Generally, a visit to France means exploring the big cities such as Paris, Marseilles, and Toulouse. However, I think it is important to remember the little towns, villages and even the hamlets. While they may not have grand things to sightsee, they tend to have “everyday” history and a quiet beauty about them. In France, I spent a few months living in one such town and to this day, I still have half-baked ideas about one day moving to a place such as this.
Rabastens is a Midi-Pyrénées French town about a 25 minute train ride from Toulouse, assuming the French rail workers aren’t on strike. It has a population of about 5000 people so it is sizeable enough to have all the amenities one could need. It has a long history as the area has been settled since the Roman times. Generally speaking, Rabastens is a town of bricks and stones that is set in an idyllic countryside setting. Colours, historical architecture, local markets, medieval laneways, vineyards, panoramas, wild flower fields, and the meandering Tarn River all conspire to make you want to find a location-independent job and move there.
Rabastens even has a UNESCO World Heritage building – Notre Dame du Bourg, a 13th century church. Those who are walking the Camino de Santiago (the Le Puy-en-Velay route), usually opt to visit here if they’re lucky enough to find it open. In fact, Rabastens is the place where I first heard of the Camino and where I first said that I must do that walk one day. I still remember the first time I saw the painted shell on the road! Who knew that snapping a picture of that shell was a sign of things to come…
The busiest time to visit Rabastens is on a Saturday morning as the highly popular market would be in full swing. You can buy all sorts of locally produced things – cheeses, meats, breads, vegetables and fruits, lavender, art, honey and jams, etc. But even if you arrived outside of market hours, there are many patisseries and boulangeries from which you can get your yummy French breads and pastries!
If you can’t spend several leisurely days here, I suggest visiting Rabastens as a day trip from Toulouse. It would be a rewarding change from whatever high octane sightseeing you have planned. A visit to Rabastens is about wandering the historical streets, admiring the ancient city walls, strolling through the countryside, drowsing along the Tarn riverbanks, and calling out “Bonjour!” to everyone you meet.