At the foot of the Pyrenean peaks that loom in the distance, you'll find Tarbes with its trade, equestrian and military heritage: soak up the town's unique legacy and everyday life. Live the good life and enjoy the warm micro-climate in the Hautes-Pyrénées county town and Bigorre capital.
Place Verdun and its café terraces are where it all happens in Tarbes (population: approx. 42,000).
Make your way to the square to soak up the atmosphere in Maréchal Foch's hometown then head to Halle Brauhauban. Experience real local life in Tarbes whose fully renovated market has become "the place to be" among foodies. Depending on what time you get here, you can indulge in a few oysters or tapas as you drink in the friendly vibes.
The town is a hive of activity on Thursday morning with the weekly market at the other market hall in Tarbes: the Baltard-style Halle Marcadieu is teeming with producers from all over the Pyrenees who can't wait to showcase their wares. Sample local specialities: spit cake, local cheese, Noir de Bigorre ham, Tarbais white beans, Barèges lamb and foie gras!
On Thursday, Halle Marcadieu market day, make like the locals and put down your basket for lunch in one of the many nearby bistro-style eateries.
Now here's something that all the family will love. The stud farm is part of Tarbes history. Napoleon I founded it in 1806 as he wanted to have horses in the South of France to wage war against Spain. Le Haras de Tarbes is also the birthplace of the Anglo-Arabian horse.
The Empire-style stable buildings are dotted around grounds leafy with century-old trees. They house sprawling Adour cobblestone stables home to studs and mares. La Maison du Cheval museum displays the stud farm's collections in a former school with its original stalls and some days you can watch horse shows in Cour Napoléon.
Did you know ?
Le Haras de Tarbes carefully experimented with cross-breeding (with the Tarbes horse) to produce the Anglo-Arabian breed for the needs of Napoleon's hussar cavalry.
The beautiful Jardin Massey in central Tarbes will blow you away. The park listed as a "Remarkable Garden" was designed by Placide Massey, the Empire's botanist and manager of the Château de Versailles vegetable garden. Its 11 hectares burst with every shade of green with grass, sequoias, Lebanese cedars, banana trees and other species. It's also home to a unique 40-arcade cloistered garden, a beautiful orange grove and the Moorish Musée Massey.
Musée Massey plays host to 2 major museums: the Fine Arts Museum and International Hussars Museum which takes you on a trip back in time 400 years to meet the legendary elite cavalrymen. It's fascinating and makes perfect sense in a garrison town that is still home to the renowned 1st Parachute Hussar Regiment!
Did you know ?
The hussar unit first appeared in Hungary in 1545 and spread throughout Europe leaving a fascinating legacy in its wake. Fashion designers are still inspired by the uniform, hussar corsages and frog fastenings. The International Hussars Museum and its display of over 150,000 items provide an all-encompassing insight into a military phenomenon.
Tarbes hosts world-renowned sporting events and festivals such as the Festival Equestria. The town celebrates its passion for horses with high-flying horse shows at the idyllic Le Haras de Tarbes stud farm. You don't need to be a keen rider to enjoy it.
And you don't need to be a tennis ace to have a ball at the Tournoi des Petits As, the junior world championship tournament won by most of the big names in tennis, including someone called Rafael Nadal... heard of him?
It takes two at the Festival international Tarbes en Tango: tango lovers from all over the world have been flocking to Tarbes for over 20 years to indulge their passion for dance and music. The streets come alive to the sound of the bandoneon as balls, tango parties and dance shows buzz all night long...
Use Tarbes as your base to explore the mountain and visit the Pyrenean Grands Sites Occitanie: Lourdes, Gavarnie-Cauterets-Pont d’Espagne and Pic du Midi. Keep the magic alive and try nearby AOC Madiran wine or venture a little further to the pretty villages in Gers next door.