Local descriptions of Castres, 70km east of Toulouse, as a 'little Venice' slightly oversell its charms. But not only does the town have political pedigree as the birthplace of French Socialism's founding father Jean Jaurès, it also has a superb museum of Spanish art and a landscaped park laid out by the designer of Versailles' gardens. With former tanneries casting fetching reflections in the Agout river flowing through town, Castres is a photogenic spot to explore.
Settled since the Iron Age, Castres rose to prominence with the construction of a Benedictine abbey in the 9th century. Much of its architectural finery dates from the 17th century, and several hôtels particuliers (private mansions) from this era remain.