Ah Albi, where to begin? We spent three wonderful nights here in this charming little town and could easily have stayed longer. Our apartment was a perfect blend of old and new, situated in a tiny courtyard immediately off the centre of town. Cafes, restaurants, shops, the famous covered market, as well as an imposing cathedral were just steps away. Every day we went out exploring and discovered something new – it was a real treat. And not once did we have to use the car.
Albi is about 90 minutes north of Carcassonne, and about an hour northwest of the larger city of Toulouse. We drove up through the countryside, taking a half hour to go off route to check out Lastours with its impressive castle ruins on the cliff (amazing), as well as a short stop for a picnic punch on the side of the road. The countryside was green with spring growth and the pastoral landscape reminded me of England, with the exception of the wide expanse of the snow-capped Pyrenees mountains along the horizon. It wasn’t hard to forget that we will be crossing these mountains in only a week, albeit further west where (I hope) they aren’t as high and nor as snow-capped.
We arrived in Albi close to 4pm and the sun was still shining, foretelling pleasant days ahead.
Travel Tip: Do NOT rely on GPS phone apps when driving in a medieval city. Just sayin’. We were doing well as we entered the town but when we turned into the medieval city centre to find our apartment, the directions were wonky and suffice to say, we were rerouted twice, and ended up driving through a pedestrian only section for a bit. Nobody seemed to blink an eye though since people seem to drive and park anywhere and everywhere on these narrow streets. We eventually made it to the arched entryway that led us into a tiny courtyard where we found a front door.
We really took it easy and relaxed in Albi, alternating between exploring the city and reading/writing in the apartment. It was sunny and warm while we were there and it was actually warmer outside that in the building so I enjoyed spending much of my time finding places to sit in the sunshine. The wifi was down our entire visit so we were forced to go out to find free wifi at the local restaurants and the tourist bureau as well.
Just a block from our apartment was the Albi Cathedral, a rather ominous building that looks more like a fortress than a church. Built by the Roman Catholics in the 13th-14th centuries, its imposing structure was meant to terrify the crap out of anyone even considering returning to the Cathare faith, which they considered to be heretical. It is supposedly the largest brick building in the world with a 78m tall bell tower that can be seen all over the city. The interior is quite beautiful with the usual extravagant paintings, sculptures, intricate carvings, and a huge pipe organ. Most of it is free to view, but there is a 5 euro fee for an audio tour of one section.
The city of Albi straddles the banks of the river Tarn with 3 bridges all in close proximity. There is a rail bridge, an “old bridge”- Le Pont Vieux, built in the 11th century, and which is reputed to the oldest bridge still in use in France, and a “new bridge”- Le Pont Neuf, built in 1866 and renamed the The Bridge of August 22, 1944 to commemorate the day the Germans entered the city.
Albi is also well known for the Toulouse Lautrec museum which is housed in a section of the Palais de la Berbie next to the cathedral. Famous artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi and when he died in 1901, his mother promoted his works and contributed towards creating a museum in his home city which now houses the largest collection of the artist’s work. After touring the art gallery, you can wander through the beautiful gardens that surround the Palais de la Berbie.
All in all, we were quite enchanted with Albi. The location of our apartment certainly helped, as did the beautiful spring weather and the lack of tourists in the off season. I’m certain there is more to discover in this pretty town – we would definitely go back.
Next up – the Dordogne Valley. But first, here are a few more pictures of Albi.