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Albi Ville, France
We spent Christmas 2014 in Albi, France, a gem of a small city in Southern France, just up the road from Toulouse. We got a little apartment in the heart of the city, but away from the main streets, and lived like locals for a week, going to the town market, shopping in tiny local stores and walking along the river and all over the charming streets. This is the courtyard view that we had from our little apartment. We found it on AirBnB.com and were very pleased with it.
It was quite cold on Christmas day, and a little misty rain made the lights look diffused and magical. It seemed like we were living in a fairy tale.
Albi, like many European cities, has an old section that is quite medieval, with very tall buildings along tiny narrow streets which meander in all sorts of directions making it very easy to get lost. It is a very old city, with an ancient cathedral that is remarkably preserved. The city sits on a river so it is very picturesque. The river banks soar straight up several stories to the streets above, so it’s a dramatic view. And the cathedral is even higher up.
The architecture is very close in style to the architecture of Toulouse, with lots of beautiful wrought iron balconies for everyone to sit out at night and watch the crowds below. I’m sure it’s quite lovely in the Summer time. We loved it even in the cold. On many streets, people were singing Christmas carols inside by their warm fires.
We loved Albi and would definitely live there if it were easy to gain a residency visa in France, but it’s not. The French don’t seem to want Americans to settle there, despite being very nice and polite to us when we were travelling there.
Things to Do in Albi, France
But we enjoyed it so much! The covered market had so much awesome fresh food, and the sandwich shops and bakeries had fresh wonderful pastries, and the people were very nice. Don’t miss visiting the market!
We walked across the bridges to see the newer part of the town too, and walked by all the universities with all the students scurrying about. They give the town a cool vibe. The bridge itself is beautiful, as is the river.
The highlight for me was St. Cecile’s (St. Cecilia in English) Cathedral, which is beautiful! It is painted in a deep Blue with Gold leaf stars all over the ceiling, much like the Siena cathedral in Italy. And it has beautiful sculptures of Mary and Jesus and Angels all over it.
There is also a large amount of marble, and carved ivory colored stone. Below is the stone carving over the door. What is pretty amazing is that this cathedral was constructed between 1287 to 1480! It is so beautiful it could be new!
Mary is revered in France, as the Mother of Jesus and a Saint in her own right. Here’s a sculpture of the two of them over the main altar in the cathedral. That is real Gold leaf paint, and the Blue and Red is swirled marble.
Here’s a closeup of the statue:
This is the outside of the cathedral. Look how huge it is! To me it looks quite severe on the outside so you would have no idea of its beauty unless you went inside.
Here’s part of the ceiling. The detail is amazing.
This is more of the carved rock, in an interior window. All the windows had this intricate carved rock. It was stunning beyond belief really. We stayed for a long time admiring the inside of the cathedral. There are at least 20 windows like this. My husband was astounded by them. He’s a sculptor as well as a painter so he knows how long that would take to accomplish. It reminded me of rock lace. Gorgeous!
The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum is close to the center of town and if you are a fan, it is a must see!
Pont Vieux (The Vieux bridge) is a thousand years old and still going strong. It spans the river that divides the city. We walked over it several times while walking around looking at all the beautiful buildings and breathing the crisp, cold air. We were there at Christmas time so everyone had their lights out too. Such a fun vacation! Here you can see St. Cecilia’s Cathedral overlooking the town and the river and bridge.
Where to Eat in Albi
We ate in several eateries in the Old Town part of the city and the food was great in all of them. As in the rest of France, I doubt you will find any bad food. We also cooked our own in our apartment, because the market had lots of fantastic cheese and organic vegetables and we like cooking our own. So there re no specific restaurants I can recommend, but just have fun trying them! The French are in love with good food, so you benefit!
Why Visit Albi?
While we were still in France we would talk to French people on the trains and they would ask where we had visited so far, and many times they would exclaim that they had heard of Albi but had never been there. It’s a treasure not to be missed, so we made sure they will all go visit it now! It was definitely worth visiting!
If you like the idea of visiting the Languedoc region (a region in the South of France) I highly recommend Albi!
They also kept asking us how we figured out where to visit since we actually had no plan other than to meander around the country at our leisure. Before we left I invested in some travel books and used them to decide. Here’s the one we liked best:
Albi is an easy day trip from Toulouse if you just want to get an idea of the place without actually staying. Easy to get there by train, car or bus. So if you ever get the chance to go to the South of France, be sure to put Albi on your list!
All Photos except Amazon photos © Heather Burns, 2015. Please do not copy.