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Albi: an insider’s city guide

PUBLISHED: 16:09 16 March 2017 | UPDATED: 13:35 20 March 2017

Albi is the capital of the Tarn department © Dominique Viet

Albi is the capital of the Tarn department © Dominique Viet

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A majestic cathedral and a world-famous artist are Albi’s main claims to fame, but there’s plenty more to this medieval city in south-west France. Here’s our insider’s guide on what to see and do in Tarn capital

Situated 85km north-east from the pink city of Toulouse and its international airport lies the capital of the Tarn department in Occitanie, Albi, known locally as ‘la ville rouge’. Although its nickname can largely be attributed to the red brick used to construct many of its characteristic crimson-coloured buildings, there is much more to this medieval city to account for its red-hot image.

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La Cathédral Ste-Cécile dominates the city of Albi © Dominique VIETLa Cathédral Ste-Cécile dominates the city of Albi © Dominique VIET

Things to do in Albi

The cathedral: The 13th-century La Cathédrale St-Cécile proudly guards over the hustle and bustle of Albigensian life. The largest brick building in Europe, the Gothic structure still looks more like the imposing fortress that it was intended to be when it was built by the Catholic Church to demonstrate their supremacy after the Cathar Wars. Inside there are intricately painted chapels and religious frescoes depicting religious scenes including Le Jugement Dernier painted from 1474-84. On Wednesdays visitors can hear the largest pipe organ in France at the weekly concert. A ticket to the cathedral costs €6; under-12s go free.

Market: The open air farmers’ market on Place Fernand Pelloutier takes place every Tuesday and Saturday morning. Here you can buy organic fruit and vegetables, cheese, homemade jams and other farm-fresh food. Right beside, it, in the covered market stallholders sell everything from fish and meat to pastries and wine. There is also an eating area where you can order a meal from your stall of choice. It’s hard to beat the rotisserie chicken served with duck fat potatoes.

Albi's farmers' market © Dominique VIETAlbi's farmers' market © Dominique VIET

Art: As the birthplace of the Post-Impressionist painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi has lots of attractions for art and culture fans. Museums to choose from including Musée de la Mode, Maison du Vieil Alby and Musée de Lapérouse and the best-known, the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec. The modern museum, set within Le Palais de la Berbie, houses more than 1,000 works of the Post Impressionist artist, including paintings from when he was a young boy living in Albi to portraits of his family and friends and his world-famous posters. There is also a separate gallery for temporary exhibitions, a collection of modern art and a gallery dedicated to the city of Albi. A ticket for access to permanent and temporary exhibitions costs €9.

Discover the hidden entryway called Passage de la Prévôté in the town centre, along a busy shopping street. Pass through the wrought-iron gate to find the Cloître de la Collégiale St-Salvi, where ancient cloisters border a charming garden growing everything from strawberries and pears to aubergines and peppers and sunflowers.

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Albi sits on the River Tarn © david hughes / FotoliaAlbi sits on the River Tarn © david hughes / Fotolia

Hotels in Albi

Budget: Located a 10-minute walk from Albi’s historical centre, the Grand Hôtel d’Orléans is a great base to discover the city. There are 56 rooms, an outdoor swimming pool and a restaurant serving French food. Doubles start at €75.

Mid-range: Albi’s Hotel Mercure might be part of a chain group, but the views from its terrace overlooking the banks of the River Tarn are unique. The four-star hotel is housed in an 18th-century watermill while its 56 rooms – 12 of which have riverside views –have been modernly furnished. Centrally located, the hotel is an ideal base to explore the city – it also boasts a good restaurant and bar. Double rooms from €81.

Luxury: The small boutique Hotel Alchimy is in a newly renovated Art Deco building in the historic heart of Albi. This family run hotel has five luxurious rooms all stylishly furnished and with marble en-suite bathrooms. There is also a gourmet brasserie. Doubles start at €230.

Restaurants in Albi

Wine enthusiasts will love La Table du Sommelier, a local bistro where the menus are tailored around owner Jeremy’s selection of wine. All wine is available to taste by the glass and can be bought to enjoy at home. Cosy inside during the winter, the restaurant’s outdoor terrace is ideal for dining al fresco during warmer months.

For local cuisine with a twist, try the award-winning L’épicurien where they serve up French classics such as foie gras and baba au rhum with a refreshing updates in a modern, stylish restaurant. A three course menu starts from €29.50.

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Buying property in Albi

The average price of a house in Tarn is €130,000 while the average price of an apartment is €1,380/m2. In addition to all the advantages mentioned, Albi is also a popular spot to invest in due to its central location, proving the ideal place to explore the rest of this unique department.

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