Stage 8: Castres to Ax 3-Domaines

  • © Atout France

    © Atout France

Stage 8: Castres to Ax 3-Domaines

A showcase for Spanish painting 

Set in a part of the old Episcopal palace of Castres, designed by Jules-Hardouin Mansart, one of the architects of the Versailles palace, the Goya Museum in Castres is an often overlooked jewel of Castres cultural heritage. While it was created in 1840, it became specialised in Spanish painting thanks to a donation by Briguiboul to the municipality in 1894. Himself a painter and collector, Briguiboul was fascinated by Spanish masters and acquired many works including several of Goya’s best paintings, Self Portait with glasses, the portrait of Francisco del Mazo, a series of Los Caprichos, and the Junta of the Philippines, an exceptional masterpiece. In 1949, a loan by the Louvre Museum reinforced the museum’s vocation – a portrait of Felipe IV by Velazquez and the Virgin of the Rosary by Murillo. The museum also owns four series of engravings by Goya, which are only displayed temporarily for preservation reasons. The museum of Hispanic art, alone of its kind in France, has become in the course of time a place of reference to appreciate the beauties of Spanish art from the Antiquity to the 20th century. 


The Criterium International was for long at home in Castres, host of the time trials which saw  victories by Chris Boardman in 1996 and Bobby Julich in 1998. Apart from Tom Boonen, who won a Criterium stage in town, another Tour de France green jersey winner is directly bound to the city of Jean Jaures. Jacques Esclassan, who topped the points standings in 1977 and won five Tour stages, was born and still lives in Castres. The two stage winners on the Tour in Castres were Italian Bruno Cenghialta in 1991 and Spain’s Amets Txurruka in 2007. But Castres has never before been the launching pad of a stage heading for the Pyrenees.


Episcopal palace and garden: 

In 1669, the bishop of Castres, Michel de Tuboeuf asked renowned architect Mansart to build an Episcopal palace in Castres. Today, the palace houses the town hall and a Goya Museum dedicated to Spanish painting. At the time, the palace was flanked by a small garden leading to fortifications. In 1676, the bishop demolished the rampart and a larger garden replaced the old one and is still visible today. It was designed by Le Notre, who took advantage of the irregular shape of the terrain.

Jean Jaures centre and museum:

Created in 1959 for the centenary of Jean Jaures’s birth in Castres, the museum became a national centre in 1988. It presents the life and work of one of France’s most celebrated politicians and explains the major ideas and topics in French politics in the 19th and 20th century. The centre, owning numerous documents and manuscripts is open to researchers and historians.
Saint-Benoit cathedral:A listed historic monument since 1953, the St Benoit baroque cathedral is impressive by its proportions. The choir is surrounded by four marble statues of the late 17th century coming from the Saix convent. The cathedral was built on the site of the abbatial church founded by Benedictines in the 9th century and of which only the Romanesque tower remains. After the Wars of Religion destroyed two successive buildings, the cathedral was rebuilt in 1677 and 1710. For financial reasons it was never finished. 

Old craftsmen houses:

Some thirty houses on the banks of the Agout have been restored and are beautifully illuminated at night as well as the arches of the bridge nearby. In the Middle Ages, the houses were the main trade centre of Castres and houses several corporations and activities: tanning, paper mills, parchment and textile.    


A new hydrotherapy centre based in Ax, les Bains du Couloubret, is drawing its inspiration from the Roman period. Established in the old spa of Couloubret, whose neo-Gothic front wall has been preserved, the new complex combines waters and leisure over 7 acres. The setting has been decorated the Roman way with marble, pillars, frescos and mosaics. An ideal place to relax, Roman style, after skiing or trekking. Since it opened four years ago, the centre hosted more than 400,000 guests and expects to pass the half-million barrier by the end of 2013.


AX-les-Thermes has hosted the Tour since 1933 but the ski resort of Ax 3-Domaines had to wait for 2001 to see the race climb all the way to its slopes. The finish then took place on the Plateau de Bonascre, one of the three “domains” combined to form the resort. In 2003, a withdrawn but determined Spanish climber revealed himself by snatching the first of his three stage victories on the Tour. Carlos Sastre, who was then at the service of Tyler Hamilton, had received the go-ahead from his team director Bjarne Riis after the American broke his collarbone. On the finish line, the gentle rider from El Baracco produced a dummy and took it to his lips to dedicate his victory to his daughter Claudia, then aged two. A champion was born. Five years later, Carlos Sastre won the Tour. Ten years after Sastre’s stage win, the riders will tackle a finale they know well:  in 2010, France’s Christophe Riblon had seized his chance to go solo and win his first stage win on the Tour. 


Le bassin des Ladres (Lepers basin): Eight metres long and 11 metres wide, the Lepers basin is filled with 40 degrees hot water. Built around 1250, it was part of the leprosarium created by King Luis IX to cure lepers returning from the Crusades.