Just 30 mins from Mazamet, Lautrec is full of charm & is becoming a foodie hotspot.
Like many small towns & villages, its fortunes ebb & flow. Lautrec, just 30 mins (35 km) from Mazamet, seems to be on the up with a number of new eateries & boutique shops opening in recent years; and a new-found neatness & pride in the buildings & streets too.
The village, one the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, was once a fortified bastide; a walled village set high on a strategic outcrop, with far-reaching views over the countryside beyond….a very useful asset during the Middle Ages in helping identify both friend & foe!
Its narrow streets occasionally spill into small squares, its main square, where the weekly (Friday) market still takes place, is a focal point for the community throughout the year. Its ‘arcades’, where once bartering and trading of animals would have taken place, now a place of shade from the high heat of summer.
The streets of Lautrec eventually lead you upwards in the direction of the windmill, still working today and housing the village’s museum which you can enter for 1€ (and on occasion where the local miller mills flour too!). From there, you take the final path through a lovely garden to reach the view point from where, on a clear day, the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrénées gleam like shark’s teeth in the distance, beyond the Montagne Noire.
Since we opened La Villa in 2009, Lautrec has been a firm favourite for both us and our guests. A destination in its own right as a short trip; the village also features on two of our self-drive day tours. Renowned regionally for its rose garlic (and annual Fête de l’Ail) What has struck us in recent years is the village’s increasing number of quality eateries. Yes, you can still find a creperie & pizza restaurant (as you can in most French villages)… but now there’s a choice of four great little places to enjoy a lazy lunch or dinner.
There has also been a recent renaissance in ‘bleu pastel’ – a beautifully delicate cornflour-blue colour made from a dye using the Isatis Tinctoria plant (woad). From dying fabric to colouring/scenting soap & perfume, blue pastel is unique to this part of France, (regionally known as the Pays de Cocagne, a triangle triangle between Albi, Toulouse & Castelnaudary), and has led to the creation of La Ferme au Village.
Here, a boutique, café/salon du thé and ‘ateliers’ sit side by side. You can enjoy a wonderful home made plat du jour and also learn both the history & techniques, passed down from the Middle Ages, of using the locally grown plant and how the actual dye is made.
A short distance away (it’s a small village, so everything is a short distance from each other) is Café Plùm – established in the summer of 2010. This quirky cafe-bar-library-performing arts space is a wonderful facility, run as a co-operative; it feels like the beating heart of the community. With a changing menu of food & drinks, great teas & coffee and a programme of year-round live music, it’s French-bohemia at its best.
Across the road form Cafè Plùm is the Le Clos d’Adele (named after Toulouse Lautrec’s grandmother who, with her husband, resided in the village). The beautiful renovation of the property has created four distinctively different dining areas, including an outside terrace and internal courtyard. The owner is welcoming, the menu changes with the seasons (with both à la carte & set menus) and they have a great wine list too (Gaillac AOC is a short distance away).
The latest addition to Lautrec’s dining scene, only opening in June 2019, is Le Jardin de Clocher. The 13th century building & courtyard, adjacent to La Collégiale Saint Rémy church, has been tastefully modernised with a main interior dining area and a large open courtyard to the rear. With an à la carte and variously priced set-menus, we are already receiving good feedback from our guests who have been for lunch.
So, how & when should we plan a visit to Lautrec?
- If your flight brings you via Toulouse (in either direction) we have a suggested scenic route with Lautrec being the last/first place to visit and is, therefore an ideal stop for lunch. We can let you know which restaurant(s) will be open on that specific day and also make an advanced reservation for you;
- If you undertaking either the Albi or Albigensian Bastide self-drive day tours; this will take you through Lautrec (again, it can be your first or final port of call during your day and is just 30 mins from La Villa) – Café Plùm or La Ferme au Village are perfect if you want just a morning coffee or afternoon cuppa should you not want a full meal;
- If you wanted to spend a 1/2 day, arrive late morning and discover the Office of Tourisme, just inside the old village walls. Here you can see a scale model of how the village would have been during the Middle Ages with its perimeter walls intact, as well as one of the original communal bread ovens. Armed with a village plan, you can then visit the church and make your way up to the windmill for the vistas before lunch in one of the eateries (again, we can let you know what will be open and make a reservation for you). Alternatively, visit nearby Castres in the morning and head to Lautrec in time for lunch.