Place de Verdun aka the meeting place of Tarbes: “Meet you at the fountain.”
When I Google Tarbes, I get three sites about the weather in Tarbes, two Wikipedia results and the Office of Tourism’s website. Needless to say, when I found out I was assigned to teach in Tarbes, I had no idea what the actual city was like or what there was to do. Tarbes may not be very well known, but there are plenty of international students that come to live here, either as a student or as a teaching assistant like myself. So, for all you future Tarbais, here is my list of the best things to do in Tarbes (after seven months of primary research):
Le Gambetta, with the delicious peanut M&M
Be prepared to develop a slight to moderate caffeine addiction while living in France. I drink a cup of coffee for breakfast, then at my schools, teachers will shove plastic cups of coffee into my hands, then I’ll grab a coffee with a friend in the afternoon and sometimes, after dinner, I’ll have a little espresso. So, obviously, I know my cafés. My favorites are Couleur Café and Le Gambetta. Couleur Café looks like a very cute, American/British coffee shop. It has lots of seating and is perfect for a rainy/cold day. On the other hand, Le Gambetta is perfect for a sunny afternoon. They give you a peanut M&M with each coffee (which is a huge bonus) and their lunch is amazing (8 euros for a tarte salée, a huge salad and a dessert). If you want to eat lunch, make a reservation since they don’t have a lot of seating.
So many moules.
The first time I ever ate mussels was in Tarbes, at La Cabane Aux Moules. You get a HUGE serving of mussels and can choose from a dozen different sauces (from roquefort to a simple white wine sauce). The restaurant is also cute; everything is pirate-themed and you put your shells in sand pails. P.S. Mussels are best during months that end in -ER. Another bang-for-your-buck restaurant is Caminito San Pedro, an empanadas restaurant. You can get two homemade empanadas, a salad and a dessert for under 10 euros. If you’re looking for a nice, French restaurant, try L’Epicerie or Le Petit Gourmand.
My friends and I spent a lot of time at Celtic Pub, where you can listen to live music every week and where every inch of the ceiling and walls are covered in music posters. On Tuesday evenings, we would go to Le Régent for an unofficial salsa night. The bar plays salsa music and our friends teach us the basic salsa moves or we just sit and watch other people dance. Le Set is one of the biggest discotheques in the region. It is pretty far from centre ville (it is close to l’ENIT, the engineering school), but they have special Set buses. The best nights to go to Le Set are when they have soirées, either a student night or when they have a special DJ (usually on Thursdays or Saturdays). If you go any other night, just know you will be the only ones there.
Every Thursday, at Place Marcadieu, is the biggest market I have ever seen. Inside and around the Halle Marcadieu is the food market, where you can buy super fresh and cheap vegetables and fruit (as well as cheese, meat, wine, fish and more). Next to the church you can buy clothes, shoes, kitchen ware, and anything else you may need. Make sure to walk around and compare prices before buying food to get the best deals!
I love having a picnic in Jardin Massey when the sun is out! The park is pretty year-round, but especially in spring and summer when everything is bloom. And there are always peacocks walking around, which just adds to the charm (but I still don’t know why they haven’t tried to escape).
Salon du Chocolat
I’m not sure if this will happen every year, but so far, the Lions Club of Tarbes has organized two chocolate festivals. You pay a couple euros to enter, and then you can sample as much chocolate as you want. There are a handful of different stands selling chocolates and each stand will let you try their chocolate (hoping you will buy some). There is a table near the front that makes chocolate and truffles just to give out to people, which is where I spent all my time. Definitely keep an eye out for this!
I like to be active and always find it hard to find a gym in France. But, luckily for me, Tarbes has a pool! It is about a twenty minute walk from centre ville and costs 2.60 each time (prices keep going up unfortunately). I go a couple times a week and I love it; it is so relaxing! Also, on Sundays when every store is closed in France, the pool stays open!
Explore the Region
Tarbes is in a great location. You are twenty minutes away by train from Lourdes (which, after Paris, has the most hotels in France) and just a couple hours away from the Pyrenées. If you ski or snowboard, definitely take advantage of the mountains so close to you. If not, you can go on some very pretty hikes, like Pont d’Espagne or Lac Bleu. Toulouse is just 2.5 hours away by train and I spent countless weekends there. Pays Basque, home to amazing beaches and the delicious Gateaux Basque, is just an hour or two away as well. Must-see cities include Bordeaux, Albi, Carcassonne and Toulouse.
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