Things to Do in Southwest France 2015

Place du Capitole, Toulouse
Place du Capitole, Toulouse

We’ve lived here since 1997, but many things remain that we haven’t seen or done. As I have often remarked, once you get settled in a place, daily life tends to take over and you are no longer a sort of permanent tourist. So here’s my bucket list of things to do in the region this year.

The first two are time-limited, so I’ll have to make sure I don’t miss them.

  1. Violet Fair at Toulouse

The violet has long been the emblem of Toulouse. It’s thought that soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars brought back the plants from Italy. I’ve also read that a prize awarded in medieval times for a poetry competition was a gold violet.

The plant was widely cultivated around Toulouse and the flowers used for cosmetics, flavourings and posies. The variety almost died out but was brought back from oblivion.

Now, there’s a fair each February to celebrate it in la Place du Capitole. The dates are a well-kept secret but, as far as I can make out, it will take place 7th-8th February. The weather has prevented me getting there on a couple of occasions.

  1. Truffle market at Lalbenque (Lot)
'Black diamonds' . These are at the Limogne truffle market but they're the same variety at Lalbenque
‘Black diamonds’ . These are at the Limogne truffle market but they’re the same variety at Lalbenque

This is THE truffle market in the region, where trufficulteurs come to sell their “diamants noirs” to high-class restaurateurs and middlemen. The whole thing is run according to precise rituals and there’s quite a bit of tourist hype. You can see demonstrations with truffle hounds and eat menus featuring truffles. They also have a truffle fete in late January.

I’ve been to the much smaller truffle market at Limogne. But I have to go at least once to Lalbenque. The markets normally finish in early March, since the season is over.

Then there are some places or events I haven’t seen or things I haven’t done:

  1. Les Phosphatières du Cloup d’Aural at Bach (Lot)

From the late 19th century, this area was found to be rich in phosphates, used in manufacturing fertilisers, and became riddled with phosphate mines. Excavating the mines revealed a fossil-rich substratum. Some of the fossils were sold to collectors for inflated prices.

The mines are no longer exploited, but you can see the old mine workings at one of them in Bach. You can find out about the history of the industry, see the geological formations and the flora that is particular to the Causse le Limogne.

  1. Garlic Fair at Beaumont-de-Lomagne (Tarn-et-Garonne) 
Garlic for which the Lomagne is celebrated
Garlic for which the Lomagne is celebrated

Garlic has been grown in the region since medieval times. I visited Beaumont, in SW Tarn-et-Garonne in April last year when I wrote a piece for France Magazine about garlic’s cultivation and the fair which is held every year in July.

I met some delightful people who kindly invited me to the fair, which attracts thousands. For various reasons, I wasn’t able to go, but I’d like to this year.

  1. The Liars’ Festival at Moncrabeau (Lot-et-Garonne)

France has some pretty strange festivals, but this must be one of the more bizarre. A festival of liars, apparently instituted by a cardinal in the 18th century, and held on the first Sunday in August. Pretenders to the crown of King of the Liars have to pledge to travesty the truth and tell a lie that is good enough to be plausible.

Can you believe it!

  1. Eat at the Restaurant d’Application in the Lycée at Villefranche (Aveyron)
Villefranche Thursday market today
Villefranche Thursday market today

Now, this is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, and 2015 must be the year. The Lycée Saint-Joseph at Villefranche-de-Rouergue has a Restaurant d’Application, where the students on the hospitality course cook for the public. People who have been say the food is excellent and good value (€12.50 for three courses at lunchtime). Booking essential.

And there are some places I’ve visited but are worthy of a revisit.

  1. Rodez 

The capital of the Aveyron Département, Rodez is built on a hill that dominates the Aveyron River snaking around it. We visited once on holiday but have been only to the airport and once to the opera since we’ve lived here. I need to rectify this, since there’s a lot to see.

First, there’s the cathedral, whose 87-metre spire is the tallest in France. Apparently, if you lift up the hinged miséricordes, you’ll see bizarre carvings of characters in contorted or downright vulgar postures underneath.

Then there’s the Musée Fenaille, which tells the history of the Rouergue from prehistory up to the 17th century. I’m interested in its unique collection of ancient menhir statues.

Finally, I have to see the Musée Soulages, which opened last year. It’s dedicated to the artist and sculptor, Pierre Soulages, who was born in Rodez. He designed the windows for the cathedral at Conques.

  1. Cordes-sur-Ciel (Tarn)

Cordes “on the sky” is a 13th-century hilltop town that merits its name, although the “sur ciel” suffix was added only in 1993. You get a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside from the ramparts. It is one the plus beaux villages de France and was voted the nation’s favourite village in 2014.

Like all such places, it’s heaving in the tourist season but comparatively empty outside it. It’s famed for its croquantes aux amandes (almond biscuits) and has a Sugar and Chocolate Museum, which I haven’t yet seen.

There are plenty of other things, but that’ll do for the time being. Experience tells me I won’t manage them all.

Perhaps you’ve got some places or activities in the region that you’d like to recommend?

You might also like:

France’s Most Beautiful Villages – Plus Beaux Villages 
Trip Along the River Aveyron
Goose Fat and Garlic
Toulouse: Pink, Violet or Blue City?
Bordeaux #1: City of Superlatives

Copyright © 2015 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Mmmmm the violet festival, wish I’d known about that when I was doing TAPIF. When I will hopefully find myself back in southern France one day, I’ll have to go to that. It’s so hard to find violet flavored and scented items in the US!


    • Each time I have intended to go, I have been thwarted by events – often the weather, which can be dire here in February. Interesting that violet products are difficult to find. Perhaps violets aren’t grown commercially in the States.


  2. Hi Nessa, how about the garlic market in Lautrec? That’s pretty amazing too, and the village very cute. I think it’s the first Friday in August.


    • Yes, thanks for mentioning that one, where they celebrate pink garlic. It’s a bit further away from us than Beaumont. It’s certainly in early August: might be the first Sunday? Will have to check.


  3. You are so right about daily life taking over and pushing exploration to the side! I must get at it again. Thanks for the ideas!!


    • I find I have to make a special effort to fit exploration in around other commitments, instead of just taking off as we used to. I expect you already know most of the items on the list. 🙂


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