Posted on July 7, 2008 by Holly Hayes
Part of: The Great European Road Trip

Our favorable first impressions of Albi turned out to be correct - it has been a very pleasant city to spend a weekend. Our hotel has been great, too; it's cooler and darker than most, so we've slept late every morning. Saturday was warm and sunny but after that it cooled way down, hardly reaching 70 degrees and even raining a little. That has been a very nice change.

We watched the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Federer-Nadal Wimbledon match on TV on Sunday, and there was a music festival in Albi's main square all weekend. And of course, we visited the cathedral and several other interesting buildings in the Old Town, most of which are made of pinky-red brick. Here are some highlights.

Albi cityscape in some dramatic light this evening.

cathedral & bishop's palace (14c)
The cathedral is really unusual, very fortress-like with no transept and a flat top. It was built between 1282 and 1393.

Just left of center in the photo above is the fortified bishop's palace, which houses an art museum that we actually visited (partly because it's inside a castle!). It's the Museum of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, a 19th-century painter known for his portraits of people in Montmartre, Paris. He was born in Albi and after his death his mother donated all his paintings to his hometown.

The rocket-like west front of the cathedral. It was built into the city walls, so unlike most cathedrals, there is no door on the west end.

The interior is really something. It's the opposite of the plain and forbidding exterior, with every surface elaborately decorated. All the walls and the entire ceiling are covered in paintings, most of which date from 1512-13. Despite myself, I actually kind of liked it. David didn't so much. Above is a huge depiction of The Last Judgment at the front of the cathedral.

Lacy vault in the choir screen, which separates the nave from the choir.

old mill
Old mill and bridge over the River Tarn.

View of the old town from across the river.

music festival
Some crazy guys on stilts at the music festival.

We didn't go to any of the concerts but we could hear them loud and clear. The festival had a very friendly Portland-like vibe, with beer on tap, hippie crafts for sale, and outdoorsy-looking people with dreadlocks. For lunch on Saturday we had baked potatoes from a stand; mine was topped with goat cheese and olive oil. The young man who sold us our potatoes spoke some English and was very interested to know the word for a straw. When I told him, he was completely gob smacked and asked me to repeat it twice. (The French word for straw is paille, which sounds like "payya".)

Today we drove north to Conques, which was one of my big must-sees before leaving France. Both the village and church were spectacular and we had a wonderful time. I hope to post some pics tomorrow, after we move to Toulouse.