Toulouse, with its sunny, cosmopolitan charms, is not only the main town in Western Languedoc but also a very accessible kick-off point for anywhere in the southwest of France. Of the places nearby, Albi, with its highly original cathedral and comprehensive collection of Toulouse-Lautrec paintings, is the number-one priority. West of Toulouse the land opens up into the broad plains of the Gers, a sleepy and rather dull expanse of wheat fields and rolling hills. Those in search of a solitary, little-visited France will enjoy its uncrowded monuments, especially any lover of rich terrines and a mellow, warming Armagnac.

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