One of the reasons I love to visit my uncle in southwestern France, is his location. He lives a seven minute walk to the local train station where one then has a multitude of small towns from which to pick. One place I visit each time I’m in the region is Albi, a town on the River Tarn.

Albi is a charming place to spend a day, being about an hour away from the city of Toulouse by train. It’s also great because you can make this trip as cheap as you want. The last time I was here, the only things for which I paid for were the train tickets and lunch. Besides that, it was a lovely day wandering around the UNESCO World Heritage town where some of the important sights are free. Here are three free things to admire on a visit to historical Albi:

Admire the Architecture

Rain or shine, I love Albi’s architecture in the historical centre. Even though dampness sucks, I have found that the best time to wander Albi’s centre is during the week around lunch time in the rain – the streets tend to be quiet and rather deserted. The gloomy air mixed with the medieval architecture creates quite the atmosphere for those with vivid imaginations. A wander to the riverbanks is also worthwhile, as the Pont Vieux is still used today despite being built way back in 1035. The bridge was originally built in stone but is now covered over by brick – it’s a pretty bridge with eight arches and from here, you can get that quintessential European photograph.

Admire the Gardens

If you like sculpted gardens, you’ll like these ones. You can easily imagine the lords and ladies of a bygone era flouncing around with their noses in the air, bored silly with their lives but pretending not to be. The gardens are on the grounds of the Palais de la Berbie. Today, the Palais houses the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, instead of Roman Catholic bishops. The building is a huge 13th-century fortress built along the Tarn River. From here, the views on the city and river are really lovely. You can’t wander through the gardens themselves but you can traipse along the walkway above them. Benches and statues are scattered along the walkway for your photographic pleasure.

Admire Ste. Cecile

It is for Ste. Cecile that most people visit Albi. This brick cathedral was built between the 13th and 15th centuries and it is imposing – it is apparently the largest brick building in the world. Imagine being an uneducated peasant seeing this place… Ste. Cecile is so big, you really have to be pretty far away to get the whole building into one photo (if you are walking to it from the train station, once it comes into sight, that is when you take your photo. Or go on the other side of the river once you reach Pont Vieux). If there is no Mass going on or any weddings/funerals, duck inside for more eye popping visuals. While it is dimly lit inside and rather severe, the artwork is amazing: original statues, stone filigree work, wood carvings, stained glass, and a giant mural up at the front depicting rather…hellish…scenes. Well worth a look.

Have you been to Albi? What other free things do you suggest?


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