721km (448 miles) SW of Paris; 42km (26 miles) S of Albi; 78 km (43.5 miles) E of Toulouse
On the bank of the Agout River, Castres is a delightful small town and the gateway for trips to the odd rock formations of the Sidobre granite massif and the mountains of Lacaune. Once a Roman military town, it became a religious center and stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela after Benedictine monks arrived with the remains of St. Vincent of Saragossa. Caught up in the Cathar heresy, the first Albigensian martyrs were burnt here in 1209 and it continued its anti-Catholic church stance in the wars of religion in the late 16th century. The Eglise St-Benoît in French baroque style was started in 1677 on the Benedictine site but never finished. Echoes of Castres as a wool-producing town in the 14th century are found in the brightly colored old tanners’ and weavers’ houses by the river.