The prosperous, provincial city of Montauban is capital of the largely agricultural département of Tarn-et-Garonne. It lies on the banks of the River Tarn, 53km from Toulouse, close to its junction with the Aveyron and their joint confluence with the Garonne. With an attractive old centre, interesting shops, some great places to eat, and a laidback feel, it makes a particularly pleasant base for a few days. The greatest delight is simply to wander the streets of the compact city centre, with their lovely pink-brick houses.
The city’s history goes back to 1144, when the count of Toulouse decided to found a bastide here as a bulwark against English and French royal power. In fact, it’s generally regarded as the first bastide, and that plan is still clearly evident in the old city centre.
Montauban has enjoyed periods of great prosperity, as one can guess from the proliferation of fine townhouses. The first followed the suppression of the Cathar heresy and the final submission of the counts of Toulouse in 1229, and was greatly enhanced by the building of the Pont-Vieux in 1335, which made it the best crossing-point on the Tarn in these parts. The Hundred Years’ War did its share of damage, as did Montauban’s opting for the Protestant cause in the Wars of Religion, but by the time of the Revolution it had become once more one of the richest cities in the southwest, particularly successful in the manufacture of cloth.