When we moved to Toulouse back in April, we were told there were two great local spots to visit, only a quick jaunt outside the city: Carcassone (to the south) and Albi (to the north east). A few months ago we visited Carcassone and this past Saturday we ventured to Albi.
Let me start by saying, if you’re in Toulouse and are looking for a quick day trip elsewhere, I 100 percent recommend Albi over Carcassone. Don’t get me wrong, Carcassone is great, and we had a wonderful time there (tasty wine & cheese, pretty medieval city). But, Albi feels more like a city where people live. Maybe it was the ballroom dancing that was going on in a square (plus the great music) or the city parks, the cathedral, or maybe the sunshine (it was decidedly cloudy when we were in Carcassone…and sunshine really does make a difference).
We started the day with a quick train ride (a little over an hour) from Toulouse Matabiau for a budget friendly 5€, arriving in Albi just in time for lunch. The Albi station is a short walk into the historic center, where we dined at L’Espirit du Moulin. It’s a cute spot, slightly off the main drag, where I consumed the best sauce of my life – saffron butter. I’m not kidding, it should be served with everything, all the time. If anyone has recipes, please pass them along. Also really amazing potatoes. Highly recommend.
Following lunch, we explored the Cathedrale Sainte Cécile. We opted for the audio tour, which had about 21 different tidbits throughout the tour (we’d recommend). This church is gorgeous. Really, truly gorgeous. To start, it’s huge from the outside – the bell tower is 78 meters high (over 250 ft).
On the inside, it’s just stunning and impressive. There is a huge organ (the cathedral is named after Cecile, who was the patroness of musicians), a gigantic fresco of the Last Judgement, along with a roodscreen (or choir screen). But my favorite part is the painting on all the walls. I think this might be the most beautiful interior of a church I’ve seen since I was the Basilica di San Marco. My photos really don’t do it justice, but it is bright and vibrant. What’s more fascinating, none of the painting has been touched up in the last 500 years. Wow. If you haven’t been here, I think it really is the highlight of Albi.
After we finished the cathedral tour, we decided to take one of those cheesy, tiny train tours around the city. We’d recommend it if you want to cover a lot of ground and/or get an idea for where to go later (it basically goes through every neighborhood and shows you all the sights). This gave me the ideas to take some photos of Pont Neuf and Pont Vieux and also head over to a lovely public park – Park Rochegude.
I enjoyed all the fall foliage as we haven’t really seen too many leaves turning here in Toulouse. Makes me feel great – October is the best month and fall really is the best season.
Then we went to check out the Musee Toulouse-Lautrec. Well, Jim went to check out the museum (I was a little toured/museum-ed out from the cathedral earlier) and opted to tour the Jardins de la Berbie, instead. In hindsight, I should’ve joined Jim at the museum, as I am a HUGE fan of old, French ads/posters and probably would’ve seriously enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll head back one day while Jim is at work. Here are some examples of Toulouse Lautrec’s work. The garden is kind of attached to the museum, but free of charge and offers some truly lovely views of the Tarn River.
We ended our night at a wine bar close to the train station – Chez Yvette. It’s probably the nicest bar/restaurant I’ve ever seen/been to across the street from a train station. Check it out.
All in all, Albi was lovely and beautiful to visit when looking for an autumnal fix.