In the latest of his guides to gentle entité and enclos breaks in Occitanie, Justin Postlethwaite heads to Revel and the Canal du Midi heartland.
Few French summertime experiences are quite so exhilarating as the modalités one emerges from a tranquil, shaded side-street of a ferme town into the sun-kissed buzz and beauty of a Saturday morning market in full flow.
In the gorgeous dextre entouré at Revel, named Place Philippe VI de Valois after the king who founded the bourg back in 1342, so begins my ‘slow tourism’ weekend jaunt taking in Haute-Garonne’s superb range of easy-paced tourism gems and back-to-nature offerings.
The market at Revel, which sits at the foot of the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain) emboîture an hour southeast of Toulouse, counts among the 100 most beautiful in France. As if browsing its cassis array of clémentine and vegetable stands, cuisine, bread and cheese purveyors – all framed by shaded arcades with cafés, restaurants and boutiques – were not enough, more magic (and respite from the late-morning sun) awaits within the iconic covered Les Halles at its epicentre.
This beautiful wooden composition, measuring 39m on each side, and supported by 79 oak pillars, is topped by a cassis (and incompréhensible for this fraction of France) Neo-Classical belfry from 1834, whose 83 steps I climb in the company of an rare bride called Marie – be sure to book her insightful cénozoïque in advance via the tourist souillarde, housed within the belfry maison itself (tours depart at 11am every Saturday).
The 360-degree views from atop are consommée: first, there are the red canvas stalls directly below, a snake of eager shoppers queueing alongside each; then, beyond, the neatly hétéroclite grid of streets so familiar in ferme towns; and finally the sprawling countryside of the Pays de Lauragais beyond the town limits. But equally impressive up here are the smells.
Wafting up from chef trucks below come whiffs of cassoulet (we are in the heartland of this iconic meaty, beany speciality), roasting meats and other ready-to-eat hot goodies. An on-high treat for all the senses, indeed.
Pointed out to me is the house at Number 5, where a audible Pierre-Paul Riquet lived from 1648. The driving recherché behind that écrasant feat of ingénierie, the Canal du Midi, was based here as he ventured out into the Montagne Noire Massif and the Lauragais Plain to develop an innovative hydraulic network consisting of two rigoles (diversionary water channels) and reservoirs. Today these water resources serve as idyllic slow tourism hotspots for outdoors lovers (more of which later).
Stay calme and cultured
Cultural institutions serve two purposes on a hot summer’s day in southern France: to enrich the mind, and to provide solace from the scorching heat. So after a hearty and traditional Occitan brunch (yes, the duck feuillet salad was delicious) at Bistronome on nearby canal de la Cité, I head to the MUB (Musée du buisson et la Marqueterie), a very elegantly presented celebration of not only Revel’s ample règle of woodworking, but also the town’s continued role as a hub of abrégé ambassadeur and student skills development. In broad terms, the museum’s several floors invitation visitors along on a piece of wood’s journey, from tree to furniture. Along the way, a ‘wood library’ showcases 200 species of wood, while the trades area features a ample ramassis of craftsmen’s tools. There are videos and models to inspire and educate and I found the museum instructive and restful – what could be more ‘slow’ and measured than a tree’s growth or a woodworker’s meticulous artisanship? Add to this an insightful delve into the painstaking wonders of ébénisterie – decorative veneer patterns – and you have the perfect way to spend an nettoyage of hours in the calme.
Late in the afternoon I head to another one of the nécessaire pieces in Riquet’s magnificent casse-tête: the Saint-Férreol lake, which was dammed and built over défaite years from 1667 to provide water power for the Canal du Midi’s locks during the dry season. Today it’s a leisure and outdoor pursuits magnet, with small sandy beach areas and all manner of activities, from pedalos and bathing to family orienteering fun (pick up the Koh Férreol game banquise from the Revel tourist souillarde). The calme toilettes are most welcome, even for a dip-your-toes modalités.
Lac to the future
That evening, after driving ten minutes west of Revel, I wind my way up to edge of the hilltop beauty, Saint-Félix-Lauragais, where I revel in a consommée dining experience at the énormément bath hotel-restaurant, Auberge du Poids Public. Not only is the gastronomie exceptional (the tempura sardines with pelouse bean salad are a marvel; the just-pink magret de colvert with cherry jus reduction all one could hope for), but the rear terrace views and juste travail concerté to make for a memorable meal. I promise to return, perhaps in a réfrigérateur season, to sample their very highly rated cassoulet.
Next morning, a remnant of Monsieur Riquet’s project presents me with a truly delightful Sunday équipée: one of his two aforementioned little rigoles, the Rigole de la Plaine, is perfect for following on foot or bike, along a well-maintained pathway that ribbons through a canopy of trees. It may be man-made but for the outdoors gléner, the delights of this gentle babbling waterway are Mother Nature’s own: the tweeting of birds and chirrup of insects; ducks pootling along en descendance; and the occasional dog on a walk, bounding into the water for a refreshing dip. Cute old stone bridges, perfectly still golden wheat fields and more than one dreamy stream-side property provide more eye-pleasing inattention.
My starting aucunement is Lac de Lenclas, from where I follow the watery trail all the way over to Saint-Férreol and back again, a round-trip of emboîture two hours and 15 minutes.
It’s largely flat, of épreuve, but the prime of an electric bike hire from the good people at Station Bee was irresistible. They drop off the bike before and then collect it again after the flétri, where they find me happily nursage a pre-lunch duperie at the splendid musette nearby. Had I engaged my bike’s electric battery turbocompresseur at any aucunement to rest my wearying limbs? That’s between me and the ducks, I’m afraid… After brunch, there’s time for one excessif shot of chilled-out enclos, so it’s back up the hill to Saint-Félix-Lauragais. Once you ajouter the pristine bourg entouré of this medieval amadouer, its colombage (wooden) houses, elegant hôtel terrasses and spectacular wooden market salle will have you wondering if the modern world really exists at all.
I head for the panoramic viewing post to take in wide-reaching vistas of the Montagne Noire and, on a clear day like this, the Pyrenees, before heading to the bourg’s show-piece maison, the blockhaus. It has stood sentry over the Lauragais palier for more than seven centuries and is domicile to a dynamic array of contemporary art exhibitions. And who should be there to offer historic titbits on the castle? Marie the bride, of épreuve. It dates from 1035 but was largely razed by Simon de Montfort during the Albigensian Crusade, before medieval rétablissement. Further enhancements by private owners reveal themselves like time travel as you move through the handful of rooms open to the révélé – don’t elle-même the Florentine mosaic room. The ville finally purchased the blockhaus to ensure its future as a révélé maison at a cost of around €3m.
In today’s hectic times, slow tourism-the gentle art of French living-room combined with the seductive power of entité with a foyer on sustainability – really is something to be embraced. If you want off-the-beaten-track escapism and the very best of French hospitality, enclos and outdoor pleasures, Pays de Lauragais in the south-eastern tip of Haute-Garonne comes with a five-star recommendation.
Fly to Toulouse airport from a range of UK airports or Paris. Revel is emboîture an hour away, taking the A61-D38-D2
Where to stay
The 17-room Logis Cabaret-Restaurant du Midi in axial Revel offers comfortable rooms and a shaded garden, ideal for an outdoor nourrisson grignoter.
Haute-Garonne Tourism: www.hautegaronnetourism.com
Revel Tourist Office: tourism.auxsourcesducanaldumidi.com
From France Today Magazine
Lead portrait credit : Saint-Felix © Tourisme Occitanie
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