Castells, a former textile town in the Southwest, has been a hub for trade and industry since 2000.
You can catch a glimpse of this business on the banks of the Agout River, where medieval tanners’ houses had basement doors built to help them get water faster.
During the 17th century, Castres was the seat of an important tribunal that settled cases between Catholics and Protestants. The Renaissance mansions built for these magistrates are personal statements that still adorn the city 400 years later.
André Le Nôtre has a place in the history of Versailles when he designed the gardens of the Bishop’s Palace at Castres.
This noble building houses some of the best Spanish art galleries in France, with Goya, Velazquez and Picasso all on display.
1. Goya Museum
The Goya Museum is a remarkable cultural attraction, a cornucopia of Spanish art.
Francisco Goya is the star of the exhibition, with four paintings and four prints of his work.
But there are also works by Murillo, Vélasquez and Zurbarán.
The 20th century gallery houses artworks by Picasso, Juan Gris and Anthony Clavi.
It is the only French museum with a comprehensive presentation of Spanish art, but also ceramics, weapons and pre-Columbian decorations.
The setting also needs a mention, as the palace was designed by Mansart, the architect of Versailles, and the gardens are the work of the legendary André Le Nôtre, as we’ll explain later.
2. Agout Riverside
Castres’ fond memories will be the ramshackle cantilevered houses crowding the room and jutting out over the Agout River.
These houses once belonged to artisans such as tanners and dyers who needed river water to wash their clothes in their basements.
Take photos and enjoy the view from the terrace of Quai des Jacobins.
Each house on the right bank has a different character: some are tiled, some are painted in bright colors, some have open wooden porches, and some have elegant square bay windows.
3. Jean-Jaurès National and Museum Center
Jean Jaurès was a prominent French statesman, one of the first Social Democrats, a pacifist who was assassinated on the eve of the First World War.
He opposed colonization, fought for the separation of church and state, and many streets and squares across the country still bear his name.
Jaurès was also a Castelian, and the museum dealt with the affairs and political climate of his career at the turn of the century.
The center is a resource for students and scholars, but also has permanent exhibitions of essays, photographs, comics, and personal artifacts.
4. Jean Jaurès
Shortly after the war, the central rectangular square in Castell was named in honor of Jean Jaurès, and there is a statue of the man in the direction of the Quai des Jacobins. Castres follows the trend of pedestrian streets in the centre of France, with Place Jean Jaurès becoming car-free in 2005. The dining room and coffee table make it a social place to meet friends, as well as an outdoor market on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday mornings.
The building is also luxurious, with rows of corrugated arcades occupied by bars and shops all but the east side of the square.
5. Ponce Hotel
John Ligonier is an interesting character: the son of the Protestant Huguenots, he was forced to leave France for England at the age of five, and later became a British field marshal.
His grandmother’s home in Castres, known as Hôtel de Poncet, has some stunning Renaissance sculptures on its facade.
Built in the mid-17th century, it has a royal loggia with two pairs of Doric columns and a balustrade supported by four singular caryatids (carved figures in place of the columns).
6. Jardin de l’Évêché
The beautiful gardens of the diocese behind the Bishop’s Palace were also designed by André Le Nôtre in the 17th century.
Not only that, but more than 300 years later, its embroidered boxwood hedges are in exactly the same pattern as they were laid out.
They create a stylized and sophisticated natural decor that you’ll want to take a step back to get it right.
There are two of these formal flower beds, four English flower beds and a chestnut grove at the back.
The gardens also have a slightly irregular trapezoidal shape, so they appear symmetrical from the palace windows.
Along with the Hôtel de Poncet, there are some other splendid examples of Renaissance architecture while walking around Castres.
Most of these come from the reign of Henry IV, when the king chose Castres as the seat of the imperial court.
Sheriffs and other officials needed luxurious homes, and the result was mansions like the Hôtel de Nayrac.
Set around a courtyard, the mansion features a Toulouse-style mix of limestone and brick.
Hotel Viviès is a hotel of the same period, built for a lawyer from the Chamber of Laws.
From the street you can see the carved portal with the coat of arms of the Rozelle family who built it.
8. West Dobre
Travel north is the shortest and the terrain gets steeper as you enter the southern spurs of Massif Central.
At the southernmost point of the mountain range is Sidobre, a large granite plateau with peculiar rock formations.
Maison de Sidobre is a tourist center that provides maps and inspiration for walks and activities.
For the size and number of odd-numbered granite boulders, there is no place like this in Europe, and you can see why these rocks have mythical origin stories and nicknames.
It is also a great playground for children, especially the “Rivière des Rochers”, a river valley clogged with boulders.
9. Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Platé
Built in the 17th century, this church is the fifth church built on the site.
Its predecessor dates back to the 1000s, and the previous one was burned by Protestants during the Wars of Religion in the 1500s.
While the architecture is pleasing enough, what draws people to this church is the height of the tower, with 120 steps.
Since its installation in 1847, the Flemish-style carillon with its 33 bells has never stopped working. If you’re in town between December 17th and 23rd, you’ll hear it play special Nadalette chimes between 18:30 and 19:30 every day.
10. Coche d’Eau
Until the late 1800s, you would see dozens of boats like this zipping up and down the Agout River, transporting people and goods along the canal.
The hulls of these ships are so flat that they are able to sail in shallow water: the current vessel, the Miredames, has a draft of less than 40 cm and was built in 1990 according to the same plans for 18th century ships.
In the middle of summer, the Miredames travel six times a day, from the port in the centre of Castres to the Parc de Gourjade, a 20-minute drive upstream.
11. Parc de Gourjade
The Coche d’Eau’s destination was the 53-hectare estate, which was bought by the city in the 70s.
You can buy a baguette, cheese, charcuterie and a bottle of wine, then cruise down to the river for a picnic.
But there’s also plenty to do here, including a network of miniature trains that the kids will go crazy for, as well as an adventure park and miniature golf.
For serious golfers, there’s also a 9-hole par-36 course, so if you’re looking for a quiet day in Castres, there’s no shortage of inspiration.
12. Castres Cathedral
The Wars of Religion also took over a large part of the town’s cathedral, which was rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The church is lavishly baroque and designed to awe the faithful with its impressive proportions and overwhelming decoration.
This is evident in the statues of the choir and the huge columns made of Cornes marble and the narrow but soaring nave.
If you’re an antique lover, you’ll be interested in the tower outside: the lowest level of the building is in Lombard Romanesque style, dating back to the 11th century.
13. CERAC – Archéopôle
The Castel Archaeological Research and Research Centre is also in the Parc de Gourjade and is free to enter.
The exhibition space is small, but the galleries rotate every few months to cover different periods in Castres’ history.
So, depending on your time in town, you might find exhibitions about 18th-century Albi faience, Neolithic hand axes, medieval pottery or handicrafts pointing to the Gallo-Roman trade on the banks of the Agout river.
CERAC’s archives house objects from the Paleolithic to the 20th century, so you can visit with an open mind.
14. Castres Olympic
Avid rugby fans already know everything about Castres, who most recently won the Round of 14 in 2013. France now has the richest league in the world and has attracted international stars in recent seasons.
So if you’re new to the sport, the Castes Olympique race will be the ultimate appetizer for you.
In 2017, their defender Geoffrey Palis was in the squad for the French Six Nations, while Rodrigo Capó Ortega, Benjamin Urda Benjamín Urdapilleta and Horacio Agulla made numerous appearances for Uruguay and Argentina.
The home is the cozy and lively Stade Piere-Antoine, with 11,500 fans, and despite having one of the largest teams, the stadium has the smallest capacity in the league.
One of the satisfying things about dining out in Castres is that you can enjoy a meal where every dish is a local or regional speciality.
Appetizers can be melsát, a typical charcuterie made with pig innards, which is more delicious than it sounds, or bougnette, another cold cut that includes pork belly, breadcrumbs, and sliced eggs.
The main course can be duck confit (salted) or casserole, a variety of pork and poultry simmered in white lentils.
Dessert was poumpet, a puff pastry filled with lemon and bergamot orange sauce; this preparation was imported by the Moors in the Middle Ages.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Castres, France
Lowest price guaranteed.