Come discover this UNESCO World Heritage City – and firm favourite with our guests for a day trip from La Villa.
No matter what time of year, Albi is a magnificent city; the prefectoral capital of the Tarn Département and the number one place our guests choose to visit during their stay in the region.
Just 45 mins from La Villa, the city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, the same year La Villa opened for business. The route to Albi takes you north of Mazamet and, via a short detour, to the magical medieval village of Lautrec. Here you will see rolling hills, stunning vistas (on a clear day as far as the Pyrenees) and the seasonal sunflowers.
Albi’s has two main attractions – the awe-inspiring 13th century Cathedral de Saint-Cecile and the adjacent museum dedicated to local artist Toulouse Lautrec. Of course, there’s so much more to the city – from the stunning architecture to great restaurants, the meandering River Tarn to a lesser known museum to Albi-born (1741) naval hero Lapérouse.
The foundation stone of the Saint-Cecile cathedral dates to 1282. It was the period in which the Cathar’s had been driven from the area and the Catholic Church felt it needed a statement of power & position from which to reinstate its authority. Being the largest red brick cathedral in the world, they certainly achieved their aim!
From the outside, the massive structure (asides from the carved portico over the main entrance) is austere and fortress-like. It is not until you enter that the vibrancy and opulence becomes apparent. Entrance is free, however it’s worth the few Euros charge for the audio guide to give explanation to some of the wonderful frescos (untouched since they were painted by Italian artists in the 14th century); the organ (restored over the last decade) and the treasury housing relics and artefacts from past centuries.
To the rear of the cathedral you’ll find the main entrance to the Toulouse Lautrec Museum. Before you enter, make sure you visit the gardens of the Bishop’s Palace with its topiary (in the spring & summer filled with colourful seasonal flowers) and great vistas over the River Tarn below and the Vieux Pont (France’s oldest working bridge).
When you arrive in Albi, make your way to the Office of Tourisme and purchase (13€) the Albi Pass, containing various entries & discounts around the City. You can purchase an audio guide of the Episcopal city and tickets for the land train (a discount for both included with the Albi Pass). The train may seem a little touristy, however, it takes you on a discovery of the city you might otherwise miss – you can then return to the places of interest to explore further at your own pace.
There are many places to eat, one of favourites is a 10 min walk from the cathedral, Le Table de Sommelier. This is a great little bistro with its own wine shop as its centre piece (the restaurant also has a sister establishment in nearby Gaillac).
When you are staying at La Villa, the day tour to include the city of Albi is one of 8 self-drive day tours we have written. Our series of discoveries, with a map and directions to discover the region around Mazamet, is free too our guests.