What I love most about travel all comes together in the Tarn Gorge – hiking that exceeds expectations, great dining experiences and a tourist environment that feels authentically French. Somehow this little corner of France has been bypassed by most of the English speaking world.
The Tarn Gorge, located in the Cevennes National Park in the heart of the Massif Central of south central France is a popular summer tourist destination for the French and other Europeans, as such it’s best to choose a warm week during the shoulder months of June or September for your visit. The first week in June, during the middle of the week and between spring storms, we had a perfect window of sunny days with a few afternoon clouds for drama.
La Malène, centrally situated on the Tarn river and snuggled against the canyon cliffs makes a good base for exploring the region. While we saw most of the top attractions and got in a good hike in a short two day visit, we could have stayed a week, providing the good weather held that long.
The charming Le Manoir de Montesquiou, built in the 15th and 16th century, is a family run hotel that also operates a quality restaurant. We stayed in one of the larger rooms with a bathtub – spacious, clean and comfortable but otherwise unremarkable. Service is efficient and friendly. The wifi access is free through the department of Lozère connection, although annoyingly, you do need to get a new code every 10 hours.
Breakfast is the standard affair with a buffet spread including croissants and rolls, a limited selection of cheese and charcuterie, fresh fruit and cereal. At 13 € per person, it is the typical overpriced French breakfast, but where else are you going to get a pot of hot coffee?
The gastronomic restaurant is not for those on a restricted diet. The food is rich, sauced up, and wonderful.
The first evening we began with a chilled gazpacho topped with a truffle foam. Other dishes tasted included a small casserole of escargot and chorizo in a tomato based sauced – full of flavor with a hint of heat; smoked trout in a lemon dill cream sauce over tagliatelle – divine; monk fish served with a mild green chili beurre blanc – while the chili sauce had great flavor the monk fish was a tad dry;
and my favorite of the evening, grilled sweetbreads on a vegetable compote in a light cream sauce – a melding of flavors that runs as deep and rich as the Tarn Gorge. Ending the evening on a sweet note – the very berry compote served in a cellophane wrapper with a dollop of ice cream.
The second evening, after a long hard hike, I decided to splurge and started with the house made terrine of foie gras –
layers of foie gras heaven that melts on the tongue, while Don stuck to his diet and had the vegetable tagliatelle – served in a tomato sauce, it is one of the lighter dishes on the menu, but still quite flavorful.
For mains we tasted the trout, a native brown trout called fario, served with a meunière sauce and the grilled beef filet – perfectly cooked to order. For dessert a hot and cold parfait – starting from the bottom, layers of hot chocolate sauce, whipped cream and topped with a coffee granité.