It takes six hours to drive from Paris. A car is essential if you want to explore the bastide towns and the countryside.
There are regular flights to Toulouse and Rodez airports. Both airports are two hours from Albi.
The TGV from Paris to Toulouse takes five hours. Local trains can be infrequent and slow.
Country code for France: 33. Toulouse, Albi 05.
Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; Chocolat by Joanne Harris; Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.
Do go / Don't Go
The climate of the region is essentially Mediterranean, with warm spring and autumn months and hot summers. In May, the flowers bloom. The region can get a dusting of snow in the winter.
Regional, or terroir, cooking, featuring local produce: lait de brebis (sheep's-milk), Rocamadour and Roquefort cheeses, plums from Agen, wind-dried ham from Lacaune. Duck dishes and foie gras are particularly good. The region is also famous for cassoulet, a casserole of white beans, herbs, meat and vegetables. Gaillac is France's oldest wine-making region and a treasure trove for connoisseurs.
There are plenty of taxi ranks in the towns but cabs are hard to come by out in the countryside - book ahead.
By law, service charges are added to all restaurant bills, but it's nice to leave a few euros.
A fishing rod and an encyclopaedia of wine.
Visit the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi, home town of the absinthe-soaked artist. The museum is housed in the old archbishop's palace next to the cathedral and contains a range of the artist's work, including the cabaret posters that made him so famous.
Many local villages have excellent food markets, such as the wonderful Sunday market in the mediaeval village of St-Antonin in the Aveyron gorge. Cordes-sur-Ciel is a warren of artists' studios and craftsmen's workshops. Gaillac is the centre of the local wine industry, and the place to pick up a case or two.
Hilltop Cordes-sur-Ciel is the finest of the region's fortified bastide towns. There are sweeping views from the ramparts across the surrounding countryside.
Sir Norman Foster's awe-inspiring bridge over the Tarn gorge at Millau is an engineering marvel, higher than the Eiffel Tower. Crossing it feels more like flying than driving. Nearby in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, it's possible to visit the labyrinthine Roquefort cheese caves where the pungent cheese is left to 'ripen'. Take a jacket; the caves never get warmer than eight degrees (www.roquefort-societe.com).
Mid-May The four-day Gaillac Wine Contest, when the New Year's vintages are debuted, tasted and judged. Mid-July Inhabitants of Cordes-sur-Ciel celebrate their Mediaeval Festival by dressing up in silly costumes and challenging each other to duels. Late July Cordes-sur-Ciel's inhabitants pack away their jester's outfits and enjoy the classical programme of the town's Music Festival (www.festivalmusiquesurciel.com). First weekend of August Gaillac's second Wine Festival coincides with the start of the wine harvest, with yet more thorough and thoughtful analysis of the local tipple. See www.tourisme-tarn.com for details of events.