Albi - things to see and do
While it is not exactly undiscovered, Albi is one of those French
provincial cities that has
only recently come into its own as a tourist destination. The change in
the city's fate came in 2009, when its episcopal area - comprising the
and the Palais de la Berbie, the bishop's palace - was classed as a
UNESCO world heritage site. But Albi has much more to offer.....
bridge over the Tarn at Albi
Until recently, Albi suffered from its
location which is rather aside from the main tourist routes in France:
but within the last ten years, the motorway link with Toulouse has been
completed, and the link via Rodez
to the A75 is being upgraded to
motorway standard. For now however, over half the section
between the A75 and Albi is still single carriageway.
Albi, capital of the Tarn,
is arguably the most interesting small city in the Midi-Pyrenees
region. Its imposing mediaeval St. Cecilia's cathedral has always been
a remarkable and unique monument, being both fortified and
built of brick. On the outside, it looks like some gargantuan array of
medieval grain silos; inside, it is all delicate gothic tracery in
stone and wood, one of the finest late gothic buildings in France. Of
particular interest are the massive murals of the Last judgement, that
decorate the whole of the cathedral's western wall.
the streets of old Albi
Built between 1282 and 1480, the
current cathedral was built as a defiant assertion of papal power in a
region which had only recently been brought back under the power of
Rome following the period of the Cathar
heresy. The Albigensian crusade was the only crusade directed
not against infidels, but against dissenting Christians.
Next to the cathedral stands the
similarly massive and fortified Bishop's palace, part of which now
houses the magnificent Toulouse Lautrec museum. Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, was the great post-impressionist
iconographer of Parisian life in the late nineteenth century; he was a
native of Albi, and the museum hosts the largest collection of his work.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Salon rue des Moulins
Beside the west end of the
cathedral, a pedestrian piazza takes you to a vantage point overlooking
the river Tarn below, and the old bishop's gardens. Upstream from the
cathedral can be seen the Old Bridge, a thousand years old, and still
in service today. The bridge can be reached on foot by taking a short
walk down the street in front of the entrance to the Toulouse Lautrec
The old city of Albi, with its narrow
streets and historic buildings, is clustered round the cathedral. Of
particular interest is the XIIth - XIIIth collegial church of
Saint Salvi, with its cloisters.
For visitors staying in or around Albi,
and wanting to discover the local area, three places stand out.
Just west of Albi, Gaillac is the
centre of a well known vineyard area - AOC Gaillac. As well as
vineyards that can be visited, and wine tasting (check local tourist
offices for details), the area aslo has some interesting fortified
villages, notably Puycelsi and Castelnau de Montmiral.
Northwest of Albi lies Cordes sur Ciel, an
incredible small town, perched on a hill above two valleys:
Cordes was built up in the XIVth and XVth centuries, and to this day
has conserved a remarkable collection of mediaeval town houses and
streets - one of the best in France. Saturday is market day. Click here
for a free audio guide to Cordes.
Finally, on a completely different
just north of Albi, has an interesting mining museum. Carmaux was once
a coal-mining town; the last pits closed in the 1980s. In the mining
museum, visitors take a 350 metre underground tour in a reconstructed
coal mine. For those interested in industrial archaeology or
engineering, fifteen miles to the north of Carmaux, on the road to
another very attractive small city, is one of Gustave Eiffel's finest
bridges, the Viaduc du
carries the railway line from Albi to Rodez.