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Each year, Scott and his wife try to have one long holiday which incorporates site seeing, cultural interactions and some sort of activity. Being Australians in London and living away from family also means that holidays include time with them when they come to visit from overseas. "Each year I go on a boys’ long weekend hiking trip in the Lake District and on a skiing trip to Europe" says Scott. "I try and dust off my bike annually to participate in the Dunwich Dynamo (overnight bike ride from London to the Suffolk coast)." In the summer of 2019 he embarked on our self guided walking holiday exploring the Hill Top Villages of Medieval Tarn
Why did you choose to walk in Tarn, France?
France is such a diverse country and having worked there previously, I am always up for another trip visiting a different area. I had watched a programme on the Tarn region
so was interested to visit. This walking itinerary also fit into one week
of annual leave and, being time-starved, it was great that Sherpa Expeditions had this trip so we didn’t have to organise a thing!
Being time-starved, it was great that Sherpa Expeditions had this trip so we didn’t have to organise a thing!
How did you prepare for your walking holiday in France?
Not well and probably I should have done more to enjoy the trip in a more relaxed way. To prepare I did a few local weekend walks and also each weekend I participate in Park Run in my local park. Even though the walking days on average are over 20 km, most of the walking is fairly flat except when climbing up into the villages or descending out of them.
Your favourite destination on this Sherpa Expeditions holiday?
Cordes is a good village to start and finish the walk as it has great views, shops & restaurants. But I think the walking each day through moss covered forests and along escarpments seeing the villages come into view are also highlights. I recommend the 1-day Albi extension. If you have an extra day it is worth including to appreciate the Sainte-Cécile Cathedral
and visit the museum dedicated to Toulouse-Lautrec, the famous late 19th century painter who was actually born there.
Best French food and drink?
The two meals we had at our chambre d'hôte accommodation in Vaour and in Bruniquel where you ate with your hosts and other guests. It was like enjoying a 4–5 course dinner party with friends. We did have to use a translate app some of the time but it made for some funny conversation. I found that most restaurants in Tarn do very good value set menu meals as well.
Biggest surprise when walking in southern France?
How quiet it was, we came across very few walkers and a couple of mountain bikers. The trails were very clean and the waymarking excellent.
> Learn more about the Tarn region & view stunning images
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
The heat, we had very high temperatures so carried 2 litres of water each daily. The last day was very exposed so we took our time walking back into Cordes where we celebrated with a few well-earned beers.
Curious to learn more about this self guided walking holiday in France? Have a look at the full description of our Hill Top Villages of Medieval Tarn walking trip, or contact our specialist team to discuss your wishes.
> Read the Q&A on Walking in France's Tarn & Aveyron Region
Tour de France 2018 dates are slowly approaching and before you know, the official start from Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile (just off the coast of the Vendee) on July 7th will be here! It’s a unique opportunity to watch the Tour de France live in one of France’s charming towns. Spending some time with similar tour enthusiasts in high anticipation of the cyclists and then witnessing their speed and recognising famous participants will make for a lifetime memory.
This year, why not plan your summer holiday around the Tour de France dates and combine an active holiday in France with witnessing Le Tour for real? Whether you want to walk between vineyards in the Loire Valley, get lost in the Pyrenees – once a hideout for the Cathars, outperform yourself on Mont Blanc or traverse the remote countryside of Cevennes, below are six of the very best trips to combine with the Tour de France this year.
10 July: La Baule – Sarzeau >> Loire Valley
The ever-popular Sauvignon Blanc was one of the very first fine wines to be commercially bottled with a screw cap and the Loire Valley is known to be producing some excellent delicate varietals – especially the Upper Loire areas of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Pick a nice terrace in the shade and with a cool glass of white in your hand, watch the Tour de France cyclists pass by on one of the first stages between La Baule and Sarzeau.
Travel on the Vineyard Trails of the Loire and watch the Tour de France live >>
17-19 July: Annecy – Alp d’Huez >> Mont Blanc Region
This extended itinerary circumnavigates Mont Blanc and explores the surrounding alpine region. Faced with picture postcard vistas from every vantage point, this trek affords unsurpassed views of the different faces of the Mont Blanc massif, as well as the highest point on the Tour of Mont Blanc, the Grand Col Ferret at 2,537m. Take in glittering glaciers and spectacular mountainscapes – your bags and supplies will be transported for you, allowing for plenty of time to explore en route. Add some extra days to see the Tour cyclists climb some of France’s highest mountains.
Travel on the Tour de Mont Blanc and watch the Tour de France live >>
21 July: Saint-Paul Trois-Chateaux – Mende >> Cevennes
In the autumn of 1878 Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, set out to walk across the Cevennes accompanied by “a small grey donkey called Modestine”. His journey inspired Travel with a donkey in the Cévennes, which has since become a travel classic. Starting in the Auvergne, this trip follows a winding route across a region that boasts great natural beauty, sad romantic ruins and is almost totally unspoilt. Ahead or after your walking holiday, visit Mende to watch the tour de France live.
Follow Louis Stevenson’s Trail and watch the Tour de France in Cevennes >>
24 July: Carcassonne – Bagneres-de-Luchon >> Crusaders Cathar Castles
Joining in Toulouse, this walking quest in the foothills of the Pyrenees delves into the rich history of the Cathar Country of the Foix, Aude Valley and Corbières areas of Southern France. The trip follows the tragic fate of the Cathar heretics, whose parfaits or priests were burned at the stake or driven into hiding. As well as its rich and evocative historical heritage, the area offers outstanding scenery of wild flowers and fine local dishes and will make for a mountainous stage 16 of this year’s Tour.
Trace the footsteps of the Crusaders’ Cathar Castles and watch the Tour de France >>
24-26 July: Bagneres-de-Luchon – Pau >> Tarn & Aveyron
Our walking route winds between the ‘Bastides’ (fortified towns) that sprung up during the Wars of Religion: rich in history and situated in spectacular settings on rocky promontories, here every stop has a tangle of narrow medieval streets to wander and sweeping views from the rocky hilltops or ancient walls. The start and end point of this circular walking tour, through the departments of Tarn and Aveyron, is Cordes-sur-Ciel, the first and most important of the ‘Bastides’, founded in 1222.
Travel on the Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron trip and watch the Tour de France >>
27 July: Lourdes – Laruns >> Pyrenees
When the Greenwich Meridian was agreed upon as the international standard, the fact that it was passing through some of the most spectacular corners of the High Pyrénées was probably not a major consideration. Trip highlights on include the dramatic, natural ‘amphitheatre’ of Cirque de Gavarnie and the famous Brêche de Roland, a natural rock doorway into Spain. The latter location is closer to the 25 July stage of the Tour de France that finishes in Saint-Lary-Soulan.
Travel on The Meridian Way: Heart of the Pyrenees and watch the Tour de France >>
If you are curious to find the exact schedule and Tour de France dates for 2018, below map may give you some support:
For more information and booking details, please contact our team of travel experts via email, phone or drop into our office in London.
©Le Tour de France
Today’s frequently asked questions are answered by walking blogger Charles Hawes, who was in the French region of Aveyron in September to walk along some typical French villages on our Medieval France: Tarn and Aveyron walking holiday. If you like to read more about the trip, have a look at this Traveller Tale or at Walking the Blog on which Charles made a separate post for each walking day and illustrated the walks with many professional photographs.
#1 What was the weather like in autumn and was it good for walking?
Temperature wise the weather was near-perfect when I did this walk in late September 2017. Not too hot or cold. When it was sunny, we were walking comfortably in T-shirts/base layers. We had several days when it started off quite misty but by midday it was sunny and warm. We had just one morning when it rained but that blew over by early afternoon.
#2 What is special about trekking in this part of France?
This walking holiday in France is for the most part gentle rolling countryside; though you will cross some quite steep river valleys. One of the things that struck me and my travel partner, and we enjoyed, was that it was so quiet! So even when walking on minor roads, you will seldom be passed by any vehicles. I think we came across other serious walkers just once in 5 days. It can give a quite special feeling like having the place to yourselves! The route takes you through many tiny hamlets and small villages and many, many abandoned buildings. Even the smallest places had great character. But the main villages – several of which are listed as some of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France” – were all exceptionally pretty.
#3 Is it easy to communicate with the local people?
On this walk, you will probably not see that many other people! For a large part you will be on a Grand Randonnee (GR46), but it would likely not be very busy at any time of the year. All the bed & breakfast and hotel owners were very friendly, welcoming and helpful. I guess it all depends how good your French is. Mine is pretty poor but we got by OK.
#4 Are there enough places on the route to go for a drink or a snack?
There are very few places that you walk through during the day where you could stop for a drink or a coffee. Most of the time I didn’t mind this except for once or twice when we would have loved to have found a café. In the larger villages you will have more options though; we enjoyed a lovely break at Penne in a café with a fabulous view over the river valley.
#5 What 3 items should others definitely pack for this walking holiday in France?
Do make sure you are carrying enough water. There are very few public toilets or drinking taps along the route and though I am sure anyone would be happy to fill up a water bottle for you, you may not find anyone to ask. Talking of toilets, I always carry toilet paper and a plastic trowel – much nicer to make sure your visit is not noticed! A French phrase book or translation app on your phone is handy.
#6 How would you describe the landscape of Tarn & Aveyron?
On this walking holiday in France, you will find a landscape that is well-wooded with familiar species of trees – oaks and chestnut, for instance. There are a lot of Buxus (Box trees) throughout the area, which is relatively unusual in the UK. The architecture is very different from the UK, which makes this part of France so interesting.
#7 What extra costs did you make on this trip?
The only things you will need to pay for will be your drinks and some of the evening meals. With the value of the pound having dropped by over 20% in recent months gone are the days of bargain menus and cheap wine. Wine in restaurants was probably the same as we’d pay in the UK, but the beers were eye-wateringly expensive almost everywhere – it was not unusual to pay 4 euros for a small beer.
#8 Can you describe this trip in one sentence?
This circular walk has impressively well been put together; it was a delight from start to finish.
Did you like this Q&A and would you like to get similar details of one of our other active Europe holidays? We’d be happy to hear about your suggestions.
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Since he was in his teens, Charles Hawes has been walking for fun. In recent years, he has re-discovered the pleasure of walking and Charles calls himself fortunate in having the Brecon Beacons and Wye Valley on his doorstep in south Wales. “I especially enjoy the rhythm of a good day’s walk (10-12 miles) to get to a new place, staying a night at a pub or Bed and Breakfast and then walking on. I completed the 870-miles Wales Coast path this way over nearly three years,” he recalls. According to Charles, perhaps the most enjoyable way of completing a long-distance walk, is to have all one’s creature comforts transported for you and to walk with a light day pack. That is how he did 10 days on The Way of St James in France with Sherpa and most recently how he did our circular walk along some of the most beautiful villages in France (Medieval France: Tarn and Aveyron). The latter is what Charles shares his memories on after coming back from the trip in early October.
Why did you choose to walk in France’s Tarn & Aveyron region?
I was introduced to France as a child and have loved it ever since. In my teens I hitch-hiked through the country, picking apples in the Loire. I love the language (though speak it badly), the food, the countryside with the typical French villages and the culture.
How did you prepare for this walk in France?
I had been suffering from a bad back so I did daily strengthening exercises ahead of the trip. I also found a great app for my smartphone, which is called DuoLingo. A few weeks before the trip departed, I did half an hour of French lessons each day – it certainly made a difference.
What was your favourite or most beautiful village in France’s Aveyron region?
My favourite place must be Puycelci. We arrived at lunchtime on a sunny day with nothing better to do than have an omelette and frites and a cool beer and enjoy the views.
Best French food and drink on this walk?
Without question the best food I had was at the wonderful chambre d’hôte a little outside the village of Vaour. Our host, Nathalie, is married to a chef who trained under one of the Roux brothers. A tomato flan was followed by steaks from her brother’s herd of Aubrac cattle, a wonderful cheeseboard and a simple apple and pear pudding. And needless to say, a local French wine.
What was your biggest surprise on this walking holiday?
From time to time we saw wild colchicums (autumn crocus) growing along the paths. I knew about these plants before and asked a passing lady what they were called in French. The word is the same, but she then sang me a little song about the flower!
What aspect of this walk in the Aveyron region did you find most challenging?
I think the hardest climb was after a leisurely visit we made to the extraordinarily pretty village and castle at Penne. That pull up the hill opposite felt unrelenting. It wasn’t really; we had just relaxed in this beautiful French village just a bit too much!
Do you have any advice for travellers thinking about walking the Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron trip?
Pay careful attention to the written notes you are given ahead of your trip, carry plenty of water, don’t be in a rush.
Our walking holiday along some of the most beautiful villages in France departs on any day you like during the European spring, summer and autumn months from May until the end of September. To learn more about the walk that Charles and his friend took, have a look at the full description of Medieval France: Tarn and Aveyron, or as always, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or write an email to our team of travel experts in the London office.
This summer, Sherpa Expeditions team member Katia, visited the medieval towns of France's Tarn & Aveyron. She had an excellent time with good walking conditions and great conversations with her hosts over dinner. In this blog entry, Katia shares some of her experiences with you.
The last couple of years I have been arranging your walking holidays to Tarn & Aveyron (Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron) from our office in London. This summer I visited some of the charming medieval villages along this walking tour. They are called ‘bastides’, which means fortified towns. And indeed, the towns that I visited are perched on tops of hills and circled by walls, testimony of the religious wars that afflicted the area for centuries.
From the city walls you can have amazing views of rolling hills and gentle valleys as far as the eye can see. When asked which village on this walking trip was my favourite, I just wouldn’t be able to decide! They are all as beautiful as each other, with their winding cobbled streets, houses with timbered walls of brick stones, and flowers at the windows. Each of them had quaint little squares, dotted with peaceful churches and their blue ceilings.
Albi, which is an optional extension on the Tarn & Aveyron walking holiday is worth including. Rightly named La Ville Rouge (the Red City), it stands proudly on the banks of the river Tarn. After visiting the amazing fortress cathedral and the Toulouse Lautrec museum, I strolled in the manicured gardens which connect with the fortifications overlooking the river, taking in postcard views of the old bridge and its surroundings at the end of a summer day...
Below are some of my pictures and if you have any questions on this charming part of my beloved France, do call or send me an email for more information. I’d be happy to talk about our Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron walking holiday.
View over Tarn & Aveyron region, France
Charming French streets in the bastides of Tarn & Aveyron
Enjoy the view on a break at our Tarn & Averyon walking holiday
Blue ceilings in the churches of Tarn & Aveyron
The gardens of Palais de la Berbie in Albi, on the extension to our Tarn & Aveyron walking holiday in France
Dinner in Cordes sur Ciel overlooking the beautiful Tarn & Aveyron countryside
Village life in the Tarn & Aveyron region
The river Tarn on our walking holiday in France
The Tarn and Aveyron region is dotted with churches and abbeys
Come across charming villages with cobbled streets and flowers at the windows of traditional French houses.
Interested to learn more? Read this Traveller's Tale on walking in Tarn & Aveyron by Eric Martin & Julie Gardinier or find background information on walking in Tarn & Aveyron here.
Rural & Unspoilt Destinations Great for Walking
Even though Europe is a highly developed continent, there still are plenty of destinations that are fantastic backdrops country walking holidays. For those of you who like to spend some time in rural communities and like to take in the unspoilt countryside, here are country walking destinations in France, Ireland and England.
Tarn & Aveyron, France
Picture a spectacular setting of rocky promontories or broad hills, like the Tuscan hill towns, rich in history with an intervening countryside that is a beautiful mixture of forests, fields and river valleys. This is the Tarn & Aveyron, about two hours driving north from Toulouse in southeastern France. Going on a country walking holiday in this region, you will notice a distinct lack of tourists. The route that we offer here has become one of our most venerated walks and one of our most popular tours in France. It’s a little different from our other hotel-based treks as you overnight in Chambres d’Hotes - literally ‘a room with your hosts’, and Table d’Hotes – ‘dinner with your hosts.’ Sit and eat with your hosts, enjoying a regional wine and try to engage in conversation to learn about their daily life.
Our beautiful country walk winds between the bastides, or fortified towns, that sprung up between the Cathar Crusades of the 1200s and the Wars of Religion in the 1500s, as well as vineyards, gorges, forests and rivers in rural France.
Want to visit Tarn & Aveyron yourself? You can, between May and September, on our 8-day self guided walking holiday in Tarn & Aveyron.
Lake District, England
Travel through England’s most rugged and mountainous landscape: the Lake District National Park. This part of the English country walking destination brings sensational woodlands and forests that provide a habitat for native English wildlife. Spot for example the red squirrel, one of the UK’s best-loved species. The countryside is celebrated not only by Beatrix Potter but also poets, authors and painters such as Wordsworth, Tennyson, Ransome and Wainwright. In between quaint market towns, the walking trails lead past the peaceful depths of Coniston Water and Derwentwater lakes, as well as the superb Tarn Hows, set in the wooded hills between the picturesque villages of Coniston and Langdale. Anybody looking for one of England’s best country walking holiday destinations, the Lake District in Cumbria should be high on your list.
Besides our 8-day Cumbrian Way: Crossing the Lake District walking holiday
, also our Coast to Coast walking holidays
cross the English Lake District.
Wicklow Way, Ireland
Starting in southwest County Wicklow, the route that we’ve set out in this southeastern part of Ireland passes through rural communities, old market towns and grand estates. The region has proved itself as one of the best country walking holiday destinations as it attracts walkers from across the world eager to explore one of the greenest parts of the ‘Emerald Isle’. The Wicklow Way is Ireland’s oldest waymarked trail through which you can experience a patchwork of landscapes. If you’re keen to cross country estates, heather-covered granite mountains, rolling green hills and tranquil forests this is a country walking holiday for you! You will also pass ‘the valley of two lakes’ and monastic settlements that date back to the 6th century on your way to the bright lights of Dublin…
Discover The Wicklow Way on a 7-day country walking holiday between March and October.
From Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, the richly varied landscape and the historical treasures of Dorset have inspired generations of authors. On this country walking holiday, you cross unspoilt and peaceful rural villages. The route follows the coast as it stretches eastwards, along fossil-encrusted cliffs and the famed Golden Gap, a 190-metre headland of orange sandstone. Explore a timeless landscape of hidden valleys and hill forts before you drop down to the beautifully preserved village of Abbotsbury, which does not even have street lighting!
Follow the Dorset-Wessex Trails in the period from May until October on an 8-day self guided country walking holiday from Lyme Regis to West Lulworth.
Start in the French Cevennes at the extinct volcanoes to the north of the Massif Central and follow a winding route southwards across the more mountainous Cevennes on the eastern flank of the Massif Central. It is one of the remotest country walking holiday experiences you can get in France as this is the only French national park that is inhabited. We follow the route that in the autumn of 1878 was taken by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island) with his donkey Modestine. Their journey inspired ‘Travel with a donkey in the Cévennes’, which has since become a travel classic. Stevenson’s route can still be followed today without drastic modification: inns where Stevenson stopped still exist and at Notre Dame des Neiges, the monks from the book are still praying and brewing! Follow a winding route across a region that boasts great natural beauty, sad romantic ruins and is almost totally unspoilt.
You can choose between an eight or ten-day trip with excellent country walking following Stevenson’s Trail.
For more information on each of the regions and detailed information on these country walking holidays, please download the trip notes on each trip's webpage. If you like to speak to one of our travel consultants, please send us an email or contact us by phone and we’d be happy to discuss your requirements.
Walking in Tarn & Aveyron with Eric Martin and Julie Gardinier
Sherpa Expeditions travellers Eric Martin and Julie Gardinier share their experience on our Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron holiday.
What is your travelling/walking history?
We love to both bike and hike and most of our travelling adventures involve one of these activities, plus some amount of time spent visiting museums or historical sites. We like to combine physical activities with learning experiences of other countries and cultures when we are on holiday and we have travelled in most of Asia, Africa, South America, Western and Eastern Europe. We have been on many wonderful Sherpa Expeditions trips before so we knew that the Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron walking trip would be great.
Why did you choose to walk where you did?
We decided to go on the Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron walking trip because we have never been to that area of France with beautiful Medieval villages, fields, forests and farms, and we are very interested in the history of the region concerning the Cathars and the bastide villages. We also wanted to improve our speaking and understanding French. The descriptions of the villages and the accommodations really appealed to us, as did the variety of walks and terrain. Walking through very old villages with homes made of stone and shopping at the local ‘alimentation generale’ for our pain, fromage and saucisson for our picnic lunches was great fun and so delicious. We were definitely not disappointed and actually loved every minute of the trip.
How did you prepare for this trip?
In preparation for this trip, we increased our walking distance and made sure that we walked up and down hills as steep as we could find. We also made sure that we walked 7 miles at least once or twice a week. The most important thing was to make sure that our hiking shoes were in good shape and very comfortable. Socks are very important too, especially wool socks, as they keep feet dry and cushioned. Other than these things, we followed our usual walking and biking routines. We usually do not walk with a backpack, but for a couple of days we added weight to our backpacks and walked with them on to make sure they fit well and were comfortable.
Which was your favourite destination?
So many experiences and places stand out in our mind… I think all of the villages and areas of the Tarn were so amazing and interesting that we really don't have a favourite.
Where did you have the best food and drink on your trip?
Most of the food that we had was delicious and some meals were outstanding and quite different from our usual fare. The food in Vaour was all homemade and wonderful (bread baked in their own oven, duck confit, lasagne, boudin noir, pork rillette, apple tart) and the dinner in Bruniquel was outstanding. The owner prepared ‘loup de mer’ (Mediterranean seabass) in a mild curry sauce with shallots, oranges and cream. Delicious! We also had very interesting local wines with the home dinners.
What was the biggest surprise on your trip?
The biggest and most wonderful surprise was that instead of just serving us dinner at these two places (Vaour and Bruniquel) the family actually sat and ate with us. Of course they only spoke limited English – so we could practice our French! – but they were so helpful and we learned so much. Plus they were truly interesting people and we so enjoyed being with them and learning about them and their lives.
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
This was quite a challenging trip for us because it was exactly one year ago that I had fractured my femur and broke my collarbone on a bicycle accident – but after a year of physical therapy, daily exercises and a regimen of walking to build up miles, we were very excited to take this trip! The first day of 13 miles was a challenge just because of the distance (I was still having some difficulty walking) and on two days we did shorten the distance by hiring a taxi with a very nice man who accommodated our schedule. There were rocks, stones and tree trunks to negotiate going from Bruniquel to Puycelci but it was a beautiful walk and I am glad that we walked the entire length. I do think the hikes are not difficult. On one day, we walked on a very small local road as the regular walk was too steep and muddy (it had rained the night before) but we were fortunate not to have any rainy days.
Do you have any other advice for travellers thinking about booking this trip?
I would also add that an extension to Albi for two days was really a great thing to do. Katia from Sherpa Expeditions helped us with the arrangements and her recommendation of the small 2-star hotel in the centre of Albi was just perfect. We also added a rest day in Puycelci, which was a wonderful village to wander around. We went inside the beautiful church across from our hotel, visited a local potter, walked around the fortifications and shopped in a local ‘epicerie-boulangerie’. I would definitely recommend this trip. It was truly exceptional and will always be remembered.