Albi is a delightful medieval city located about 80km (50 miles) north-east of Toulouse and located on the banks of the Tarn River. This unpretentious city is a superb and agreeable place to spend a few days, using it as a base to explore the surrounding countryside.
Is Albi worth visiting?
Albi is around 40 miles from Toulouse. If you’re on vacation in the south of France this bustling town of around 50,000 inhabitants is well worth a visit. It has dramatic vistas over the Tern River and the gothic style Sainte Cécile cathedral is an incredible site to see as it towers over this attractive red brick city.
What is Albi in France known for?
Albi is best known for its beautiful cathedral, the amazing 1,000 year old bridge and the Fashion and Toulouse Lautrec museums.
The town was built around the original cathedral and this historic heart of the city covers 63 hectares. Red brick is the main feature of most of the buildings. Along with Toulouse and Montauban, Albi is one of the main cities built in Languedoc-style red brick.
You can’t miss the Sainte Cécile cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th centuries, and if you stop for coffee at one of the nearby street cafés, it’s difficult not to start counting bricks.
The cathedral was built as a statement of the Christian faith after the upheavals of the Cathar heresy, and was embellished over the centuries.
Read: Who where the Cathars?
Older than the Palais des Papes in Avignon, the Palais de la Berbie, formerly the Bishops’ Palace, now the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, is one of the oldest and best-preserved castles in France.
The Old Bridge (Pont Vieux) is still in use after almost a millennium. Originally built in stone, in 1035, then clad with brick, it rests on eight arches and is 151m long. In the 14th century, it was fortified and reinforced with a drawbridge, and houses were built on the piers.
The city is the home of the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, containing more than 1,000 works, including the artist’s famous posters. This body of work forms the largest public collection in the world devoted to Toulouse-Lautrec.
Old Bridge (Pont Vieux)
Dating back to mediaeval times, the Pont Vieux, meaning Old Bridge in French, is still in use to this day. It is believed that the construction of the bridge dates as far back as 1040 and throughout the years, the scenery of the Pont Vieux has changed dramatically.
At one time, the bridge was made from timber and even had houses lining it. However, after a flood in the 1700s, the houses were destroyed. At either end of the bridge, there used to be drawbridges and, in the middle, there was the Notre Dame tower but this sadly no longer exists.
But the bridge is still one of the most stunning pieces of history in Albi and attracts many visitors each year. In fact, the bridge is so treasured that it now has protection in the form of a Historical Monument Classification and is listed as a UNESCO heritage site.
Even if history and architecture aren’t your thing then nobody can pass over the Pont Vieux without appreciating the breath-taking scenery that surrounds it. Views across to the Sainte Cecile Cathedral and the Berbie palace are truly a sight to behold.
It’s quite easy to spend a day in the area, exploring the 151-metre bridge as well as lazing along the banks of the river Tarn. On a summer’s day, there’s no place better to kick back and relax. And for those with nautical fever, why not take a trip down the river on one of the many boats? Travelling under the bridge allows you to see it from a whole new perspective!
Sainte Cécile Cathedral
Not only is the Sainte Cecile cathedral one of the most outstanding sights in Albi, but it also has a very interesting story behind it. Having opened in the year 1480, Sainte Cecile cathedral was actually erected to show the people the power that the church had. This happened after the Albegensian heresy was suppressed so this new image was of the utmost importance.
Being one of the most notable historic sites in the area, it’s no wonder that the Sainte Cecile cathedral attracts no less than 800,000 visitors every year! Another interesting fact about this beautiful building is that it is known to be the largest brick cathedral on the planet!
Sainte Cecile cathedral was built using a much more gothic style than is traditional for cathedrals which makes it very attractive to those who appreciate unusual architecture. With a 78-metre steeple and at 113 metres long, the cathedral is certainly an imposing structure.
Inside, the ceilings are lavishly decorated and painted in an ornate style. One may first be fooled into thinking that the paintings were merely random but upon closer inspection, it is easy to see that the display is an illustration of stories from the bible.
For those looking for a spiritual or religious experience, this is the perfect location. Moreover, with as many as 18,500 square metres of murals, there’s plenty to see!
For those with a musical penchant, the Great Organ at the Sainte Cecile cathedral is a major attraction. Dating back to the 18th century when it was gifted to the church by Christophe Moucherel, the organ is so ornately decorated that it is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the entire country.
Toulouse Lautrec Museum in Albi
Located in the Tarn region of southern France, Albi was the birthplace of Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa in 1864, and is today home to the revamped Musée Toulouse-Lautrec that opened in April 2012.
As the world’s largest collection of works by the painter, the Museum is situated in the Bishop’s palace, Le Palais de la Berbie, offering a truly memorable insight into Lautrec’s life, housing over a thousand paintings, lithographs and posters, all donated by Lautrec’s relatives and close friend and art dealer, Maurice Joyant.
The Musem’s home, the charming city of Albi, has been given a new lease of life since it achieved UNESCO World Heritage status in 2010.
Its half-timbered houses have been renovated, a major facelift has limited car access, while car parks round the red-brick cathedral have been transformed into piazzas. More than a revamped art gallery, this is the culmination of a programme to ‘…give the heart of the city and its heritage back to the people of Albi.’