It’s 29th July 2022 and we’re approaching the Tarn region of France as part of a longer 2-month tour. After leaving the Lot and the beautiful hilltop village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, our campervan wheels are ready for action.
Soon we find ourselves driving through remote countryside. Then before we know it, along comes what looks like a rather unassuming town, which turns out to be rather good!
St. Antonin Noble Val – The Tarn region France
The town of St.Antonin Noble Val sits beside the Rivers Averyon and Bonnette. Although it looks a bit less dazzling than some other towns we’ve seen so far, it’s still worthy of a stop, especially as it has a free Aire. Yes, that’s a rare occurrence nowadays!
The Aire is next to a recreation ground where endless kayaking groups leave for the water. Although it’s in a mixed car park, it does the job for the night. In addition, as time goes on, most cars tend to leave anyway, so no doubt they’ll just be a few motorhomes here before long.
A walk into town finds a surprise find, because the crumbling mix of rustic buildings has immense charm all around. If I’m honest, on the outside, the town looks a bit drab, but it’s actually ok. In fact, we find out that it’s a medieval town and the gateway to gorges spanning the rivers.
Long winding streets and alleyways
In the end, we walk in twice.
Maybe, the food market helps, where local producers sell their home made and home grown produce in the cooler evening air. The bread stall is incredible. Unfortunately for us, the local baker has sold out, with all the loaves awaiting collection for those that got there before us.
There’s almost a hippy feel to Saint Antonin Noble Val, the sort of place people come to find themselves or something. Then there’s the arts and crafts and healthy food stores. Not forgetting the more traditional charcuterie stores and local fromage galore. Oh isn’t France amazing!
A pretty village called Penne
Next, we’re off through the Tarn region, meandering through a riverside route beside some gorges. It’s hard to see much from the campervan, because thick trees hide the views along the narrow route.
Then, there’s an opening in the road and we find ourselves winding up above a wide green valley. This clifftop road bends around stone cliffs, passing through jagged rock tunnels before rewarding us with fine views.
By now it’s mid morning and the lovely little village of Penne is upon us. This turns out to be quite the surprise, as it’s simply perfect. First we park the campervan, which is relatively easy in a small, free car park beside the main road. A sign for toilets grabs my attention and down some steps I find the most immaculate public toilets I’ve ever seen in France.
Penne is worth coming to, just to see the cleanliness of its loos!
Walking towards the village centre brings fine views of the ruined castle and the surrounding countryside. There’s a few small shops, including a bakery where ladies are kneading dough on a small table in front of passers by.
Being typically French in every way, in other words, rustic, Penne is ultimately full of charm, and yes more of those crumbling buildings. The tiny streets and a ruined castle provide an interesting walk, as well as fine views across the unspoiled region.
A litter of kittens pass by which sort of sums up the atmosphere of this village – almost like a bygone era, we feel as if we’ve stepped back in time.
Cordes-Sur-Ciel, The Tarn region of France
Our route now takes us towards another hilltop town, all be it, a somewhat bigger one. This is Cordes-Sur-Ciel, which sits above the Aire that we choose to stop at for lunch.
We can’t help think how much this part of France resembles Tuscany. It also reminds us why, in theory, we think there’s no real need to travel outside of France, because it has everything under one roof!
Fortunately our parking spot has some shade and is free during the day, despite it being an Aire. At the moment we can’t decide if we’re staying overnight. If we do, it’s just a 7 Euro fee plus 1 Euro to use the service area.
After lunch, we follow an uphill footpath which leads directly to the town centre. It’s much busier here, with a mix of locals and tourists mingling through the 14th century streets of the old town.
If you need some supplies, there’s a more modern new town in the lower section, nestled between the Aire and the hilltop town above.
Although it’s busy, it’s not too touristy. I’d describe it as having atmosphere without the coach loads of tourists that many other regions attract.
Gothic architecture – The Tarn region of France
Cordes-Sur-Ciel is a delight. We spend the afternoon exploring the narrow streets and admiring the gothic architecture. Originally a leather and wool town, the construction of the Canal-du-Midi brought trade here to an end.
For those finding the hilltop streets too steep for walking, especially in the 30C heat of Summer, then a land train can ease the feet.
We walk a circular and then zig-zag route, trying not to miss anything along the way. Eventually, we end up going down hill, back towards the modern town and further down hill to the lower area where the campervan awaits.
Now, we have to decide – do we stay or do we go? As usual, we think it’s a little early in the day to stay, so we choose to move on.
Another historic town calls – Albi
Actually, Albi is a city not a town and it’s famous for having the largest brick built cathedral in the world.
Albi is one of those cities that takes a bit of concentration. We find ourselves passing the Aire a couple of times, before finally finding it amongst a mixed car park close to the centre.
We park easily and there’s space, but we don’t feel it’s a good place overnight. There’s something a bit dodgy looking about it, so don’t want to stop too long.
A footpath leads towards the big attraction – the cathedral. This giant, gothic structure can be seen dominating the city for miles around and it does look huge. Built between the 13th and 15th centuries, Saint Cécile’s cathedral is certainly an extraordinary sight.
For us, a walk around the exterior is a way to capture the size, whilst inside is filled with ornate frescoes upon every surface.
We choose to use our time to explore the rest of the city, where outdoor dining and a mix of old meets new awaits.
Albi historic centre – The Tarn region of France
Albi isn’t all about the cathedral. Within it’s historic centre are narrow streets, which lead to more modern shops and eateries.
It’s quite a pleasant surprise, ultimately the usual half-timbered facades bringing a wealth of charm. Whilst the Paroisee Sanit Cécile provides a peaceful corner of the city, almost a place for reflection amongst it’s beautiful arches.
We spend about an hour wondering through Albi’s old city and although perhaps we could have stayed longer, we feel we’ve seen enough.
With time ticking on and evening upon us, we want to find a place to park for the night. Hopefully somewhere quieter awaits, away from the city with the big brick cathedral.
A Great Camping-Car Park Aire at Alban
Heading away from Albi under the early evening sun, we end up at a Camping-Car Park at Alban. This small town is between Albi and Millau, so provides an ideal place to stay en-route through the Tarn region.
Best of all, this Aire is absolutely superb. It’s situated on a former municipal campsite, which still has the amenity block in working order for guests to use.
The layout is through the usual barrier system that Camping-Car Park have. On this Aire there’s well defined pitches, separated by mature hedging, just like you have on a campsite. No wonder it’s almost full, with us taking one of the last pitches for the night.
These type of Aires are super handy. For one, it means you can have a bit of space, privacy and a campsite feel without the masses. Secondly, it’s great to have proper showers and toilets yet only pay Aire prices. At such a low cost of just 14 euro a night in peak season, this is brilliant value.
We can see how they’re taking off across all corners of France and indeed other countries in Europe.
Tonight we just relax, although the town is only about 1km away. However, some fellow Brits – the first we’ve seen in a long time, tell us the town is quite good.
Millau’s big attraction
It’s the last weekend of July and we’re driving to one destination that’s been on our “to go to list” for 18 years. Goodness, why does it take so long to visit these places?
So, The Gorges du Tarn was first introduced to our motorhome travel list of “must do’s” by an old motorhome friend. Then, we were new to motorhoming, but it’s kept on our radar ever since. Despite passing close by, we’ve never managed to tour there.
Now of course, it’s time to put that right, so our next destination is finally The Gorges du Tarn and we can’t wait.
One place we have been to several times before is fast approaching and my oh my, it never fails to disappoint. The Millau viaduct is one of those engineering masterpieces that leaves you in awe. The scale alone is hard to comprehend and we’re about to drive right under it.
Above us, the blue sky seem to define the structure even more. Then we realise this is probably the first time driving beneath it from this direction.
At the end of the day, this is phenomenal. It’s hard to believe the first time we drove over the Millau viaduct was only a year after it opened. My goodness, time flies but the memories last forever.
Finally, thinking about that year in our first motorhome makes us appreciate just how far we’ve come with van travel adventures. Last but not least, it’s a reminder of just what a brilliant way of seeing the world this. For now, we hope the Gorges du Tarn lives up to the expectations and can be added to our other list – the “Top places to visit in France”!