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  • South West France touring holiday - valleys, fortresses and mountains

    La Reserve

    La Reserve

    Hotel de la Cite

    Hotel de la Cite

    Relais des Chartreuses

    Relais des Chartreuses

    Fly-drive touring holiday exploring the valleys, fortresses and mountains of South-West France

    10 nights and 11 days
    The regions of Tarn and Languedoc-Roussillon in South-West France offer a beautiful and varied countryside as well as charming hilltop villages and imposing regal fortresses.

    Click here to download a pdf with information about some of our suggested French touring holidays.

    From the rose-hued city of Toulouse, where your flight touches down, drive to La Réserve near Albi in the Tarn Valley. From here, explore the vineyards of Gaillac, the village of Cordes-sur-Ciel, and the Gothic and Romanesque architectural sites of the area. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Albi is a mediaeval gem, where narrow streets and half-timbered houses juxtapose the imposing Sainte-Cécile cathedral and Berbie Palace, home to over 1,000 works by the city’s most famous inhabitant, Toulouse-Lautrec. Next, drive south over the rising landscapes of the Montagne Noire to Carcassonne, where your tranquil hotel, the Hôtel de la Cité, is nestled just inside the citadel walls and offers the perfect base for independent exploration of the surrounding area. From here, this touring holiday proposes a route south through the towering châteaux of Cathar country before reaching the neat vines of the Corbières and Côtes-du-Roussillon vineyards, which are ripe for wine-tasting stop-offs. The final hotel, the Relais des Chartreuses, is in the foothills of the Pyrenees overlooking the Vallespir Valley, just a stone’s throw from the artist havens of Céret and Collioure, beloved by Picasso and Matisse respectively. You are also within an easy distance from Figueres, which is just over the border in northern Catalonia and is dominated by its imposing Dalí Museum. And of course, the Mediterranean coastal villages along the Côte Vermeille and the Costa Brava just the other side of the French-Spanish frontier are but a short drive away. Return to Toulouse at the end of your tour for the return flight to the UK.

    Prices for this fly-drive touring holiday from about £1,960 per person

    What's included:
    •Three nights’ bed and breakfast at La Réserve in Albi
    •Three nights’ bed and breakfast at Hôtel de la Cité in Carcassonne
    •Four nights’ bed and breakfast at the Relais des Chartreuses in Le Boulou, near Perpignan
    •Scheduled return flights with British Airways London to Toulouse and hire of a group A car

    Valleys, Fortresses, and Mountains of the South West of France

    Day-by-Day Itinerary

    Arrive in Toulouse, and drive to Albi in the Tarn Valley

    Begin this touring holiday with the short drive across Southern France from Toulouse to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Albi. Your hotel, La Réserve, has a spectacular riverside position on the Tarn, ideally designed for those atmospheric evening walks beside the water. Albi, nicknamed Le Ville Rouge because of the hue of its handmade bricks that sometimes still bear the thumbprints of their 500 year-old creators, is a maze of half-timbered houses, terraced gardens, and historical monuments. Somewhat untouched by commercial tourism, Albi retains all of its medieval, rural French charm and character. At the centre, the fortress-like Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile is the largest red brick cathedral in the world, towering over the medieval houses that have clustered around it. The interior is rustically decorated almost solely in stone and wood, but on the exterior western wall is an extensive mural depicting the Last Judgement, still a popular spot for visitors today. By its side, the Bishop’s Palace houses the works of that famous post-impressionist iconographer, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as artists such as Matisse and Gaugin. Half an hour outside of Albi is the Château du Bosc, the grand and ornate childhood home of Toulouse-Lautrec. From the cathedral, head west to the piazza, raised as it is high over the river Tarn, and therefore affording its visitors the most beautiful views across the river, Albi, and its numerous bridges, including the thousand-year-old Old Bridge. After getting your fill of the historic town of Albi, drive out to Cordes-sur-Ciel, and begin the winding walk up through the village, past the stone houses with their terracotta roofs, until you reach its peak which sometimes emerges from a surreal bed of clouds. Take a tour 350 metres underground in the old mining town of Carmaux, or travel north to Rodez, the home of the Viaduc du Viaur, designed by Gustave Eiffel. For wine-tasting opportunities, head into Gaillac to try the dry sweet wines its vineyards are known for, perhaps at the Maison des Vins de Gaillac, or in one of the many neighbouring fortified villages.

    Drive from Albi to Carcassonne in Languedoc-Roussillon

    The breath-taking approach to Carcassonne should prepare you for the magnificence of the fortress’s interior. Once inside, walk around the walls of the Gallo-Roman upper town, La Cité, past its 53 watchtowers, before walking to the 12th century Château Comtal and viewing its local archaeological exhibits and taking a tour of the inner ramparts. A veritable Fabergé egg, entering the external walls of Carcassonne’s old town is only the beginning of your exploration of this historical site. Your hotel, the Hôtel de la Cité, gets its name from its position on the wall of the upper town, and is a truly romantic place to stay, with its ivy-covered façade and dining area beside the fortress’s turrets. Within La Cité, take the time to walk around the streets and appreciate the ambience of the place, passing the amphitheatre and basilica in particular. Descend into the newer districts of Carcassonne, built outside the walls of La Cité, to visit the weekly food market in the Place Carnot, or the quaint individual stores that each provide unique gifts and local crafts. Though Carcassonne is a city, it has the sleepy, peaceful atmosphere of a small rural village, making it the perfect place to experience the charm of rural France, while dining in the chic restaurants and bars of French cities. Nearby towns of Béziers and Narbonne are ideal excursions for the pursuit of designer shops, elegant bars, and even more fine dining. For a more intimate exploration of the castles of this region, drive out into Cathar Country and track down the Château de Lastours, partially ruined and perched on a hilltop deep in the Roussillon countryside. While outside Carcassonne, perhaps stop at a château in the Minervois region to the north of Carcassonne, or in the Corbières region to the south. Though the area appears to be traditionalist due to the prevalence of its history, wine-making in the area is surprisingly experimental. The Château Camet in Minervois is the perfect place to taste the Muscat wines typical of the region, or descend into Corbières for fruity red wines. The Château Rives-Blanques in Cépie produces excellent quality wines that are sold internationally. Alternatively, head back into the Montagne Noire and Saint Chinian to taste more exclusive wine in a setting a little off the beaten track. Of an evening, perhaps wander along the Canal du Midi back in Carcassonne before retiring to your cosy hotel.

    Drive from Carcassonne to Le Boulou in French Catalonia

    Just a few miles away from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, sits the old town of Le Boulou, within driving distance of the formidable Pyrenees, and the hiking trails of the Albères Massif and Vallespir Valley. Le Cellera, the old part of Le Boulou, is home to the best part of Le Boulou’s historical monuments: the 832kg iron bell that dates back to 1436, the Quadrangular Tower, and Saint Anthony’s Chapel. Yet, it is worth embarking on the 10km trail around Le Boulou that details the unfolding of the events of the Battle of Boulou. Drive out to Perpignan to visit the Palace of the Kings of Majorca, built in true Catalan style, the Lodge of the Sea, the gold-framed windows of the Palais de Députation, and the red brick Castillet. The port town and City of Painters, Collioure, famous also for its anchovies, offers the perfect relaxing day out in the sun beside the bright blue waters of the Mediterranean. Explore the Church of Notre Dame des Anges, as it juts out across the water, and the Collioure Royal Castle, inspiration to a number of modern day artists. Many forts line the clifftops, and the winding streets of the town hide even more chapels and temples within. Collioure is well worth a day out to witness the landscapes and monuments that captured the imagination of Picasso, Matisse, Dufy, and Derain among many others. After scratching the surface of the rebellious Cathar legacy during your stay in Carcassonne, use your final few days in Le Boulou as an opportunity to explore further. The Château de Peyrepertuse is the most dramatic of the Cathar Castles, often struck by lightning during summer storms and built on the varying platforms of the tip of a jagged cliff. Before reaching the crowning glory of the Cathar legacy, spend a few hours in the other castles, such as the Château de Quéribus, Château de Puivert, and Château d’Aguilar, all built into the rock faces of the Pre-Pyrenees mountains. Just across the Spanish border is Figueres, home to the magnificent Dali Museum: an architectural as well as artistic treat. Retire, for each one of your four nights in Le Boulou, to the Relais des Chartreuses, a suitably glamourous retreat, fairly minimalist in style, but adorned with abundant foliage and a few touches of chic decoration.

    Return to Toulouse for your flight home

    Leave Le Boulou on your final day, and head north to Toulouse for your return flight to the UK.

    Driving times for this touring holiday:

    Toulouse to Albi: 55 minutes
    Albi to Carcassonne: 1 hour 40 minutes
    Carcassonne to Le Boulou: 1 hour 55 minutes
    Le Boulou to Toulouse: 2 hours 10 minutes

    Valleys, Fortresses, Mountains of the Southwest v2

    Hotel Information

    Below is some information regarding each of the hotels featured in this touring itinerary. Alternative hotels are available in some destinations - please contact us for full details.

    La Réserve
    A family run hotel with a good reputation for comfort, service and cuisine, La Réserve occupies a low building constructed in the style of the region in its own parkland and grounds bordering the river Tarn. A short distance from the cathedral city of Albi, La Réserve offers comfortable, charming accommodation, furnished with traditional, period pieces of furniture with a cosy, homely feel. A 4-star member of Relais and Châteaux, the hotel makes an interesting place to stay for exploring the countryside around Albi, the Gaillac vineyards and the attractive valley of the Aveyron. La Réserve has just 22 rooms and suites, all with private bathroom, air conditioning, telephone and television. There is an outdoor swimming pool and a gourmet restaurant, serving specialities of the region. The rooms at La Réserve have views of the park, the swimming pool or the river.
    Find out more here.

    Hôtel de la Cité
    The Hôtel de la Cité occupies a privileged position on the site of a former episcopal palace within the mediaeval walled city of Carcassonne. The building’s original features such as beamed ceilings, wooden panelling and floral tapestries have been preserved and enhanced by fine fabrics and hand crafted furniture from local workshops. The emphasis is on traditional style matched by contemporary comfort. All bedrooms have private bathroom, sound-proofing, air conditioning, telephone, television and video. The Hôtel de la Cité has an excellent gourmet restaurant with a Michelin star, La Barbacane, located in the heart of the hotel, with high Gothic ceilings. There is also a library bar for relaxation with live piano music in the evenings on occasion. Outside is a heated swimming pool and gardens of lawn and flower beds. Unique and luxurious, elegant and traditional, the Hôtel de la Cité is well worth a visit.
    Find out more here.

    Relais des Chartreuses
    Le Boulou
    The Relais des Chartreuses near Le Boulou is an unexpected hidden gem nestled deep in the foothills of the Albères, perfectly situated for exploring the many delights of Catalonia, north and south of the France-Spain border. Overlooking the surrounding hills of the Vallespir Valley, the hotel is set in 5,000 square metres of tranquil parkland, complete with outdoor swimming pool. The Relais des Chartreuses is within striking distance of Perpignan and the artist haunts of Céret, Collioure and Figueres, beloved by Picasso, Matisse and Dalí respectively. This 17th-century Catalan farmhouse has been lovingly renovated and refurbished to offer stylish and contemporary accommodation of three-star standard. The 14 rooms are decorated in a subtle, neutral colour palette and are accentuated by fine regional and Louis XV and XVI furnishings, whilst the former dovecote in the garden has been converted into a beautiful suite. Dinner is an intimate and tasty affair, with a simple yet appealing seasonal menu offering Mediterranean-inspired cuisine using the freshest local produce and accompanied by some of the finest Languedocian vintages. There is also a wellness centre within the grounds of the Relais des Chartreuses, offering beauty treatments and massages. A short drive from the French coastal resorts of Collioure, Banyuls-sur-Mer, Argèles-sur-Mer and Port-Vendres and close enough for a day’s excursion to the Spanish seaside villages of Cadaqués, Roses and Empuriabrava or the fascinating towns of Figueres and Girona, the Relais des Chartreuses near Le Boulou offers a convenient and most attractive base for exploring the region.
    Find out more here.

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  • France

    Find out more about France

    France FAST FACTS


    Main airports are in Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon, with scheduled and low cost airlines flying into the country from all over the UK.
    Euro (£1 = Euro 1.24)
    Roughly 600 miles wide and 700 miles long
    66 million
    Average temperature
    Varies dramatically, from about 8 degrees in winter in Brittany to 26 degrees in summer in Corsica, with snow on the Alps and Pyrenees year-round


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