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Toulouse, Tarn and L’Ariege- Villages of Southern France

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As a Europe Specialist and Certified France Agent with Totem Travel I often receive wonderful reviews of specific places from tour operators or representatives and I thought I’d share this from a recent review.

Toulouse is ideally situated in the heart of Southern France, between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. Both modern and historic, bustling with fresh markets, winding streets surrounding the main square with charming shops, boulangeries, and more. The Golden Age in Toulouse was between 1500 and 1700. Merchants thrived on the pastel trade, from the WOAD plant providing a blue pigment and became Consuls, or Capitouls, finding power and prestige.

During the same period (between 1544 and 1662), the oldest bridge of Toulouse, the Pont Neuf, was built. You could spend days in Toulouse just exploring the shops, markets and museums.
A couple other sight not to be missed are the Saint-Sernin Basilica, which was built during the Romanesque Period between AD 1080 and 1120.

The Bemburg Foundation where you can tour Georges Bemberg’s art collection in the Hotel d’Assezat, a  XVII century mansion built for Pierre d’Assezat who made his fortune from WOAD, Mr. Bemberg is an avid art collector who divides his time between Paris, New York and Buenos Aires. Without a direct heir, Mr Bemberg became anxious in the late 1980’s about the fate his collection and developed the idea of a Foundation as a mean of preserving the integrity of his collection, while opening it to the public. The collection contains Matisse, Degas, Gauguin, Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso and opened in 1993.
And lastly don’t miss the House of Pastel to find to about the aforementioned WOAD. These dyes were the original source of wealth for the area of Toulouse. From 1463 to 1560 Toulouse enjoyed a real Golden Age thanks to the Pastel trade. The pastel leaves crushed and rolled-up in balls called “coques” gave the region of Toulouse its nickname of “pays de cocagne” or “land of riches” and has been used as far back as the Egyptians, who used it to dye the cloth wrappings used for the mummies.

l’Ariege boasts the Caves of Niaux. The Grotte de Niaux is one of the few cave systems where wall paintings are still open to the public. You enter from the hillside into a natural site of incredible history and beauty. About 350 m from the cave entrance is a large rock with a vertical surface. This surface is covered with dots and short lines in red and black. That is the first glimpse of prehistoric art a visitor to the cave sees. Its meaning is still unknown. Some see dots as female symbols and lines as male symbols. Much more impressive and interesting is the art in the Black chamber. There are extraordinary drawings of horses and bison. The visits to the Grotte de Niaux are extremely restricted to save the prehistoric cave paintings; only 11 visits per day so make sure you plan ahead for your tour.

Tarn is still in the Montagne Noire region and brings the stone building of the Soreze Abbey, home to the most prestigious school in France. Promoted to the rank of Ecole Royale (Royal School) it had 400 students living there from all over the world for 12 centuries; studying humanities, music, drawing and fine arts. Its sheer size and architecture give it both an air of majesty and a sense of military order. It closed in  1991 and has been renovated into a center for the arts including a beautiful hotel with a restaurant, after 1200 years the historic abbey has a new life.

Thanks to Laurelee Graham for this fun information about France. If you’d like help traveling to Southern France call Jennefer the Europe Expert at Totem Travel at (425) 765-4379 or shoot me an email at I am here to assist in planning your dream holiday in France!

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