildlife on route.
Circling back towards Revel you can find the towns of Durfort and Soreze, Durfort is well known for it’s copper based products that are hand crafted and sold in the local shops, a good place to visit on a Sunday morning, especially since the portfolio of hand crafted products has now extended to include leather, pottery basketry and cabinetwork.
Soreze is best known for its ‘Parc de l’Abbaye-Ecole’ which, in it’s hey day around 1776, was one of 12 military academies created by Louis XVI. Later it was managed by Father Lacordaire, who revived the Dominican Order in France, but after educating a number of famous people, including officers, writers, philosophers and politicians it ultimately closed it’s doors as a school in 1991. Since then (starting in 1993) the whole site has been under a program of restoration and has been listed as a historic monument.
The town itself is full of old world charm with half timbered village houses from the 16th and 17th centuries and its famous building is the ‘bell tower of St Martin’ which is believed to have been completed around 1512.
Soreze is located at the foot of the ‘Montagne Noire’ and has become a favorite tourist destination for the region, it provides a gateway to the Parc natural regional du Haut-Languedoc, where you will find caves, grottos and streams plus plenty of places to cycle or walk.
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